Sunday, June 26, 2016

Red Dog





I think I wrote about Red a while back.

She's a four year-old Border Collie, quite a good cow dog, and just a very nice dog overall. In March she had an infection in the tissue of her chest. At that time she'd been sick for a month or so (or so we thought) and hadn't healed up on her own, despite an exam and wound cleaning by the vet and a big dose of long lasting injectable antibiotic.

She'd been in a fight and at the time we thought that that's how she got injured in the first place.

As it turns out, that probably wasn't it.

Anyway, we tried just about everything short of surgery. Antibiotics to the tune of about $700. X-Rays. Twice daily irrigation. She'd get better and the wounds would nearly heal, then they'd open back up and start weeping again.

On Thursday she took a turn for the worse. She was quite droopy and lethargic, had a fever, wouldn't eat. And the wound discharge changed color and gained a foul odor.

So she was starting to get septic, and that would almost certainly kill her. The only hope was surgery.

Which we did on Friday.








Yep, that's a five-inch stick. It was lodged in the muscles of her chest along the sternum.

Your guess is as good as mine. Obviously she ran into a tree branch and snapped the thing off in her chest.

Kind of icky-horrible to think about. May have happened as long ago as November.

In a way though I was happy as hell when we found that thing, because we'd found the problem -- gruesome as it was -- and now she would get better. I'd been afraid it was some mystery bug and that I'd have to put her down.

Oh, you should have seen her coming out of the anesthesia. I almost took some video but I just couldn't do it. But man, she looked a lot like a sailor trying to make the last liberty boat.

She's pretty sore and hanging out in the house a lot, but she's on the mend and will soon be back in business.











Thursday, June 23, 2016

Someday, 3 a.m.





Sarge put up a video of USS Ronald Reagan the other day and I commented that it brought a little tear to my eye. He replied that when we're doing our duty, we don't know that someday we'll miss it...a lot.

To which I replied that at that age, you don't really know what someday means.

Well, if you live long enough, you find out.

##########

I woke up at 3 a.m., drenched in sweat, heart pounding, filled with the dread of impending doom. It took a few moments to remember that I'm an old fat guy on a ranch in Nebraska, not a young whippersnapper on the boat fixin' to sierra hotel india tango down both pant legs.

I walked out on the front porch, sat down on the top step, and gazed up at the nearly full moon. It was cool and quiet and the hint of southerly breeze began to dry the sweat from my body. Nona the Wonder Dog appeared, whined gently, and put her head in my lap. As the sweat evaporated and the heart pounding faded the terror slowly seeped away.

I hate it when I have that dream.

##########

It was just after 3 a.m. on the shortest night/longest day of the year, so I decided I might as well stay up and get some stuff done. Sick calf to examine, miles of fence to tweak, lots of stuff to be writing about.

As I started to get up Red and Jeter dashed by barking. Nona watched them go, looked at me, looked back longingly at the developing fun, and decided to stay put. I wondered if she sensed that I appreciated her support, or if she felt like I was in enough distress that she should hang close.

Within a few moments the heavy scent of skunk began to drift through the air. Maybe she wasn't concerned about me at all. Maybe she's just a bit smarter than the rest of the pack.

The nearly overpowering odor of skunk brought a memory out of storage. Let's see, it would have been the early 90's, perhaps 1993.

I'd bought a bunch of baby chicks that spring with the intent to "raise" my own eggs and put some broilers in the freezer. I didn't know manure from marigolds when it came to chickens, but how hard could it be? This being the pre-interweb days, I got some books.

Things went quite well for a while, but then one morning I had some dead chicks in a coop that whiffed strongly of skunk. Hmmm.

I did what a chicken farmer would do back in the days before smart phones. I picked up the landline. Seriously. It was a greenish, oblong, two-piece thing hanging on the wall, with a long, curly cord connecting the wall thingy with the talking and listening thingy. I pressed the dial buttons in a particular sequence, and soon I was talking to the predator control expert at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center. Dallas Virchow. He told me what to do.

The next morning I had the skunk firmly caught in a muskrat trap and the words of the expert echoing in my head. "Use a .22 short, and shoot him in the middle of the chest. He won't be startled because the short is so quiet, and that'll keep him from spraying. He'll just sit there and bleed out internally, and that'll be that."

