Sunday, August 23, 2015

Playing Favorites

Yesterday I was about a half mile from the front gate and a Whitetail buck floated over the fence and trotted across the road, right to left, in front of me, rack held high and proud. I slow for deer, to the point of almost stopping, because where there's one there's often more and - well - they're a little insane, especially around roads.

Good thing I did because off to the right in a small hidden meadow was a fair sized harem that the poor schmuck had obviously been building. (Poor schmuck because it's early in the season so all the work he's doing gathering up the ladies will be for naught when a bigger, more savvy dude comes along and takes them away from him a few weeks from now.) True to their nature, one of this harem was panicked at being separated from the boss and decided that playing suicidal chicken with a 7000 pound van was preferable to being on the wrong side of the road!

This morning I spotted several of those more experienced and savvy rivals biding their time on the other side of the pond.

Mixed in among the big guys was one just barely beyond the spike stage

and he seemed to be currying favor from one of the elders,

but he better watch out because I don't think everyone in the group is down for that sort of behavior.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tales from the Road: Cattle Call

Did you ever notice how much a livestock trailer looks like a school bus from certain angles?

Today I was driving over to a friend's place and as I came around a curve I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a school bus pulling into a ranch gate.

I thought 'cool, they must have a summer kids program back in there somewhere'.

But as I pulled even with the drive I looked over and saw that what I had taken for the tail end of a school bus was actually the rear half of a goose-neck livestock trailer with a white sun-shade roof. The only thing missing were the big flashing lights.

The thought of us stuffing our kids and livestock into such similar transportation was briefly amusing, but then I was reminded of something I hadn't thought about in over 40 years.

In 1972, when I was in basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood in central Missouri, that's exactly what they used to do to us. Load us into livestock trailers, only these were the full size, tractor-trailer kind.

You might find this amusing in a quaint, 'embellished memory' sort of  way, but the photo below accompanied an Army  news article  titled:



The article goes on to explain that before these were deployed elsewhere, Fort Leonard Wood received a prototype of this new transport for testing in 2001!!!, 29 years after I was livestocked into the bowels of those old, dusty, rattly, noisy, and just generally uncomfortable cattle-cars. 

To be fair, those old livestock trailers had been thoroughly cleaned out so it's not like we were slopping around in bovine waste products. In fact they had even been painted olive-drab, inside and out, perhaps so we didn't feel quite so much like we were on the way to the abattoir, though I'm not sure the prospect of running a obstacle course in the hot sun or sitting around on hard wood planks learning to fire a LAW after a full day of PT and a night of fire-watch was all that much better.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Driving Texas

OK, admittedly, this is a bit of a rant, but every time I leave the state for a while and come back, I'm reminded all over again of Texas' particular brand of driving. Which is, in a word, fast!

OK, I'm confused. Am I supposed to drive friendly or the Texas way?? I wish they'd make up their minds. And I'm not at all sure we should be so proud of having spawned the Bush's within our borders. At the very least I know we shouldn't be spending my tax dollars on frivolous signs saying so.

Not that Texas is unique in having it's own 'style' of driving, You'll find different styles all over this country. But fortunately for those of us taking regular road trips, traffic laws in the USA are comfortably similar across all the states.

And that's good because things could be worse!!

Those of you doing cross-country trips before the 70's might remember the right-turn-on-red confusion. Some states had it, some didn't. If you weren't sure you had two choices; make the turn and pucker-up while you waited to get pulled over, or sit there and have the guy behind get all pissy about you wasting a few seconds of his precious time while he made a spectacle of you by laying on the horn. It wasn't until the fuel shortages of the 70's that the feds stepped in and pushed the have-nots to normalize things.

And just imagine if the US were like Austria from the Napoleonic invasion in the early 1800's up to 1938 when things were finally rectified! During that 100+ year period, as you crossed from one part of the country to another, roughly equivalent to crossing our county lines, you had to change which side of the road you drove on! OK, initially it was horse to horse conflict which was slow motion by current standards, but by the early 1900's speeds started to pick up and finding yourself on the wrong side of the road had more serious consequences!

Oh, and along those lines, just be glad you weren't in Sweden September 3rd 1967!! At midnight, in one fell swoop, the entire country switched from driving on the left to driving on the right! Not, I'm sure, without a few hiccups and some extreme pucker factors.

But, even though things are largely uniform in this country, visa-vi driving legally, there are some noticeable differences between states.

Some of these differences are mandated by law.

