a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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I like Scamp campers. A lot. I’ve had somewhere around forty-two of them over the years, and often own more than one at a time. Currently, I have one 13’, two 16’ and one 19’ models. Please don’t judge me.
Some women have lots of shoes. They need certain footwear for different occasions and outfits, just like I need different Scamps for different settings. My wife says I need an intervention, but I feel I am getting better. At the beginning of last year, I had seven Scamps. Besides, we have five acres of land and the trailers are on the back side of the property, out of sight – out of mind, where they aren’t hurting anyone.
Last week I went out back to pull our 19’ fifth-wheel Scamp to the driveway. I want to get it cleaned up to either use, or sell. Now, I fancy myself pretty good at backing up to connect the trailers. I put the camper hitch directly over the ball. BAM, perfect, first time. I left the truck running. The crank handle was already in place so I began rapidly turning it clockwise, lowering the trailer onto the hitch. This requires about 100 turns. A robin in a nearby tree was sure noisy, giving me a piece of her mind.
I ignored her and got down on my hands and knees, pulling the pins to lift and stow the camper legs into their towing position. While I secured the second leg, the truck died. “That’s weird.” I said. I went back to the cab and restarted the engine. It ran for just a few seconds before the check engine light came on and the motor died again. Hmm. I had plenty of gas. I tried a few more times. It turned over but wouldn’t start.
I got out of the cab and returned to the camper. The robin kept squawking, occasionally charging toward me, then fluttering back to her perch high above. “Leave me alone, lady! I’m not having a real good day here and I don’t need any of your lip!” I fired back at her before getting on my hands and knees to lower the legs again. I secured the footpads in their down position, then got up to crank the handle, to lift the camper off the truck.
Chattering away, the robin charged at me again, getting even closer as soon as I started turning the handle. I think she meant business! “Look you red-breasted baboon, leave me alone!” I said.
She answered me. “I’m not a baboon. Baboons can’t fly and birds don’t have lips, genius. But if you don’t get away from my babies, I swear I’ll peck your eyes out, mister!”
“Babies? What babies” I looked under the bunkhouse of the Scamp and sure enough the robin had built her nest under there between the vertical frame and the front wall. A robin’s nest is not very large to begin with and crammed into this one, were four young birds, squeezed in tightly.
They sat, hunkered down low in the nest. Their mouths closed; their little black eyes wide open. They were very attentive but didn’t make a peep, in case I was a predator. Each had their beak pointing upward. I suppose prepared in case they needed to peck at me, or maybe waiting to see if Mom was coming back with a juicy worm or some tasty bugs. “Okay, lady. Just let me lift the weight of the camper off my truck, then I will go away.”
There is a system of square tubing that spans across the front of the trailer, connecting the two jack legs. With each slow turn of the handle, the nest would lift about three-quarters of an inch then settle back down. I only can imagine when I was raising the jacks, turning the handle very rapidly about 100 rotations, (unaware the nest was there) these poor chicks probably thought an earthquake was happening!
Mama robin was still giving me a really harsh verbal lashing. I stopped cranking – even slowly. “You know,” I said to her, “your kids look like they are very close to leaving the nest. I think the truck can handle the weight for a few more days. But I am going to get a couple photos before I go.”
I got my pictures, then tried again to see if the engine would start. Plenty of battery, but no spark. I locked the doors and started to hike back to the house.
Along the way I ran into my neighbor. I told him about the baby birds and the truck not starting. Being a very mechanical person, he asked, “What do you think is wrong with the truck?”
“Well,” I said rubbing my chin, assessing the situation. “either that mother robin tampered with my motor, or it’s just God’s way of saying, ‘Leave them be. Let the truck stay there until the birds move on.’”
“Do you really think so?” He asked.
“Yep.” I said with certainty, “I’ll bet you a buck the truck starts right up once the birds have flown the nest.” We shared a good laugh about that, then I walked home.
A couple days later, I went back to the truck. The birds were still sitting in the nest and the engine wouldn’t start. While walking back to the house, I called Triple A to see if my roadside assistance would cover towing the vehicle to Duluth, almost seventy miles away. The lady said it would and asked if I wanted her to get a tow truck on the way. “No, not yet.” I said, “I have to wait until the birds have flown the coop.” She didn’t understand, so I filled her in with the details. “I’ve got a strong hunch the truck is going to start once the birds are gone. But I’ll call you back in a few days if I need you.”
About three days later, I went back again. My neighbors were standing out by their garage, “The baby birds were all gone when we looked in on them this morning.” They informed me, then asked, “Do you really think your truck is going to start?”
“Yep.” I said, and walked on.
