The Field

I grew up on the southwest side of Amarillo, Texas. I could walk two or three blocks and be out of town. Back then, out of town lead to vast, empty fields. They were a perfect canvas for a little boy in search of high adventure. The field that is most prominent in my memory was at the end of Hall Street where we lived. I really don’t remember how big it was. It was big enough to fulfill all of the adventure needs of a bunch of little boys. I need to tell you here and now that I have no memory of any girls ever setting foot on that vast field of clods and tumble weeds. Actually, I think it was probably illegal and most assuredly too dangerous for them.

Let me paint the picture. The field was bordered by a housing area, a farm, and another adjacent field. The neighborhood had not less than a dozen little boys aged from six to about ten, I being among them. Most parents back then ran us out of the house early on Saturday and usually did not want us back until supper. Half the time we went bare-foot. I never knew what sun block was and I didn’t care. You see, we boys back then had an agenda and the field at the end of Hall Street was the location for the fulfillment of that agenda. Our purpose back then was to re-fight every battle of World War II. I don’t have any memory of fighting any other war than that one and we never did get around to fighting the Japs. It took us all of our pre-puberty years to rid the world of the Nazis and it was desperately hard work.

This was serious business for us and our weaponry reflected it. We had two means of inflicting casualties. The primary weapon was what we called a clod. Dirt in the Texas Panhandle has enough clay in it to naturally form grenade-sized balls that we called clods. These were used mostly as direct fire weapons and they hurt. It’s a wonder we never lost a single eye ball among us. The secondary weapon we used when things got really nasty was a plain old rock. We used rocks as artillery. There were more than a few of us that left the war zone early from an artillery induced head wound.

Course, the really important part of re-fighting WWII was when and how one died. Those among us who played the role of the hated enemy usually died in a hail of bullets from the great and glorious Americans. As I usually played an American, my eventual death was a little different. (bear in mind that all of us died every Saturday on that field). The act of death was well thought out and done in such a way and manner that the maximum number of people on the field would see and be duly impressed with the way in which one met his glorious and brave end. I myself almost always died as a result of a single bullet to the heart. My death throes were without compare. Such was my bravery and love of country that before the bullet could kill me, I would manage to single-handedly destroy three Tiger tanks and an entire battalion of the toughest and most blood thirsty Nazi soldiers you’d find anywhere. I left behind a bloody and desolate battlefield with the absolute assurance that my name would be spoken of with great reverence as the savior of America. In my later years on the field, I also left behind the girl of my dreams. For reasons I don’t remember, I called her Peggy. I can still see her now, pining away at the loss of her one and only true love. It bothered me to leave Peggy all on her own so I went to war less and less as I grew past 12 or so. She eventually changed her name to Karen and we’ve been together ever since.

The field was long ago swallowed up by the neighborhood. I have no photographs of the location of our great and glorious deeds. I wonder if the residents who now populate the field know of the carnage and bravery that took place where they now live in peace.

On Biscuits

(NOTE: I am moving some posts from another blog site to this one. That will happen over the next few Thursdays so I can get everything in one place. So….you may have read the following already over at Smaller Indiana or Make it Rain).

I am convinced that biscuits are the “manna” that God Himself dropped out of heaven on a daily basis to feed the Israelites as they traveled from Egypt to the Holy Land all those years ago (I’ll bet they were goooood too). There’s just nothing quite like a hot, hand-squished biscuit. Of course, the really good ones are made only by southern Grandmas. Both my Grandmothers (may they rest in peace) were northern Grandmas and they just couldn’t produce the genuine article. Nope, I think it must be a genetic thing that the only really great biscuits come from southern Grandmas. Any family with a southern Grandma in residence can thank God above for such a glorious blessing. Only a southern Grandma can produce the real deal with honest to gosh buttermilk, baking soda (or is it powder?), flour, and know exactly how to get the right size and shape. Modern southern Grandmas have taken to using a biscuit cutter and that’s ok I guess. Hand-squished are every bit as good though the old-timers will tell you they taste better because Grandma squished them with her own two hands. I don’t really care. Just plop me down at the table right next to the oven, give me a big bowl of maple syrup and butter and I’ll be chopping tall cotton. Now, my dear bride is a northern girl and danged if she don’t try hard. I even went so far as to get her a book of bread recipes that included “Grandmother’s Southern Biscuits” (page 546 of Barnard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads). She does a pretty fair job of it and has gotten better since she became a Grandma a couple of years back. I do want to tell you here and now that northern women (and especially northern Grandmas) make some of the best scratch made soups you’ll find anywhere. But, you just can’t beat a southern Grandma for biscuits.

