Deer Run Trail, By David R LewisNodaway Trail, by David R LewisOn the Calico Trail, by David R LewisOn the Payback Trail, by David R LewisOn the Ogallala Trail, by David R LewisOn the Killdeer Trail, by David R LewisOn the Cutthroat Trail, by David R LewisEndless Journey Toward an Unknown Destination, by David R LewisIncidents Among the Savages, by David R LewisFear of the Father:  Call Me Crockett, by David R Lewis

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Mr. Wilson’s War

When I was young, every 4th of July, my grandfather would load us up and drive to the big fireworks display at the football stadium in a nearby city.  He said the airborn bombs “put him in the mind of” World War One.

When the United States entered the First World War, my granddad was 20 years old.  A bricklayer by trade, a professional boxer by design, and a semi-pro baseball player by choice, he – and many other young men – were pressed into service.  My grandpa left school when in just the 4th grade to work and assist his widowed mother.  He was not an educated man.  Oh, he knew his letters and ciphers, read the newspaper and such, but he was a man of simple needs.  So when the call came to war, he went without question.  He took his oath to protect and defend very seriously, and he did as he was told.

Once Upon a Time

Planting the Seed

“Got a minute?” he asked.

I’d seen him around the area for the past few days.  He was busy, landscaping mostly – installing water features, planting trees.  He was a hard worker, and so old I couldn’t even guess at his age.  It didn’t seem to affect him.  He labored like a young man – full of energy, vital.  He stretched his back out and walked over.

“If you’re not busy, I got a job for you,” he continued, wincing a bit as he worked out some kinks.  “It won’t take very long.  I- I just need a little help to get some things started around here and I think you’d be perfect.”

His eyes seemed to look through me.  Lying to this guy would be damn near impossible.  I squirmed a little when he looked right at me but his face was so kind it took the sting out of his gaze, and his voice was warm and rich.  It felt sort of like a blanket, you know?  I glanced around.

Yard Work

Clipping and Flipping

There are those to whom mowing grass is a gas, but I find a lawn a yawn.  Some feel that heaven is clipping a hedge, but I’d rather camp on a skyscraper’s ledge.  Many find flowers their cup of tea, but a dandelion can get the best of me.

It shouldn’t be that way.  I was raised by a man who took a well-groomed lawn very seriously.  He mowed a lot.  So did I.  I even did a stint for a time as a grounds man on the campus of the University of Illinois mowing for a living until I screwed up my knee by falling off an 8-foot wall of a raised yard near the office of non-academic personnel.

Employed in the lawn and garden department of a large store one spring, my job was to assemble lawn mowers for the unsuspecting public.  Some of them actually worked.  I know the difference between Kentucky blue, fescue, and zoysia.  I know privet when I see it. I can easily determine between northern birch and the river variety.  I am not ignorant, just ineffectual.

Fire When Ready

Bud Miller was born to lead.  With 20 years service in the military, including the Korean War, when ex-Sergeant Miller retired and came home to our small town, he just couldn’t wait to get back in charge of something – and the Fire Department caught his eye.  Our little volunteer fire department was housed in a rundown brick garage just off the small uptown business district.  One ancient pumper truck constituted the entire fleet of firefighting vehicles and, three or four times a year, the town whistle would sound, phones in the volunteer’s homes would bellow a continuous steady ring, and 8 or 10 stalwarts would get to legally drive like maniacs to the fire house and launch the wheezing fire truck to go put out a garbage fire or a blazing tool shed.  Once a week the volunteer firefighters would hold an evening meeting at the firehouse to discuss business for a few hours.  The rumor mill claimed the meeting consisted mostly of beer, cards, and the occasional “stag film”, but nobody ever got out of hand.  So it was, so it had always been – until Bud Miller declared his candidacy for the exalted office of Fire Chief.

C’mon Boys, Over the Top!