I sat in the driver’s seat and turned the ignition key. The motor started right up. I repositioned the Scamp on our lot, then disconnected the trailer from the hitch.” The neighbors were still standing by their garage when I drove past, going to my house without the Scamp.
“Did the birds steal your camper?” We shared a good laugh about that.
“No,” I said explaining, “but the check engine light is still on, so I left the Scamp there. I’ll take the truck into Duluth to get the engine checked, then come back for trailer.
I called Triple A to let them know they could close out the service ticket which was still active. The lady read the notes in my file. “You had birds in your truck and they disabled it?” We shared a good laugh about that.
“I was carjacked by a family of robins” I said, “They took my truck and camper for several days before giving it back.” The operator laughed. “We live in a pretty rough neighborhood.” I explained, “I guess you could call it a Robin’s Hood.”
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It was around ten in the evening. I stood on the front porch looking toward the northwest. In the distance I could hear thunder rumbling. I watched the black skies. With each flash of lightning, the overcast of clouds lighted, turning to a greyish-purple color. The wind kicked up substantially, coming sporadically from different directions. The temperature dropped rapidly and large raindrops started to fall, making a plunking noise as they hit the wooden steps. The thunderstorm the weatherman promised, was arriving. I went inside and started closing windows until I could determine from which direction the rain would come.
I tiptoed quietly into the dark guest bedroom where my two granddaughters were fast asleep – or so I thought. After closing each of the windows about halfway, I silently moved toward the door. “Papa, what are you doing?” came a soft, sleepy voice.
“I’m closing the windows a little.” I whispered, “It’s starting to rain and I don’t want water to get in.” I pulled the covers up over her shoulder and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. “I love you, Evelyn.”
“I love you too, Papa.” She whispered back. “Papa can you stay in here with me?” Those words would melt any man’s heart.
“I can for a little bit.” I replied, still whispering so as not to wake her sister. “Are you okay?”
From the other side of the bed came a not so sleepy voice, “Papa, Ev doesn’t like the lightning and thunder.” Addison explained, “It scares her.” I assured them both, they were safe inside the house and that I would be in the living room if they needed me.
As I walked down the hallway lightning illuminated all the rooms through the windows; a very loud crash of thunder seemed to shake the whole house. I heard Ev start crying in the dark bedroom. I went back and laid on the bed next to her. “Would it be okay if I stayed in here with you for a while longer?” Stretching my arm across the pillow, Ev curled up with her head on my shoulder and nodded, yes. “Addie, are you okay with the thunder?”
“Not really,” she said, “I don’t like it.” I reached my arm a little further laying my hand on her shoulder, asking if that made it better. “Yes.” She said, scooching toward Ev and me. She let out a sigh of contentment and drifted off to sleep. Funny; I went in to comfort the girls and somehow, laying there with them, they made me feel safer in the storm.
After a while, Sydney came into the room. She would stay with the girls so I could get on the treadmill for my evening walk.
I picked up my stride as rain continued to fall and thunder boomed. With the windows open, I enjoyed a cool breeze and the smell of fresh rain. It was very pleasant. I would normally be looking out a large picture window into the yard, but this night, the big window looked more like a black TV screen. When the lightning would flash, the whole yard lit up like daytime, then, just as quickly returned to darkness. I love walking in the dark on nights like this, it’s a good setting for me to think and reflect; taking time to consider what is really most important in life.
I thought about our day; the Fourth of July. It was 90 degrees. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun was hot, the air was humid and there was not the slightest breeze along the Northshore. Melissa and I took Sydney and our two granddaughters down to Grandpa Ken’s Beach on Lake Superior. The water is always cold, but today it felt good.
The beach was busy with sunbathers and swimmers. Paddle boards and kayaks glided over the calm waters. Dogs joined in the fun, charging into the lake to retrieve sticks and balls and such, then dog paddling back in to shore. The spot we wanted was already taken by another group, which was no problem. There is plenty of shoreline for everyone. We walked down a little further.
We all waded into the lake. My wife and daughter stayed with Evelyn, close to the shore. Addison and I went out beyond what I call the safe rocks, out to the slippery rocks; the slippery rocks are larger and tend to stay put when the waves kick up, thus building up slime. The safe rocks are smaller and roll in and out with the waves. As they say, a rolling stone gathers no moss.
Addison cleaned the top of a rock by moving her foot back and forth over the surface, removing the slime. She stood on the rock while I stood in front of her in my own sure-footed spot. We counted to three then she sprang up as high as she could. With my hands on her waist, I continued to lift her over my head, much like a talented figure skater would lift his partner high into the air, performing a platter lift. With a little more practice, we might be Olympic contenders, but for now we were just a little girl and her Papa having a good time in the largest fresh water lake in the world.