For instance, New Hampshire thinks (Correctly in my humble, but always right, opinion.) that as an adult I have the right to make my own decision about wearing or not wearing a seat-belt. I would never dream of not wearing a seat-belt but I certainly object to my government forcing me to do so!

On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey and Oregon think I'm just too stupid to pump my own gas and instead force me to let disposable minimum wage flunkies do it for me.

Exposure to toxic fumes is often cited as one of the arguments for this law so, extending that logic, if it's too dangerous for us normal citizens to pump gas and breathe fumes once or twice a week they must consider the people hired do it a hundred or so times a day as disposable. From that we can assume that anyone with even a few working brain cells would be reluctant to take such a job; and what does that say about the person cavalierly pumping that explosive concoction into the tank under my butt???

Another argument used by those too lazy to get their butts out of the seat is that it's safer because you can stay in your car where thugs can't get to you, but I think there's a slight flaw in that logic too. Sure, I stay in my car, in fact the law says I must, but because of that I have to let some stranger, perhaps not the kind of person I would be comfortable being around otherwise, (See the previous bit about toxic fumes!) walk right up to where I'm sitting helplessly behind my open window. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that how carjackings start??

And by the way, while we're on (OK not 'we' but just 'me'.) differences in laws between states, are all you mega 102" wide RV owners aware that in 12 states plus DC you are legal only on federal highways and once you stray a certain distance from them, 10 miles in Louisiana but only 1 mile in Maryland, you are illegal unless you have a permit??

No, I didn't think so. Not something the RV salesperson was likely to point out was it?

But some of the differences in driving style from state to state can be traced back to geographic or cultural/social issues.

For instance, generally speaking, speed limits are higher in the less populated western states than they are in the highly populated eastern ones. (Yeah, I know, that was an easy one.)

And in my own experience, though I don't really know why, the drivers of Minnesota and New Mexico are much more courteous than those of Massachusetts and Louisiana. (According to, Idaho is officially ranked least courteous and North Dakota most courteous.)

On an even smaller scale:

In San Francisco you can get a ticket for not turning your wheels into the curb after parallel parking. This is so when your parking brake fails the car rolls up on the sidewalk and flattens a pedestrian or two rather than damaging the car parked downhill. Not something most of us would think about.

And is it just me or have you noticed that as you drive from rural to urban areas, the closer to the city you get the more frantic the driving becomes. As the official speed limit drops in anticipation of congestion, the actual speed driven increases, as does the sharpness and frequency of lane changes, along with a corresponding reduction in following distance and suspension of common sense.

I can only assume this is because we all know that that one extra car length we gain through aggressive driving is extremely important when in the city. Never mind that the only thing we really gain is arriving at the stop-and-go traffic jam a half second sooner than the next guy. (As we bury Duddly McLeadfoot this fine day, try not to think too badly of him. Sure, he killed himself and three innocents, but he did it while trying to get there ahead of the other guy, so that makes it alright. . .)

In Wichita drivers use their horn; a lot! Most are not angry, flip-off, slam-fist-on-horn honks, but rather just little toots; hello, or hey-I'm-here toots if you will; but they still make the uninitiated visitor all paranoid and jumpy. At least that's what they do me.

If you're a Dallas-ite apparently you're taught that taking an exit by starting from the left lane and just shooting on across all traffic lanes is a common and acceptable driving strategy. (So many do it I figure it must be on the written test somewhere.) But it's a strategy that can scare the daylights out of the unwary! (I make sure I have extra underwear along when going through Dallas.)

And that is my segue into Driving Texas! Not a very good one I admit, but it got me here. . .

Texas, the land of the ridiculous, perhaps even asinine, speed limit, where the least of the issue is the 80 and even 85 MPH speed limits we have on some of our expressways. Because this is also the land where 75 MPH is common on highways (As in 4 lane, and once in a while even 2 lane.) and 55 is - well - the only place you're likely to see the old familiar double-nickle is when actually driving through a town! For several years we had a two-lane state road 20 miles south of us; a road lined with frequent driveways, farm gates and gravel pits; yet it had a posted speed limit of 75!

But that doesn't really matter anyway since here in Texas speed limits are barely considered a suggestion. After all, we're talking about the state that ranks dead last in the nation in severity of speeding fines as well as frequency of any actual speed enforcement. It shows too. In 2014, here in Texas we killed 3534 people on our roads.  Adjusted for miles driven, that's about twice the rate of Illinois which ranks 1st in fines and enforcement. (I know, I know, I too hate to admit that Illinois ranks first in anything except corruption and former public officials residing in prison, but facts are facts.)