Kill the Bass Drummer

I want to start this piece by saying that I have a great deal of respect for those men and women who have served or are serving our country in the military.  My grandfather fought in France and Germany during World War I, my father on Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal in World War II.  My dear wife, while not in the military, spent four years in Afghanistan working to support the troops in hostile areas complete with bombings and rocket attacks.  I, myself, spent a full day and a half in the United States Air Force, and I certainly appreciate those who have given even more than their lives, who have had their minds disrupted, deleted, or even destroyed because of the horrors of war.

At age 14, I took employment as bass clarinetist with the Elk’s Band, a group of fine concert musicians who played in various locations around central Illinois and west central Indiana.  Our repertoire consisted of classical pieces, the occasional show tune, and patriotic numbers by John Phillip Sousa and his ilk.  One fine Sunday, all 42 of us climbed aboard the bus and headed for Danville, Illinois, to play a concert at the VA hospital.  The director rose to his feet as we neared our destination, and cautioned us about the upcoming venue.

Flood Stage

The four of us – Ron, Eddie, Roy, and yours truly – stood a few yards downstream from Dam Four and looked at the river. In normal times, we would have been on a rock outcrop about 15 feet above its sleepy green translucent flow. In normal times, we would have looked down into the water, watching it slip lazily around black and gray boulders, catching the occasional glimpse of the flash of a rainbow trout’s reflective side, the shadow dart of a pickerel chasing a minnow, the splash of a small mouth bass skittering in the shallows. In normal times, red-eared turtles would have festooned its banks, a heron might be fishing near a stump, perhaps a fox fussing near the water. In normal times, it would have been a lovely springtime pastoral setting, its very beauty causing us to speak in hushed tones. Today, we had to shout. These were not normal times. Instead of being 15 feet below where we stood, the river was 15 inches below our feet.

Float Your Boat

Can You Canoe?

Mammoth Spring, Arkansas is a small community near the Missouri state line.  Ozark-outbackian in nature, it has two claims to fame.  Number one, it is rumored to have been approached, many years ago, by entrepreneurs looking for a country site on which to launch a new venture in the music industry they were going to call “The Grand Ole Opry”.  The city fathers at the time decided that anonymity was a better deal than the possible influx of strangers from the outside world –  especially northerners – and turned the offer down.  The entrepreneurs, as we all know, then went to Tennessee.  Number two on the short list is the fact that Mammoth Spring is the home of Mammoth Spring, an immense cold-water spring that is truly mammoth.  Ratings vary, but it is safe to assume that the spring is one of two or three of the largest in the hemisphere, if not the world.  It is the beginning of the Spring River, one of my favorite places on the planet.

In the upper reaches of the river – the first 13 miles or so – the water is very cold and populated by trout, pickerel, small-mouth bass, a wide variety of flora and fauna, and canoeists.  With the exception of the aluminum variety, rampant on the river when I was living in that area several decades ago, canoes are quiet, slippery things that can maneuver through rocks and falls with wonderful alacrity and grace, sliding over gravel in shallow water with only a whisper, and able to allow passengers intimate views of riverbanks and the creatures that live there.  In those days at least, it was possible – even likely – that two people could beach a canoe on a sandbar and, while one built a small fire, the other could pick enough watercress and catch enough trout to have fish and salad for four in the time it took to get the fire going.  From boat to bite, 20 minutes.

Set N' Think

The young couple had two small children with them at the restaurant, and as I labored through my chicken fingers I watched the relationship of the family.  It was different than most I see these days.  There was no travel bag full of toys, no blizzard of techno-bliss, nor were the kids fussing or whining.  All four people at the table, two in their adulthood, two under 7 years, were talking and enjoying one another, physically and psychically touching each other, learning about each other, with relatively equal participation.