The people up the way headed out so we moved to the spot we first wanted where there’s a very large, flat rock formation. Between the rock and the shore, is a real nice place for little kids to play and splash in the water. Most of the rock’s edges taper off into the lake but the western end is more like a small ledge, dropping straight into the lake. Addison, would come to that end to jump into the water. The ledge is less than thirty inches high and the water about sixteen inches deep with a nice area to land. Pretty small for an adult, but when you’re six years old? What a thrill.
Evelyn, wasn’t so sure about this jumping in business. At three-years-old, that twelve inches down to the water seemed like a really big fall. She wanted Papa to help. Ev would hold onto my hands and swing forward down into the water, like a teenager swinging out into the swimming hole on a rope tied to a tree branch above. I did get her to jump in on her own once while I was standing there, but she didn’t like it much so I didn’t push her to do it again. She eventually did jump off with her older sister and her mom.
The three of them stood at the edge, holding hands, pondering the challenge before them. It was like they were on the edge of a jagged cliff looking at a raging river, one hundred feet below in the canyon. Collectively, they mustered up their courage. “On the count of three!” Sydney called out, “One. Two. Three! Ahhhhh!!”
They all jumped together, plunging into the icy waters below. Laughing with excitement, Evelyn started climbing back up the rock, “Come on Mom, let’s do it again! Let’s do it again!” Her sister and her mom were right behind her. We jumped and played and splashed together until the sun and the waves had us all worn out. We gathered our things to head for home. As we were leaving, I took a look down the beach. There were a lot more people now than when we got there. I smiled. We were having so much fun swimming and rock hunting, we didn’t even notice them come in. It was a day that provided memories to last a lifetime.
I increased the speed on the treadmill just a little and thought about the contrast between our day today on Grandpa Ken’s Beach, compared to the last time I was there about two weeks before.
I woke up around 4:30 on a Thursday morning. Like a prelude, the soon to be rising sun turned the horizon bright magenta behind the tops of the pine trees. I decided to stay up for the main show. I put on a pot of coffee then went to the bedroom to ask my sleeping wife if she wanted to go watch the sunrise. “Uuh nuh da blah duh muh.” She mumbled then rolled over, adjusting her pillow. (translation: “I need to sleep some more.”) A morning alone with the sunrise would be good for me, giving me a beautiful time for meditation and prayer.
I filled my thermos and made way for the front door where my dog June, was waiting for me. “June Bug, I’m going alone this morning.” I told her. I gave her a good rub on the head, “I’ll be back in about an hour.” I hurried to the van and drove to Grandpa Ken’s Beach.
There are two vertical posts with an upper and lower chain draped between them to keep cars out. A spider had woven her web diagonally from the post down to the chain. Dew that collected on the web overnight, glistened in the morning light. An unsuspecting insect that flew into the trap was bound in silky webbing. The spider sat on the edge of the web near the post, keeping watch on her prey. “Nice catch, Charlotte.” I congratulated her, “That bug will make a nice meal for you.”
Dew collected on my toes, making my sneakers wet as I walked down the path through the open, grassy field. I felt like someone was with me. I turned around looking for June; did she sneak out the door and come with me? No. She wasn’t there. The presence was very strong. I turned again, “Charlotte?” I called out softly. “I’m losing my mind. A spider did not follow me down the trail.” I looked all around me and into the edge of trees. I couldn’t see anyone but there was definitely someone there; not in the woods watching me from a distance, but very close – like right next to me.
The presence was not threatening, but gentle, loving and nurturing. Being one who believes in angels, I pressed on. “Fine,” I said, “If you’re going to follow me, keep up. I don’t want to miss the sunrise.” I walked quickly toward the lake. On the beach, I picked a spot to sit and drink my coffee. I gave thanks to the One who created all this beauty before me.
Off the very peak of a peninsula to the east, the sun broke over the horizon. She cast her beams into low wisps of clouds, turning them amazing shades of yellow and orange. Silhouettes of three small pine trees on a rocky island, seemed to face the sun; anticipating her arrival and welcoming her as the new day began. The sound of gentle waves touching the shore was mesmerizing.
Consumed by serenity, I felt completely weightless. I had no worries; no problems. Just the gift of a glorious new day filled with hope and promise…and the presence of someone beside me, although I had no idea who this friendly spirit was.
As the sun rose higher into the sky, I picked up my thermos and started walking back to the van. I looked up and down the shoreline, and again, into the woods. There was no one there, but the spirit was still with me. Walking back through the open grassy field, I looked toward the memorial marker that had been placed for Grandpa Ken. At the base of the large grey stone there were three very colorful painted rocks. I must have overlooked them in my haste to get to the beach before sunrise.