But never mind the stats, because as a card-carrying Texan it's pretty much your patriotic duty to drive as fast as you want as often as you want, even if that means passing against the double yellow line uphill on a blind curve, or even on the shoulder if necessary. (Believe me, it happens!)

If, for some reason, you can't get around someone driving slower than you want to go, like perhaps you have some remaining vestige of self preservation, duty demands that you then push that slower vehicle as hard as possible until such time as you can get by them. You are to do this in the hopes that they might go just a little bit faster while you, very impatiently, wait for your chance to make a death-defying, gas-sucking, piston-scoring lunge around them; because we all know that 30 seconds you're loosing is so friggin' important!! Never mind that in the next town 90% of the time that same car will be waiting right behind you at the stop light.

Oh, and by the way, here in Texas it's not considered tailgating until you've hooked bumpers, so don't freak out if you look in the rearview and see nothing but hood ornament.

Now, to put things into perspective, not all Texans buy into this driving style, just enough that it's noticeable. Despite the speed limits out there, a surprising number of casual drivers, and I dare say a whole lot of professional drivers, ease their way across even the empty miles of West Texas at a safe, sedate 65 MPH. (I know because they don't pass me and I don't pass them.) And Texans also drove a quarter billion, that's with a b, miles in 2014 so that's - let's see - 25 goes into 35, carry the 10, add a zero - oh hell! No matter which way you do the math that's lots and lots, and lots, of trouble free miles.

But I do wish I couldn't see the gleam in the eye of that chrome bulldog in my mirror!!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Floating the Pere Marquette

I'm not a fan of languages that throw in all sorts of unnecessary letters and one-off rule exceptions, English included, (Give me Spanish any day!) but the inescapable fact is, here in Northern Michigan some of the first Europeans to wander in were French and this has left a lot of places with difficult to spell and harder to pronounce  names, at least  pronounce in a way a Frenchman would consider proper. But frankly who cares what a Frenchman considers proper. (Sorry, it's been three years since I've had direct contact with a Frenchman, but after 5 years worth of working with them in the corporate world before that I still have a bad taste in my mouth. . .)

Anyway, those few adventurous Frenchmen of the past have left a legacy around here, which is how we ended up with the Pere Marquette river flowing right past our weekend home at Barothy Lodge.

Now there are several things you can do with a river. You an look at it, which we did in abundance. You can fish it, which a few of us did with little success. You can freight last season's hides to market on it, which we didn't since - well - I think it's pretty obvious why we didn't. You can watch it rise and take over the downstairs kitchen, which I was pretty sensitive to since the rivers around home in Texas had been doing just that after a very wet May, but that didn't happen here. You can build a bridge over it, but we only had three days and little ambition for such an endeavor. Or you can float it. And that we did.

One of the more organized among us had pre-arrainged a Sunday afternoon float trip for whoever was interested, which, it turns out, was most of us.

We were picked up at the Lodge, (Is it weird that I feel so at home in a rattley old short-bus?) dropped off where a number of kayaks has been pre-positioned, and floated back to a takeout point at the lodge.

Our journey took us, right to left, just short of 6 miles.

The drop-off point is marked on the map as such, but was nothing more than a single-wide dirt path you accessed by climbing over a guard rail near a bridge. There was no place for the bus to park other than right there in the middle of the road so we all quickly scrambled over the guard rail. If somebody hit the bus we didn't want to be anywhere near it at the time! Apparently this is one of the more popular put-in points on the river and the DNR has been promising to improve it, but - well - they haven't gotten around to that yet.

Once there we had to line up single file in the dirt track, shuffling forward one kayak length at time while kayaks, and passengers, were slid into the river one at a time. This made me glad I left my Sea Eagle Fastrack in the Van and rented one of the yellow plastic tubs along with everyone else. I could just imagine the angry crowd piling up behind me as I went about the 15 minute process of blowing up my transportation! Though I did end up wishing I had brought my own paddle with me. The rental paddle I ended up with was heavy and not very well balanced!

Eventually we were all in, on, (OK, for the moment on and not in, but that didn't last.) the water and didn't give another thought to the short-bus back there blocking the road.

As a group we had an assortment of singe and tandems along with a wide assortment of experience, from absolutely none, to maybe a little bit. This meant there was bound to be an incident to two on this flat but sometimes boisterous river with it's abundance of snags.