Who ordered the squirrel?

My son and I had a rendezvous with a most unusual stranger today.  It can only be counted as a direct decision of God Himself to permit the two of us to witness such a singular individual and yet live to tell the tale. I had never seen one as up close and personal before and will most likely never see one in the wild again. Least wise I hope not.PIC-0095

Morgan-Monroe State Forest is a beautiful forest of 24,000 acres and lies just south of Martinsville, Indiana. I go there frequently to hike its two ten-mile trails. Low Gap Trail is particularly attractive; however, Three Lakes Trail is stunning in its own right. It was on the latter trail that my eldest son and I decided to walk this particular August morning. There are few things that can cleanse the mind and body like a ten mile hike though the woods. We have had some of our best father-son discussions on these walks.  This day would be no different.

Maybe a little over half way through this trek, we found ourselves on a thin trail winding its way through fairly heavy forests presiding over a dense ground cover of leaves.  John was about ten feet or so ahead of me. Off to my right, I heard the noise of leaves being moved through. Thinking it was probably a squirrel, I turned to see if I could spot him before he disappeared into the underbrush. It was, in fact, a squirrel. Oddly, this “sciuridae” was lying on its side and made no attempt to move. His front paws began to shake uncontrollably for just a few seconds.  I looked just behind him and only now did I realize the cause of this rodent’s apparent demise. It was, in fact, a very large snake. I judged him to be 3-4 ½ feet long. “Jake the snake’ (or so he is called back in the Texas Panhandle where I grew up) did not move as he watched his prey take its final breath.  My eyes scanned the snake’s fat body and I froze in my tracks when I saw his tail. Less than eight feet away from me was an adult Timber Rattlesnake. I whispered to my son to come back. We stood frozen as we realized what we were seeing. This very large snake (his midsection was about as big as my closed fist) had just struck the squirrel and was now waiting patiently for it to die so he could eat. I began looking around my feet for any of the snake’s brothers or sisters. Seeing none, my son and I moved closer and settled in as quietly as we could to watch this reptile have his lunch. I was thinking at the time that this fellow might, at any moment, drop his lunch and come after us. We were in the middle of nowhere, on his turf, and my cell phone had no signal. We had gotten to within four feet of him and I was not real sure how possessive he would be over his meal. This was not a great situation to be in. But, hey, we’re guys. It’s what we do.

After maybe two minutes, the snake moved very slowly over to his main course. He appeared to be examining it to make sure it was dead. Satisfying himself, he returned to the head of the squirrel. We watched as he opened his mouth wide and began to eat the rodent head first. First, he would move his mouth to swallow a little. After that, he would drag the body a short distance in an effort to straighten himself out so he could swallow easier. At least that’s what it looked like to us. The really amazing thing about this whole episode was he seemed to be ignoring us! We got within four feet of him and he did not rattle or make any indication that we were not welcome. I think we stayed and watched this once in a lifetime event for 15 or 20 minutes.

We both agreed that we should have had the courtesy to break out a couple of granola bars and eaten lunch with him. It’s never a good idea to eat alone.

My son watching our rattler friend(?) eat his lunch!

My son watching our rattler friend(?) eat his lunch!