So, pow.

He sprayed for about 15 minutes. I had to move the chicken coop. And for about 10 years, every time it rained, the scent of that skunk took revenge on the atmosphere.

##########

I had a few adventures in my day and from time to time there was fear involved. Sometimes the "oh $#!+ we're fixin' to die" kind (tail rotor departing the aircraft) and sometimes the "I firetrucking hate this part" kind (helo dunker). Those kinds of fear never really bothered me much, and on the few occasions I thought about it, I was kind of surprised at my savoir faire. I'd always imagined fear being more dramatic, I guess.

There's another kind of fear, and I didn't meet that one until I'd had six years to become complacent about how undramatic fear was. 

As it turns out, there's also the kind of fear where you find yourself doing something that You. Do. Not. Want. To. Do. That one sucks. And it's the one I sometimes dream about.

It's funny in a way, because you'd (well, I'd) expect the dreams to be about the close calls. But they never are.

The whole thing came out of the blue, in the middle of the night. Which is a badly mixed metaphor, appropriate to a badly mixed up mission. The phone rang in the BDS, I answered, and the ship's Senior Medical Officer (SMO) told me to grab my flight gear and head to Ready Five for a briefing.

That was odd, the SMO passing the word. The middle of the night call wasn't odd at all, not on this deployment. There'd been a lot of interesting tasking.

As I rolled on up to Ready Five I was in "too cool for school" mode. But the Marines at the doorway changed that in a hurry.

"May I see your ID please, sir?"

WTF? As I fumbled out my ID card I started to get a bad feeling. The Lance Corporal scrutinized my face, comparing it to the image on the card. He knew me, I knew him. He knew I wasn't a "sir." He was very much in Professional Marine Mode, however. Seemingly satisfied, he silently handed  the card to a PFC (and yes, we knew each other), who compared it to his clipboard, grunted and penciled a tick mark on his list, and nodded to his partner, who stood aside from the door. Apparently I'd passed muster.

As I stepped in, someone said, "Okay, that's the corpsman. Let's get started."

I looked around the room and my bad feeling intensified. This wasn't normal at all. There were a lot of people in the ready room. Not a crowd, exactly, but more than usual. The Skippers or XO's from most of the squadrons were present. Three helo crews. CAG and DCAG. A bunch of intel types. A cluster of khaki-clad zeroes I'd never seen before.

And the four longhairs. I'd seen them before. Longish, razor-cut 80's hair, sunglasses, jeans and sneakers. I'd flown several missions with them back in June. First names only, a bit standoffish, clearly competent. I didn't know who or what they were, though I had some suspicions. I wasn't sure if I liked them or not, but looking around at the tense faces in the ready room, I was sure I didn't like them in that place at that time.

A Captain from the Flag Staff started the briefing. "In response to National Command Authority Tasking, we're going to..." The bad feeling flared into dread.

Twenty months previously similar tasking had resulted in a pair of jets being shot down. One aviator dead, one prisoner, one rescued. "Washington" had been singled out as the major culprit in that Romeo Foxtrot for micromanaging the mission and demanding a "press friendly" timeline. We'd been told that the lesson had been learned, that on-scene commanders would call the shots from now on. But as the brief progressed it became obvious that someone in Washington was in the drivers seat.

My palms began to sweat and I felt a chill worm of fear in my guts. There was something in the air in that room that made me feel like a thing, an object, rather than a person. I didn't like what I was sensing and feeling.

The mission would be simple, really. Fly in, pick up some dude, come on home. I'd done the same thing a couple of times in June, in the Bekkah. Those hops had been a little tense, but straightforward and trouble free. This time we'd be flying into Beirut proper, which did nothing to alleviate my concerns. Beirut was a snake pit.

The brief was hurried and short on detail, but at least the intel weenies were honest about what they didn't know. The staff pukes from flag country, however... Well, I got the impression that they were all positioning themselves for MAX CYA while leaving plenty of room to collect medals.

