The check out dude

You know, I just don’t like those automated check out lanes at the grocery stores. They aren’t near as much fun as regular check out lanes. The ones that have an actual, living, breathing human being as opposed to the automated screen that says “Welcome valued customer!” I just don’t get that warm fuzzy feeling dealing with a computer that does not know my name or indicates that it wants to. As long as it knows I have a preferred customer card or whatever, it seems to be ok with that. Computers must be lonely.

Well, actual check out clerks are much more fun. The wife and I were at Meijer the other night doing a little grocery shopping. It’s not my favorite activity but we get a little time together and grocery stores are one of the best places on the planet to people watch. Anyway, we had to go to a live person check out lane as we had too many groceries. I guess the computer at the automated lane can’t handle more than 10 or 12 items for each “valued customer.” Well, we were checking out and I got to watching the clerk. He was probably in his 50’s or so. As he worked, I noticed he was being very particular about what bag he put each item into. He twirled that fancy carousel around like it was a top so he could put certain things in certain places. He had a very defined method to his process. I deduced that this was no ordinary clerk. The computer makes you bag your own groceries but this man had brought science to the art of grocery bagging. I wonder if he went to bagging school or perhaps he even taught it. I stood transfixed at his prowess with the carousel in the full and grateful knowledge that I would, for once, not find my bread underneath cans of applesauce and cat litter. I deduced that this fellow was of a professional background. He was probably an engineer or maybe a chemist.

The suspense finally got to me and I was compelled to ask, “Sir, please tell me what it is that you do during the day for I perceive that you are more than a mere grocery technician?” (I really didn‘t ask this way. It just sounds better on paper). “I am a self-employed civil engineer,” he said. I knew it! I glanced at my wife with a self impressed look that I get when I am “in the know.” He went on to tell me that he had taken this particular job as a part time position only so as to augment his current income. Like many others, he had to deal with the recession and I think he found a nice fit for himself. Meijer ought to have him teach bagging technology. Good luck to you sir.

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!

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?

One of the great mysteries of life

Sometimes people along the way are a source of regret for the encounter. This particularly unfortunate rendezvous was with a woman working at a government hospital in the reception area for new patients. Clearly, there was never a more unhappy woman than this one. Sitting behind a glass wall absolutely insuring her insulation from the great unwashed, she was the poster child for gloom and doom. There were a few holes for hearing and a slot at the bottom to insert the documentation she would so bruskly demand from the unfortunate people cursed with having to deal with her. Her countenance issued the clear message that, you, by your very presence, had hastened the undeserved despair that was her lot in life and you were going to be treated as the scum that you so incontestably are. One leaves her presence knowing that she could brighten any room (or even the universe for that matter) by simply leaving it. Escape from her disapproving gaze could not be faster than it was.

But then there was the medical assistant who would take the vital statistics that will tell your Doctor whether you were sick or well. A grandmotherly type, her little corner of the world was festooned with several pictures of grandchildren. An inquiry was made as to the many pictures on the wall and that launched an enthusiastic verbal narrative on her many children of her children. Throughout that discussion, she was doing the job of taking blood pressure, pulse, and asking all the preliminary questions that would assist the Physician who would be seen at some point. She was gleeful in her pride of these many grandchildren. Incredibly, in the midst of her dissertation on the pride of her family, she included many questions regarding status of health and reason for coming and even one’s own family.  All done with that special quality of gentleness observed only in Grandmothers. The day was much improved by the time spent with her. Oddly enough, this matron of gentle touch and demeanor was within a short rock throw from the queen of occupational wretchedness.

One can’t help but wonder at sadness and happiness all in the same place. One in extreme discontent and the other the very picture of a life fulfilled. It is one of the great mysteries that people will work in a job they detest and, in so doing, impart their gloom to all that encounter her/him. One wonders….

Komodo Dragons

(The following is submitted for your consideration, given that there are, at this exact moment, a family of Komodo Dragons in temporary residence at the Indianapolis Zoo). Enjoy.

            Well, now, it must be that the Almighty was in a sour mood the day He created the Komodo Dragon.  He probably made this lizard right after he made us and probably to spite us. This, the largest living lizard, is high on the list of the most unpleasant of creatures.

            First of all, his appearance does not lend itself to endearment. He can be long, up to 10 feet. He is also expressionless, unless a large gaping mouth capable of swallowing a small pig in its entirety is considered a captivating visage. Second, they have a ponderous gait that gives the illusion of slow physical and mental ability. They can however, move with lightning speed at the prospect of a meal. They are known to reach short bursts of speed up to 13 mph. You and I cannot run that fast. This is an eating machine so its mental ability and function is completely devoted to locating a tasty something or other. He has the habit of hanging around game trails (think a commuter route for animals) a long time, motionless, patiently waiting for some unsuspecting whatever to pass by. He is at the top of the food chain so will eat pretty much anything he can get his mouth around. He does not think much of us though, as it would seem attacks towards humans are fairly rare unless you happen to get in between him and lunch.

            It is a wonder they have managed to survive – Varanus komodoensis is a cannibal. It would seem that Mr. and Mrs. Dragon like to feast on their own kids. They have been at it so long that these creatures are born with a highly refined genetic ability to climb trees. It’s true. They are, at birth, highly accomplished tree climbers. Further, they seem to know the second they are born that it’s “off to the trees quick!” They further have it in themselves an uncanny knowledge that, if they smother themselves in dung and other unmentionable filth, they will render themselves unsuitable for any of the older lizards’ dining pleasure.

            Such is their extreme and total lack of social skills that the Creator put him on his own island way out in Indonesia. They have now made the place into a park and have decided to hire a bunch of rangers to protect this lizard from us. Or maybe it is to protect us from him. He is a wholly nasty and unlikeable (though oddly fascinating) creature. I hope to never meet one in the wild and, in support of that goal, will most certainly never visit the Komodo National Park.

            Say what you want, but the Komodo is a patient and tenacious survivor. He is also opportunistic. He is the walking, talking example of patience being a virtue.  Patience. “He who waits on the Lord will renew his strength.”