And sure enough, we were only a few hundred yards into our float when one of the tandems ended up hung up on a submerged log, held there by the current which was threatening to sweep them into a nasty snag.

I was in my usual rear-of-the-pack slot and back-paddled while one my siblings, one of the more experienced kayakers of the bunch, doubled back and made a grab for the bow of the hung kayak. This moved it a but but not enough so I aimed for the same spot and gave it a grab too as I went by. Again, not enough, in fact I'm not entirely convinced I didn't make things worse.

While I was doing this, encouraged by that first, near-success, my sibling was circling around again and made another valiant try, only to end up crosswise in the current and getting dumped.

Man down! And only a few minutes into our journey!

Now when you have people stuck in a kayak on a log as well as people in the water frog-kicking past you towards the bank, you go for the ones in the water! With one of us standing knee deep on a mucky bank and the other thigh deep in the water, we managed to empty most of the water out of the overturned kayak and make it river-worthy again.

In the mean-time the hung up tandem was freed by it's occupants and all was well, except one of us was a little wetter than before.

OK, a little genetic side trip here. My father was, among other things, extremity picking about his hair. As a boy the very first 'tool' I was required to have with me at all times was my comb. I carried that comb to the dinner table, church, school, during the dirt-ball fights we used to have around the fresh-dug basements of the neighborhood, fishing trips, swamp excursions, tree climbing, cross-county bike riding, even to the beach! Even after buzzing my hair off to stubble, it still took a while before I felt right without that comb in my pocket.

Anyway, this inborn, undeniable trait has been passed down to at least one of his children. (You want to start a fight just ruffle that head!!) Of course that happened to be the sibling that went into the water! But through the entire incident, getting unceremoniously dumped by the current, guiding the mostly submerged kayak around a snag, through the moving water and to a quite place on the bank, finding a spot to stand where you didn't sink, getting the damn heavy thing turned over and dumped out but only after a couple tries, and re-entering said kayak, not a drop of water this siblings hair did touch!!

 I was impressed!

But wait! We weren't done with 'adventures' yet!

Tandems are difficult things to handle, especially if you haven't practiced as a pair. In fact, some call it the fast-track to divorce. Though my nephew's wife had the perfect attitude for tandeming, which was to sit up front, lay back as far as the molded seat will let you, keep your paddle dry and make occasional, yet still mild, comment only when your rear-seat guide runs you into the bank or under low hanging branches. So it was almost ordained that somewhere further down the river we ended up with a tandem getting crosswise and going under a snag. Not a low hanging log but a full-on, in the water snag!

The kayak popped out the other side, and eventually so did the former occupants, though the kayak wasn't coughing and hacking near as bad as the occupants after swallowing a good portion of the river.

But eventually we got that sorted out too. We even managed to eventually locate the missing sandals so the only long term casualty was one of the rental company's seat cushions and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't station an employee further downriver to collect bits like this as they float by.

The next, and last, great excitement of the trip was when we passed a gaggle of girls, college age I think but at my age I'm having trouble telling just how old young people are anymore, who had pulled their inflatable rafts up to the bank while a couple of the lesser dressed ones played in the water. And yes I looked. It's my opinion that if they didn't want to be ogled they wouldn't dress that way in public places so, being the nice person I am, I willingly obliged.

In all we 'floated' about 6 miles of the river and survived, in fact most of the trip was pretty peaceful interlude through largely untouched north woods. A nice punctuation on our weekend gathering.

I used the word floated in the previous paragraph but put it in quotes because the concept of float might be up for interpretation. You see, there runs a streak of competitiveness among some in the family that manifests itself in car, snowmobile and dirt-bike racing that has resulted in a number of championships. In other words, some of us feel the need for speed more strongly than others and I spent much of the trip completely out of sight of most of our crowd. In my defense, nobody told me there was a checkered flag at the finish line.

Which is a partial explanation for the brevity of photos in this post. But only partial. Another reason is that, a waterproof Go-Pro being beyond the budget at this time, in order to take a photo I have to first retrieve my agua-phobic camera from the dry-bag, fire it up, take the photo, shut it down, return it to the dry-bag, then roll and clip the bag to keep it - well - dry, all between paddle strokes, splashes, rocks and snags. (Which is why all the photos show a fairly placid river.)

The other reason is that many of my photos show identifiable relatives and - well - we just don't do that here in this blog.