The Tree War

My two sons have the unique ability to over complicate any task presented to them. Case in point: there has been a sizable birch tree in residence in my front yard for many years now. It has been slowly dying from the top. The sons heard that I wanted it removed and volunteered to do the job for me. Such was their enthusiasm for the work that they even pitched in together and bought an axe as a Father’s Day gift for me. It really is a beautiful tool and I am lucky to have gotten it. Upon its presentation, they announced that, as a further gift to me, they would remove the tree. This they did just today.  I was surprised at their eagerness for the task.  These two strapping young men of 17 and 23 attacked the tree with a vengeance. I was pretty much sidelined on this project but did manage to get in a few quips regarding safety. Now, there was a problem with making sure it fell in the right direction. This was an issue that the two of them discussed at great length. The plan of action was to cut a wedge on the side where they desired it to fall then finish from the other side.  The younger of the two began to work with several mighty swings from the brand new axe. They switched the hacking job between them so each one got an even amount of “destruction time.”  I was assigned the task of holding the rope that they had strung around the upper part of the tree. I was further instructed to pull the tree toward me as I felt it give way under the ministrations of the axe.

The tree came away pretty easily and the two congratulated themselves on their lumber jacking prowess. It was only left to police up the branches and cut the tree trunk into suitable logs for firewood. This is where things got strange. I guess it was their desire to find the absolute hardest means by which to disassemble the tree that finally did them in. Deciding they had had enough of the axe, it was then determined to continue the cutting with a pruning saw. That seemed to go well until they just about had the first log cut off.  Now their male instincts took over and they announced that they wanted to kick the log loose from the trunk. The tree, even in death, proved their better.  I sat down in the shade to watch this contest of wills between sons and tree. They tried every trick they could imagine to kick this one piece of log off the trunk. They put another log under it to make a fulcrum. The elder got on one end and the younger jumped on the other end. The attempt resulted only in catapulting the elder son a few feet into the air. They stood it up on end and kicked it, kung fu style. They picked it up and dropped it at every imaginable angle. On each occasion, the trunk was equal to the task. I took score from my place in the shade. I lost count at tree 10 and sons 1. Completely soaked in sweat, they finally broke the one log lose from the trunk. With still three more cuts to make to finish the log off, they decided it was near on to dinner and the job could be safely postponed to another time.

The beautiful axe, my Father’s Day present, has been returned to the shed. I am making a very educated guess that it will be sometime before it gets used again. Then again, there is the very tall, very unwanted willow tree in the back yard….

As the Crow flies?

“How far is it to Seymour?”  John is my partner at work and knows Indiana like the back of his hand. Anytime I get lost or need to know how to get somewhere, I always ask John. “It’s about 40 miles as the crow flies,” John said. As the crow flies?  Well now, that is an interesting question. How is that a crow flies and why is he deciding how far things are anyway? Has the Creator or some divinely inspired earthly council sat down and determined that the Crow is the final arbiter of distance? What is it about the Crow that puts him alone in such a lofty and singular role?

Think about this for a minute. Imagine a long time ago, probably in the old country (that’s what you say when you just don’t know where something happened), some great council of wise men decided to implement a method for figuring out distance. How could they have possibly arrived at the crow? I wonder if they got a bunch of birds together and figured out some way to test which one flew the straightest. Birds aren’t known to be very cooperative towards men, and certainly not in an event to determine which one would be the decider of space and travel. I don’t think birds would get along all that well together anyway. The Hawks, Falcons, and Eagles would try to eat the Sparrows, Robins, and Jayhawks. The Vultures and Buzzards would hang around looking for leftovers, and the rest of them would be busy trying to avoid getting eaten themselves. So, they’re all busy doing stuff that birds do. Much to the chagrin of farmers world-wide, Mr. Crow is busy looking for corn fields to eat. He doesn’t have time to fool with the other birds. So, that’s it! The Crow has it in his mind to focus on getting to the food first. Turns out this old crow is a pretty smart fellow.  He has figured out his best plan to stay fed is to learn to fly in the most direct route to a known food source. So, this is all about food. My guess is they used a male crow in this test. You know as all males in creation go, their only real consideration is getting a full belly. That desire and focus is most certainly the reason why Crows are known to fly straighter than any other birds. Now you know how it is that “As the crow flies” came along.

