Thursday, June 23, 2016

Monkey Mountain

It seems a common finding that military veterans are reluctant to speak of their wartime service and especially combat, except when reminiscing with other vets about their battle stories. With older veterans dying off and their stories and war histories dying with them there has been a recent effort to get these stories recorded and preserved.
One of my grandsons interviewed me several years ago but the results never went any further.
This story as best as I can recall is true. The setting is a military camp called Money Mountain near Danang in Vietnam. I was serving with the Air Force rescue forces as a ground radio operator.
This story doesn't involve military combat and could probably merit a "G" rating except for the violence you will read about shortly.
Bordering the camp at the base of the mountain and almost to the beach in the Bay of Danang grows a huge tree maybe 40 feet tall but more like 50 feet across. Except for one week in the Spring it gets little notice. The birds nest there but they are quiet neighbors. During that one week, hundreds of monkeys invade the tree. I don't know what kind of tree it is but it produces some kind of fruit or food that the monkeys love. Day and night they play, fight and scream at one another from the branches. It is a jumble of jealous, vindictive juveniles all determined to satisfy their own appetite with the best and biggest morsels that always seem to belong to someone else.
I can't imagine how the tree can bear the weight of the monkeys at the very time it is already burdened heavy with fruit. It does though and when the week is over, the monkeys are gone. The tree is again forgotten as it prepares for next year's onslaught. Little can be learned from the monkey's frantic, haphazard chaos; perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the tree. The selfish will come and go. Those who are unselfish and sharing grow strong and bring joy if only for a brief moment.
While we are on the subject of monkeys, one day at the mess hall as we were in line for dinner, another soldier came past with a monkey on a leash. He stopped and talked with us because everyone wanted to play with the monkey. He explained that they are a lot of work with little benefit. They need constant care, are very demanding, often mean and not very clean. Another day someone came by with a pet sparrow. The bird would fly free but always come back for food or to rest on his benefactors hand or shoulder.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Park

The Park

As a very young boy, I was fortunate to live immediately across the street for a park. It wasn't much of a park; mostly a field of weeds with a softball diamond in the middle and a small playground in the southeast corner. The playground consisted of swings, teeter-totter and a slide. A couple years later a surplus two-story military barracks was trucked in and assembled near the park entrance on Main street. It was termed a recreation center but other than being a place to register for youth recreation programs like little league, it was more a craft house for kids during the summer when school was out.

Pete Harmon was the most prominent patron. He wasn't one of the ball players who used the diamond in the evenings but organized and funded the special events like the bonfire on Halloween and fireworks on the 4th and 24th of July. Pete Harmon owned the restaurant on the corner of State and 39th South. It was called the "Do-Drop-Inn" and was a place to get a burger and fries, Coke or a cup of coffee. He was the same who teamed up with Col. Sanders and the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Back to the park. About the time the barracks was moved in, the park was named Harmony Park and the county began mowing the weeds. I think the name Harmony was a tribute to the support Pete had provided. For me, it was a shortcut to the grocery store and a field to practice my golf drive. We practiced archery but my favorite pastime was watching the control-line model airplane pilots fly on the softball diamond. I would watch in a near-hypnotic trance and wish I could fly like they did.

There was a corner of the field that was vacant so the county began hauling in fill dirt and built up the ground level even with Main street. Next they built a fire station on the fill. The neighborhood kids played on the mounds of fill dirt before they leveled it out and built the fire station. Years later we learned that the fill dirt came from tailings from the Vitro Uranium processing. It ruined playing hide and seek at night because we glowed but seriously, they discussed closing the fire station to protect the health of the firemen but I don't know if they did or if they decided the radon didn't pose a significant problem.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Two Pines on a Hillside Grove

While searching for some continuing education certificates I came upon a poem I had looked for while preparing a sunday school lesson. It is like "Touch of the Master's Hand" where the old violin's worth is shortchanged. The title and author are unknown at least to me.
   Two pines were born on a hillside grove,
   One protected, grew straight and tall.
   It bore no time or weather marks.
   Its figure was slim and virginal.

   The second showed clearly that time had passed,
   For it stood where the winds stormed by.
   Its arms knew the torturous weight of snow.
   Its face knew the sting of the sleet filled sky.