The nuts and bolts of the thing were dead simple. One of the islamic jihad groups had cut a deal and were releasing an American hostage. We'd fly in, the longhairs would sign for the hostage, we'd fly out. Just in case, there'd be a strike airborne, Intruders and Corsairs loaded with Rockeyes and an Iron Hand four-ship of Corsairs loaded with HARMs and MK82 SERET. The MAB was was over the horizon (USS Tarawa IIRC) and on hot standby to put Marines ashore in the event. Still, the thing didn't smell right. There was nothing about the tone of the brief I liked, nor about the undercurrent of tension in the room.

"Now we're just waiting for confirmation," said the Captain from CTF-60.

Great.

I huddled with the helo crews and we did our detailed brief. Then we sat and waited.

As I sat there my mind kept turning back to some of the information I'd seen regarding the behavior of the good folks presently populating that part of the world. In particular, images of a film clip kept playing in the theater of my mind. Shot from overhead, probably from an upper story of a nearby building, the film depicted a medieval drama with a horrible modern twist. A man was chained between two beat up cars, arms hooked to one, legs to the other. A small group of AK-armed men surrounded the cars, watching. The cars sped apart. The victim's arms came off in a spray of blood, while the rest of his body bounced wildly behind the car that his legs were still chained to.

Another scene, still pictures that I won't describe but had reason to cause me a great deal of concern and anxiety.

I'd been doing peacetime practicing for war for quite a while. I'd done risky and had a couple of really close calls. This was my fourth deployment. I wasn't a noob. But, given the overall context and the feel of that ready room, I was treading new ground. I was really, really scared.

My heart was hammering. My mouth was bone dry and I was paradoxically swallowing gallons of saliva. I felt both flushed and chilled. There was a faint ringing in my ears. I felt like I was screaming inside. This had never happened to me before. This was not the way it was supposed to be. I had never seen this coming, this near-panic rampaging through my guts and so perilously near to snapping its chain.

Yes, there was plenty of reason for fear. But I'd done fear, dammit, and it had never been like this! I was shocked to find myself on the ragged edge of hysteria. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away. I wanted to say no.

I wanted to say no.

But I didn't. Not because I was courageous, but because I couldn't find a way to run away from my shipmates. Which looks great when spelled out in sentence form, but was in actuality such a closely run internal contest that I still don't understand the outcome. I never will. I can guess and surmise but I can never know the how or the why, only the result.

Another staff puke, a Lieutenant, entered the ready room, followed by four sweating sailors lugging a pair of obviously heavy cruise boxes.
Cruise Box

The staff guy spoke briefly with the Captain, who looked around, then pointed at me. The Lieutenant walked over and handed me a clipboard.

"You need to sign for this gear."

Another WTF moment. "What is it?"

"Just sign it," said Lieutenant shiny-ass.

I glanced down at the form and studied it. It was an inventory of medical gear, presumably contained in the cruise boxes. My eyes bugged out. It was mass casualty gear, probably enough to treat 50 badly injured people. Field dressings, splints, burn kits, surgical kits, six cases of IV fluids, lots of meds. Including 100 morphine syrettes. More than 400 pounds of gear.

The fear churning in my gut flashed into white hot rage, which I welcomed like a long lost friend. I'd been sitting next to the HAC, the aircraft commander of our helo, and I turned to him.

"We're picking up one guy, right?"

"Yep," said the HAC.

"And we're not delivering medical supplies to anyone?"

"Not that I know about."

I handed the HAC the clipboard, and the Lieutenant immediately snatched it away, shoved it back in my face, and growled, "just sign for it."

The rage flowed.

"Fuck You."

The HAC snatched the clipboard back and began to read. The Lieutenant began to splutter. The HAC raised his hand, then stood up when the Lieutenant began to "insist."

"Just stand there with your mouth shut, Lieutenant," said the HAC, who happened to be a full Commander and the squadron XO. He strode to the front of the ready room and handed the clipboard to the Captain. A moment later the Captain called the Lieutenant over and spoke to him in a quiet voice. As he spoke he looked at me across the room and I met his gaze evenly. The Lieutenant gestured toward his working party and the sailors picked up the heavy cruise boxes and departed, followed by Lieutenant shiny-ass.

The HAC came back and resumed his seat. He leaned over to me and spoke in a quiet voice.

"I'm quite sure I didn't hear you say that, and I'm even more sure that if I ever hear something like that there'll be hell to pay."

"Yessir."

I felt a lot better. The fear and concern were still there, but the rage had chased away the panic.