Crows are focused. They are focused on their life’s pursuit and that has given them the lofty reputation they enjoy today. They also have a goal. Goal and focus. Two ingredients you and I need to succeed. How intensely I focus on my goal has a lot to do with how much I want it. How much I want that goal depends on how clear I have it defined. Mr. Crow knows exactly what he wants and how he is going to get it. Do you?

Time Management Run Amok

A beginning caution to the reader – this is a rant. Forgive me. Chalk it up to whatever you want.

The “time management industry” is in cahoots with somebody to keep me forever and eternally confused.  It has long been my goal to develop and perfect a system to manage my life in its entirety to ensure I never miss an appointment, forget a to-do, or lose not even a single contact file with all its history. This odyssey has lasted well over 30 years and I am no closer to time management’s nirvana than I was when I began. I’m just balder and less organized.

The journey began with a very small pocket Day-Timer® (I have always been a loyal customer of Day-Timer’s). This was in the days before computers and everything was kept in one’s planner. These were also the days of the Army. To do lists were long, calendars useless (they changed with the second hand of the clock), and needed contacts were limited to the small green pocket notebook you were required to keep with the information on the soldiers under your charge. All this was carried in two pockets of your uniform. It all went with you and woe to you if you lost it (luckily, I never did). This was the easiest it ever was.

When the Army ended after 22 years and I was dropped back into civilian life, daily affairs became a little more complicated. A bigger day-timer and a larger notebook served the purpose for a short while. Then I got into sales and that’s about when computers became a big factor. What a wonderful world of options to manage and confuse one’s life! The planner went onto the desktop as well as our address book, to do list, and everything else I could think of. No more carrying around a planner and all those notes. I had finally reached nirvana!!

Then the computer crashed….and guess what I forgot to do?

Everything was lost. The calendar, contact list, to do list, and, worst of all, the entirety of my financial records were lost to eternity. It took months to sort the disaster out. I was determined then to keep that from ever happening again. That’s when I saw my first Palm Pilot®. Purchasing a brand spanking new Palm IIIxe, I was convinced nirvana had finally been achieved. Everything was duplicated (and the idea of “saving one’s work” was formed) between the nice little machine and the desktop. I was now completely mobile and foolproof. But now I had two separate systems. The one at work that tracked my customers (ACT!®) and Palm’s system. Now there was two of everything. No nirvana. That’s when I found ACT’s Palm software. Try as I might, I never could get it to work quite right. And the Palm’s screen was difficult to see in sunlight. Remember the monochrome screen? Thrust into a pit of despondency, I was no closer to time management’s Holy Grail than when this journey started. The Palm went on the shelf where it remains to this day. It is practically unused. It was rendered thus when I saw a Palm Tungsten t2 with its color screen. Now I could see in daylight but that was the only thing it did for me. I still had too many calendars and too many duplicated lists. Wah!! Both Palms are still in my possession. The older IIIxe sits on the shelf in hopes that someday it will be worth a lot of money as an artifact. The T2 is still in use though its role is only storage of info. I retain the title of world’s worst time manager.

Now I have a Samsung Blackjack® which talks to both of my computers but, frankly, I don’t trust it. Since “the crash,” I have never trusted an electronic tool. So, in my ensemble of practical time management tools are: the original Palm Pilots IIIxe and T2, a paper Day-timer, the Blackjack,  ACT! and Outlook on my laptop and desktop. Add to that the companies’ new on-line CRM, Plaxo’s database, Linked in, and several websites where I am expected to be present and active. Last but not least I have at least 6 different email accounts. I’m no better off for any of this.

I’m going back to paper. I think. Maybe. Well, that and the Blackjack. It will have to stay “synced”  with the two computers though. Oh, and I will have to be “present” on all those social media sites. The company also requires me to be active on the internal CRM. And I have to keep that synced with Outlook on both computers. I’ll use the T2 to store data I don’t want hacked. Guess the IIIxe will stay on the shelf a couple more years. Other than that, it’s paper all the way.