   The first tree so youthfully beautiful,
   Was a picture the world could all see.
   But the artist who climbed to the hillside grove
   Always painted the other tree.
                                  Author Unknown

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fast Food

Sitting in the family room gazing out the patio window I see a swarm of damsel flies. I have nothing better to do so I watch in wonder at the speed and agility of these insect aerobats. As I watch their aerial dance, I see that they are not alone. There are small midge-like bugs flying among the swarm. Then a disembodied pair of wings flutter to the ground. A few seconds later another pair fall. Before long the number of small midges has fallen sharply. I concentrate my observation to discover what is going on. Then a damsel fly darts up from below and behind a midge and another pair of wings flutters free. The dragonflies, as we always called them, are making a meal of the midges. When there was no more 'meal-on-the-fly', the damsel flies flew off in search of better hunting grounds.

If we could design aircraft to mimic the speed and agility of these savage insects there would surely be no adversary in the skies to rival our air power. Such a feat would take a new way of thinking. Or put in the words of one of my favorite poems "The Calf Path": "A moral lesson this might teach were I ordained or called to preach, for men are prone to go it blind along the calf paths of the mind and toil away from sun to sun to do what other men have done. But I am not ordained or called to preach."

A greater moral lesson, to my thinking, is whether it is more probable to believe that life came about by chance from some primordial ocean soup without any intelligent organizing power or that there is a being with the intelligence and power to organize life into a myriad of creatures of such variety with amazing abilities, not the least of which is the ability to reproduce. But I am not ordained or called to preach

Swimming Hole

Chores were complete that sunny summer morning. School was finished for the year and now we could decide how to spend our time. I spent a lot of time walking the Union Pacific tracks that ran behind our home. The ore that spilled from the railcars was interesting. Iron pyrite was worthless but the sparkling crystals looked so rich that about half my rock collection was composed of the shiny rocks.

The swimming hole was about a mile from home so I had to have permission from Mom to go that far to play. It was far enough away to make the trip something special. Mom couldn't keep her eye on us that far away. Walking south on the tracks for a little less than a mile, I came to the creek. A bend in the stream had cut into the clay bank leaving a cliff about fifteen feet high where the more daring boys would jump into the creek. Arriving before the swimmers had muddied the water, I could watch the large fish swimming in the hole below the cliff.

Even on these hot summer days the water was very cold. I was satisfied to jump off the bank, float around and watch the better swimmers jump from higher on the cliff. Becoming engrossed in the diving, I was swept into the shallows where I stubbed my toe and bruised my tender feet. We hadn't brought a towel to dry off but playing in the warm sunshine soon dried our skin. The swimming suits took longer to dry.

Going back years later, I could hardly recognize the spot. Russian Olive, willow and Chinese Elm trees have grown along the bank; the cheat grass has surrendered dominance to weeds and taller grasses that reach above my waist. It was never a residential neighborhood but the few surrounding homes are now gone, replaced by industry and businesses. Just this year one large industrial company was replaced by apartment buildings. Perhaps as time passes the old neighborhood will again ring with children's voices but it will never be the same. The times when your doors were left unlocked and neighbors shared snacks with neighborhood children will never return, I'm afraid. I don't think my grandchildren have ever made a whistle from joint grass but I, likewise, never played video games when I was a child.

Rufus returns home

The mountains of New Mexico are so beautiful in the spring, The cottonwoods fresh with young leaves chatter as the cool breeze fans their branches and the tiny pods of cotton form on the upper branches. It will be a few weeks before they burst and send the seeds borne on fuzzy puffs. The ground will look as if snow has fallen. William and Wendy Wren will gather the pillowy down to decorate their home and make it comfy for thier babies. Here comes William now.

Why Rufus, what are you doing so far away from your home on the Virgin River, chirps William?

I've been all the way to Sonora to visit my cousin there. He brags about how tasty the scorpions are around his cactus patch. I will admit that they make a spicy change from my usual meals.

I mentioned how the sheep herder's boy on the reservation likes to practice with a braided whip and he told me a story about a legendary masked rider named Zorro who used a whip and a sword to defend the peasants when his great grandfather was alive. The indian boy must think he too can become a legend. I could show him a trick or two with the rattlers I catch. The boy's whip isn't alive and can't strike back.

I've seen you dance like a Spanish bull fighter when you challenge a rattle snake. You do put on quite a show. I don't know of any other bird who would risk their life against a snake that is too big to even swallow.

Oh that is nothing, William, I may not be able to swallow one all at once but I can find a nice bush to crouch under and swallow a little more as my stomach makes room. You see, I don't ever need to drink water so I can keep my mouth full for days. I won't have a big meal while I'm on this journey but if you get too close, I might have you for an appetizer.

I've seen how quick you can be. I'm fast too but I know better than to challenge you to a duel. Good day now and you have a safe trip. I'm going down to the stream bed and get myself a drink and take a bath too.