We launched about two hours later and the mission went, more or less, like clockwork. It got a little sporty for a few minutes on the ground in Beirut, and it got frankly strange on the return leg, but those are stories for another time.

The important thing was that I'd learned how to channel rage into a tool for evicting panic from my guts. That was an important moment in my life.

All thanks to Lieutenant shiny-ass.

I didn't know it at the time, but on that September day back in 1985 I became part of the All Star Guns For Hostages Team. I loved President Reagan then, and I love him now, but that stuff still sticks in my craw. To extend the chicken metaphor, as it were.

##########

No, the dream isn't about a firefight or a midair or something terrible that happened.

It's about terror and panic and the memory of how I very nearly said no, very nearly abandoned my shipmates. I didn't do those things, but I found that I have the capacity to do so, and that sometimes haunts my sleep.

##########

When I examined the sick calf I found that she had a big abscess on her neck.



Which my favorite lady vet took care of.





Friday, June 17, 2016

Soda straw





A long, long time ago...
Calf laid up in sweetclover
When I was but one and thirty, and the world was momentarily, remarkably, just exactly the way I wanted it to be, more or less...
Spiderwort
I was sitting in a conference room in a hangar on the fighter side at Oceana. I was part of a mishap investigation board tasked with discovering and reporting the cause of the loss of an A-6.
Prickly poppy
The jet had been day bombing at Navy Dare, in perfect conditions, and had hit the ground in a wings-level, 60 degree dive. After poring over reams (real, hard copy reams in those days) of data, our conclusion was little different than what we'd all reluctantly suspected going in.
Evening primrose
CFIT. Controlled Flight Into Terrain.
Wild prairie rose
The question we couldn't answer definitively, could only guess at, was why.
Purple pincushion
Why did a pair of seasoned aviators fly their jet into the ground on a perfect day?
Green needlegrass, blue grama, milkvetch, threadleaf coreopsis
The board president was a RIO (Naval Flight Officer/Radar Intercept Officer) and the CO of a fighter squadron. H'e been, in his misspent youth as he put it, a Bombardier/Navigator (B/N) in the A-6A.
Threadleaf coreopsis and green needlegrass
"When you're in the hood," he said, "you're looking through a soda straw."
Sideoats grama, fringed sagewort, daisy fleabane
That was the first time I heard that phrase.
SAA plud threadleaf coreopsis
The board's conclusion was that the aviators had lost situational awareness regarding the proximity of the ground and may not have ever realized they were in extremis. One moment they were living the life, bombing in perfect weather on a perfect day. The next moment they were debriefing with St. Peter.
Green needlegrass and threadleaf coreopsis
##########

The A-6 isn't the only infernal machine equipped with a soda straw, and naval aviators aren't the only ones who lose SA while peering through soda straws.
Same
The soda straw is extremely useful, even essential. We all need to study things in minute detail, else we miss the trees for the forest. SA works both ways. Individual trees are important. The forest as a whole is important.
Grass n coreopsis
We humans live on a planet where everything -- everything -- is interconnected. We are a part of the world. As much as we like to think we are masters of our destiny, standing above it all on our Olympian peak, we are, on the planetary scale, no greater and no less than algae and bacteria.
A little western wheatgrass in the mix
At the human scale, however, we are not algae and bacteria. We are all individuals, and we are all interconnected. None of us is greater than our fellows, nor are any of us less than our fellows.
Green needlegrass and coreopsis
Today we are part of a mighty struggle between those who believe that all men are created equal and those who believe otherwise. It has always been thus; there is nothing new under the sun.
Plus sagewort
The soda straw is a useful tool in examining the details of the struggle. But if we lose our situational awareness we will crash and burn.
dihydrogen monooxide
SA will save your ass.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Peticure





I wrote about Willie a few months back. She's a 12 year old miniature Dachshund, named rather unconventionally after my paternal grandfather Wilbur. Which rather makes sense to me as Grandpa was anything but conventional. As a callow ute during the depression he went to Texas with air in his pockets. His plan was to pick grapefruit and replace the air with jingle. He came home riding a brand new Indian and with enough jingle to start farming and get married.
I'd be pleased with myself too.