Hell of a Ride

Don’t Look Before You Leap

When I was a kid, parents worried about their children, but safety was not the multi-billion dollar concern that looms over us today.  Car seats were unheard of, we skated and rode bicycles without the smallest bit of padding, and were actually allowed to leave the house without dressing to tend goal in the NHL.  As a result, childhood injuries were fairly common.  Broken arms, ankles, stitches, and such were badges of honor – proudly worn after the initial trauma, envied by those unscathed, accepted by parents as the wages of growing up.

As I look back on some of the nearly suicidal chances I took when I was young, I truly believe that God does protect the foolish.  In the herd I ran with, we sometimes stretched that protection envelope nearly to the limit.

You Get What You Pay For

Selling Dawn

Snobbery seeps into every facet of human endeavor, I think, even riding horses. Keeping equines at stables where they are cared for and have their stalls mucked by people hired for that very purpose, is an expensive proposition. Nevertheless, when I was in my early twenties, I made the financial commitment necessary to place my sorrel colt at an excellent facility. The stable maintained about 50 horses, the vast majority of them stalled in an immense barn around a large indoor arena. A few, my colt among them, stayed in the small barn next to the outdoor arena. It was cheaper by about 25 percent, and it was where most of the Quarter horses, plugs, and crossbreds stayed. In the big barn were the “society horses”.

Culture Shock

Blackberry Bruin

In 1975, my wife and I moved from a small cosmopolitan city to almost-Arkansas, Missouri.  In some ways it was de-evolution, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  From Greek bakeries, Jewish delis, jazz concerts, and Broadway quality theatre, we came to Myrtle’s Eats, grabbing suckers, Porter Wagoner, and drive-in movies.  Being a small-town type originally myself, I made the switch fairly easily.  My very adaptable wife followed close behind.  We slowed down and settled in an area where the closest town – a bustling metropolis of nearly 2,000 souls – was 15 miles away over roads that would have scared the average northern tourist to death.

In that part of the Ozarkian Outback, rural bridges were one-lane affairs – open if the creeks weren’t up.  In some areas, streams ran directly across the road.  If it rained, you stayed home.  Pick-up trucks outnumbered cars three to one – before pick-ups were fashionable.  Rifles and buggy whips graced rear truck windows, women did not wear short-shorts, the average unskilled wage was half the federally mandated minimum, education was optional, Red Man and moonshine the drugs of choice, and if you didn’t mind living on a dirt road and fording a creek to get home, you could rent a two bedroom rock house with a cellar on significant acreage for $75 a month – which is exactly what we did.  We cooled with open windows, cut our own wood for heat, lighted with kerosene, kept chickens and pigs, sometimes missed television, and got by.  Then we had a visitor.

Celebration

As of this writing, it is May of 2010.  There was a celebration at my house this morning.  Last night was very stormy – heavy rain, excessive lightning, brutal winds – the temporary finale of several days of harsh weather that produced tornados in Oklahoma and Kansas, hail up to baseball size here and there, flashfloods all over tornado alley, and over five inches of rain at our place.  As of this a.m. it’s still raining a little, but not storming, and our number two cattle dog, Clancy, will sleep a lot of this day.  For some reason, she has a grudge against lightning and feels obligated to invite it to come down and fight like a man – or dog in her case.  She rages at storms, bouncing around, calling Thor names, ready to do battle with the tempest, validating the old adage that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.  The long night of struggle is over now and she is tired.  This morning, the wind has laid, the rain has softened, and all is clean and new, and the birds, free now from three days of brutal pounding, are celebrating.

Me, Billy, and the Bull of the Woods

An Arresting Development

When I first met Billy O’Neal I was just 21 years old, a rookie cop with less than one month on the street, full of high hopes and lofty aspirations as yet untarnished by the darker realities of my job.  One fine June afternoon, I rode with another officer to the city garage to pick up a repaired squad car and return it to the cop shop.  The Lieutenant who dispatched me on that errand probably assumed that even a rookie such as I could carry out the task without incident.  Silly he.  The 10 block drive should have been simple.  Neither one of us counted on Billy O’Neal.