Good bye William. I can run all day and never break a sweat but a few seconds of flight and I'm ready to stretch my legs again. Before I cross the mountains I'm going to flip over a few rocks and dine on fat scorpions. You never can tell where your next meal may come from and Mom always said to be grateful for the blessings God provides and not waste his gifts.

On the second day in the mountains I notice a paw print in the dust. Bobby Bobcat told me about Lenny Linx who lives around here somewhere. Watch out for him, cautioned Bobby, he may mistake you for a sickly forest grouse. Lenny loves forest grouse more than he does green-headed ducks. The feathers on the back of my neck bristled as I trotted through the cedars. I felt as though someone was watching. It pays to follow your instincts. If the sight of the paw track hadn't made me extra careful, I would likely be Lenny's dinner now. As it was, he gave me quite a scare when he bolted from a mound of rocks. It was only my quick reflexes and hiding among the leaves in the chapparal that saved me from his claws.

Three more days and I caught sight of the cottonwood trees along the river near my home. I hadn't come home with a present for my parents or my friend Renae Roadrunner. Old Mr. Rattler had left his curled track across my path so I decided to take a short detour and hunt him. He would make a fine homecoming feast. No sooner had the thought entered my mind than I saw Mr. Rattler peeking from under a cactus. I danced right up to him using my wings to draw his attention. He was in a nasty mood as he bit my feathers but I had done this dance many times and shortly Rattler was exhausted. Grabbing him by the tail I snapped him back and forth until his spirit left and he lay limp. Instead of swallowing him, I grabbed his middle and sped home to present him to my parents. I did peck off the best part and took it to Renae. She did the most beautiful dance when she saw me approach and I could tell she liked my simple present. Watching her dance made me feel warm and strange inside. As much as I enjoyed the visit with my Sonoran cousin, I doubted that I would ever make that journey again.

Days later I was strolling by the river when who should come riding past on their bicycles but Ellie, Jenna and Brooke. Evening was coming on, the sun low on the horizon and I was starting to look for shelter for the evening. I guess the girls were preparing for night-time; they stopped at the park and prepared for their dinner. Dad and Mom followed close behind the girls. In their packs were meals for the family and treats for the girls. As I perched on a boulder overlooking the park I watched as they helped each other prepare for the meal, dine together and then clean up afterward. I held their gaze and felt the love they shared for each other. I was overpowered by the desire for a family of my own and I couldn't get Renae out of my thoughts.

Ghosts, goblins and wraiths

The solitude of the english moors is a fertile breeding ground for legends of ghosts and mysterious happenings. One story tells of a ghostly apparition who patrols the byways of the moors and of strange disapearances of travelers caught out on a moonless night. It was such a night as two LDS missionaries drove their van from a late night meeting when they came upon a lone bicyclist cloaked in black, riding toward them on the opposite side of the road. They passed and traveled a short distance before their curiousity prompted them to turn around to have another look. As they neared the same spot, there was the mysterious rider again coming toward them. They proceeded to where they could turn around and retraced their course. This time the road was empty. Where had the traveler gone? Was it the ghost?
The truth was revealed days later as they related thier story to a local family. "That is not a ghost," they were informed. He is a man who rides his cycle along the road in the solitary late evening hours and composes crossword puzzles. He has such a mind that he can keep the puzzle in memory until it is complete at which time he returns home to put it to paper.
I like the legend of the ghost. What spawns these tales of ghosts, goblins, trolls and other unearthly creatures? Were they used to discourage wayward youth from staying out into the wee hours? Another legend comes down through many generations telling of wicked "Lady Howard" who likewise travels the lonely paths of Devonshire in her carriage drawn by headless horses. Travelers who accept a ride are never seen or heard from again. The legend follows:
"There was once a very wicked woman called Lady Howard, or more familiarly the Old Lady, who now every night for her sins rides a coach made of bones from Fitzford to Okehampton Castle. As the clock strikes twelve, she starts from Fitzford Gateway in her coach of bones drawn by headless horses; in front of the carriage runs a sable hound with one eye in the middle of his forehead. Arrived at Okehampton the hound plucks a blade of grass (or in some versions three blades), and the cortege returns to Fitzford, where the blade of grass is laid on a certain stone. This is Lady Howard's penance, and it will last until every blade of grass in Okehampton Park is plucked, or the world ends." -"Lady Howard of Fitzford", Mrs. G.H. Radford, read at Barnstaple, July 1890. [reprinted from Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1890. - xxii. pp. 66-110]