Why the wig and hat? Because life is for livin', and because wig and hat!
And the turnip don't fall far from the tree.
Old Man during house remodel.

Anyway, back in February Willie developed an abscess on her neck. I opened it and cleaned it and she healed right up. Good as new.

Willie has been prone to developing these minor infections over the last several years. The neck was the worst but it's not uncommon for her to grow a little bump that turns into an abscess, opens on its own, and heals up. She seems healthy and happy and never (or very seldom) appears to be bothered by the little infections. Which is pretty much normal for a dog in my experience.

She also has Dachshund toenails. That is, her nails grow pretty fast and tend to curl into a complete circle if she doesn't keep them worn down. She does a pretty good job of that, except of the aft, outboard pair. Those don't seem to get any wear at all, and will quickly grow into a circle of keratin. Which wouldn't be bad, really, except they keep growing after the circle is closed, and become painful.


Ideally I'd routinely inspect and clip her nails. Unfortunately, I'm a rather accomplished procrastinator. I think of doing the job often, but usually put it off until she starts limping. Not good enough at all, but there you go.


So, evening before last I was watering the garden. Willie was scampering around in the lilac bushes, trying to catch a bird. Believe it or not, she's a pretty accomplished bird catcher. At some point she started barking, but the tone and cadence of her barks was odd. Not quite a yelp, not quite a bark. Eventually I investigated and found that she was stuck on some ages-old poly twine snarled way back in the deepest heart of the lilac hedge. Somehow a loop of twine had become tangled in the keratin circle of her too long ignored back, left, outboard toenail. She was well and truly stuck!

It took only a moment to cut her loose, and she scampered madly about, frisking and snorting and shaking her big, floppy ears. Free at last, free at last!

"C'mere, Willie," I said.

"Ruh-Roh," she said, "he's gonna trim my damn toenails now."


Which I did. And which she didn't like. And which made the overgrown rear, outboard toenails bleed a lot.

Nice thing about bleeding is that it eventually stops. On way or another.

I'm busy as hell just now. As if I didn't have enough on my plate I decided to expand my garden.


Once the seeds germinated and began to emerge in my new railroad tie frame garden plots, the greenish thumb took possession of my mind and decoded to put in a corn and squash patch.



SMH.

Then this guy flew over and I felt more better.


Good day to be Loachin' about!








Thursday, June 9, 2016

Whether we weather the weather





Sarge posted about the weather yesterday and had some great, fun and interesting observations.

I think I've finally been around long enough to understand -- I mean really understand -- that nature does not care one whit about our human desires when it comes to the weather (and pretty much everything else).

In and of itself, weather is endlessly fascinating. At least it is to me. Think of it; uncountable gas molecules larking about as they hug the surface of a spinning planet, each acting independently according to local fluctuations in energy, each affecting its neighbors and being in turn affected. And that's it, that's weather. Gas and energy.

Just as fascinating is human response to weather. Billions of humans larking about as they hug the surface of a spinning planet, each acting independently according to local fluctuations in energy, each affecting its neighbors and being in turn affected.

Weather is, of course, a constant topic of conversation. Over the last few years I've started an informal and pretty much unscientific experiment regarding human reactions to temperature change. During the winter, whenever the weather comes up in conversation, I say something like, "Yeah, it's cold as hell, and in x months we'll all be bitching about how hot it is." In the summer I switch it around.

Remarkably, at least to my simple mind, the responses are all eerily similar. In winter most folks say, "Yeah, but I love the heat. Give me summer heat anytime." And in summer, nearly everyone says the opposite.

We're just now having our first heat wave of the season. Actually, it's no heat wave at all, with temps only climbing into the mid-90's. But it came on pretty suddenly, following a pretty cool spring. So to be fair, a pretty abrupt change, 50's to 90's.

And today, as I go about my going about, everyone I meet is moaning some variation on the same theme...



I love my people! Everywhere I go I see myself reflected in their clownish, lemming-like behavior. In winter I hate the cold and long for heat, in summer I quickly tire of 90+ degrees and long for crisp and cool conditions. 

I live in a part of the world where it gets uncomfortably cold more often than it gets uncomfortably hot. I've seen minus 40 here many times, but to the best of my recollection I've only seen 110 one time. Our average summer high temperatures run mostly in the 80's, and then only for about 60-90 days. Despite a few heat waves here and there, summer is undoubtedly the season of easy living, and there's a lot to be said for that.

Of course I wouldn't be able to enjoy the easy living were it not for the annual dose of hard living. The seasons are a blessing.

And it's now Thursday morning tornado siren test season!






Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Take it easy





And it's now the season of easy living.



We had a very cold December and January, followed by a warmish February, then a normalish March and April, and finally, a chilly, damp May.

Calving is all but done. We like to have 80 percent of the cows calved out in the first six weeks, and we did that and more this year. It was a very good calving season. It was a lot of hard work, mostly because of the weather.

That dampish, coolish March-May period really slowed the arrival of the season of easy living. I was finally able to turn my furnace off last week, and Sunday was the first night I was able to leave the windows open overnight. Ahhhhh. Finally.
Carpenter, Honey, and Sweat bees.
They appear to be drunk on the sweetness of spring nectar.
The roses bloomed two weeks late this year.
But now I'm behind on out-of-doors nice weather work. I've got a feces load of fence to fix, a shop to clean and organize, metal junk to load out and sell, stock tanks to drain and scrape and caulk and refill, and a bunch of other fun stuff to do.

But first, it's time to garden. Ah, gardening! What a way to waste money! I'd hate it if it wasn't so enjoyable.

This year (over the last two days, actually) I built some raised garden plots out of railroad ties...
You can never have too many railroad ties.
Seriously.
A well loved and trusty gardening tool.
Work in progress.
...and installed a couple of tractor-tire mini-gardens. Mostly for Mom, so she doesn't have to do as much bending over. Not that I won't benefit as well!
Shaping up.
Peppers and tomaters.
And melons and squash.
It's a lot of work, building those frames and filling them with earth. As I get older, railroad ties and dirt get heavier. But it's a fun project and it'll be interesting to see how it all works out. In theory, I can make the soil more perfect than in a regular garden, so I'm expecting a bumper crop. Or perhaps a crop failure.

So hard physical work, stinging sweat, aching muscles and joints. Part of the joy of spring. Love the smell of creosote in the sunshine, love the stinging tingle it gives when ground into sweating pores. That's livin'!

And of course the dogs help out. They know when I need to take a break and play ball.
Hey human! Quit larking about and get on with the serious stuff!
So the tire gardens are now planted, and the frames are ready for seed. Guess I'd better get to it.
Almost done (and other lies).
You can't have too many bobcats, either.
Soil sauce!
Almost done (really).
A little dihydrogen monooxide...
And here's a June 7 peek at Herefordshire...








Thursday, June 2, 2016

Past 'n present





I came across a treasure last night whilst digging through some boxes of junk. Never did find my passport but in the bottom of an old trunk I found a folder of stuff from my 1985 Med deployment.

Stuff I hadn't seen in a very long time.

That '85 Med was quite the action packed adventure. In many ways it was my most memorable cruise. I've been kicking around the idea of writing about a few of the more noteworthy events but there's always been a bit of a problem. The most interesting stuff was classified. Turns out that almost everything was declassified last year, so I'll be able to treat these topics the way I'd like to and without dancing around a lot of detail. Which is nice, but then I started spinning my wheels a bit due to old brain syndrome. The folder of stuff I found last night contains a bunch of letters and pictures, and those things are really turning the key in the old memory lock. So now I just need to get on with it.

Here are a couple of ratty old polaroids.
Sticking a chest tube.
Same.
Flight Deck Battle Dressing Station. I'd forgotten that we pooled for a refer!


And a couple of track charts with part of the story of the cruise. I'd actually forgotten that we did ORE down in the Caribbean before translant and chopping to Sixth Fleet. We lost an Intruder in Panama.
First two ports, Toulon and Haifa, followed by Alexandria about 70 days later.

BENO Station!
Now on to the present. Here's what Nebraska smells like today.
Not successful.
Might be successful. Those eggs appear to be robin's egg blue.

Hoary Puccoon.
Deuce. AKA...
Shithead. Dangerous tanking from the aft station.
Soaking up the morning sunshine.
I see you! Youngest calf.
Western wheatgrass and sweetclover.
It's a calf's life.
The cow with the white 'stache has yet to calve.
That's it for now. More later.