I knelt down to have a look. The first stone had a purplish cloud with a white edge – a silver lining if you will. The name Melina, was written between two red hearts. On the back it read, “Thank you for loving me from heaven…and I love you. XO Melina.”
The next rock had a turquoise background with a colorful rainbow pattern that had three pink hearts on top. Vertical lines looked like a forest under the rainbow and the name Asher, was written in big pink letter. Below, in smaller green letters, were the initials, gpk. I assumed this to be Grandpa Ken. On the back it read, “Thank you for watching over us, love Asher. And for teaching my mommy so she can teach us.”
The third, and smallest rock, was perfectly round. It had what looked like two flowers on green stems. The word “Bing” was written in pink letters with a red and white heart to dot the i. I thought to myself. maybe those aren’t flowers; they’re Bing cherries. I turned the rock over and read the back: “Love you grandma Bing! XOXO Lisa Rose.”
Still on my knees in the wet grass in front of the marker, I smiled. “So that’s who you are.” I said to the angel. She stood behind me, looking over my shoulder as I gently placed each rock back exactly as I had found them. I stood up and thought about the three pine trees on the rocky island out in the lake, facing the rising sun to the east. “You have three beautiful granddaughters who sure love you a lot, Grandma Bing.”
I stood up and looked out to the lake. The sun was shining brightly. Even with cold, wet feet and knees, I suddenly felt very warm and content; completely at peace, but it wasn’t the sun that was warming me. I felt like I was being squeezed – in a good way. Grandma Bing was giving me a big hug. “Thank you for coming and having coffee with me this morning.” She said, “If you should see those three granddaughters of mine, you tell them I love them and I am watching over them. I will always be watching over them.” The squeeze lightened as she said, “I have to go now. Thank you again for coming by.” The breeze picked up lightly from the north, blowing toward the water. I could feel her departing; returning to the beach by the big lake.
I slowed the pace as I was finishing my walk on the treadmill. I recalled that morning on the beach with my new found spiritual friend. As well, I thought about all the fun Melissa and I had with our granddaughters on the beach that day; laughing, playing, splashing in the water, swimming and collecting rocks – we were making lifetime memories. I hope Nana Mac (Melissa) and I are creating as many good memories with our children and grandchildren as Grandma Bing did with hers.
It was just before eleven in the evening when I shut the treadmill off. During my walk, my mind was so full of thoughts and memories, I didn’t even notice the thunderstorm had ended. The angry clouds had moved out leaving thin wisps of clouds in the sky. The full moon was breaking through, rising above the silhouette of pine tree tops, lighting our yard brightly. The picture window again looked like a big screen TV playing the best show in town. I walked outside on the deck. A light breeze was blowing gently southward, toward the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.
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I have a house in Ottumwa, Iowa, with an extra lot adjacent to it. The property used to have a large, very deep ravine behind it, rendering most of the land unusable. Over a twenty-year span, we filled in the gorge and now have a house that sits on a rolling hillside, with a huge yard. I’ve owned it for many years, most of which it’s been a rental property - but I have lived there a couple times and some really good things happened while there.
We stayed there while Melissa and I were searching for just the right home to buy. We eventually found just the house we wanted, but we were still living in that rental house when we got a puppy and named her June. Since the day we met that cute little border collie-blue heeler mix, she has loved to play ball.
From the back porch, I could throw a tennis ball way out into the yard. Because the house sat much higher than the back of the lot, it appeared I was throwing the ball much farther than I am capable. It worked out well. I got to look like a pro athlete and June loved making those long runs to retrieve that ball.
One beautiful spring morning, Melissa stood in the kitchen window enjoying her coffee while overlooking the yard. The rising sun created beautiful colors and shadows across the lawn. “Come look,” she said softly, “Gus is in the back yard.” Having no idea who the heck Gus was, I joined her.
I didn’t see anybody in the back yard, but there was a very large groundhog sitting upright on his back feet, eating clover. He held the little round, white blooms in his front paws; his whiskers wiggled rapidly as he nibbled away the flower, stuffing it in his cheeks, then munched down the stem like people will do with spaghetti. The angle of the sun cast a long shadow from the marmot. “Look at the size of that groundhog!” I said, pointing him out to Melissa. She wrinkled her face and looked at me oddly.
“That’s Gus.” She said as if I should have known.
“Gus?” I repeated, “You named a groundhog Gus?”
“Yes. Gus.” She explained, “He’s out there every morning, so I named him.”
Doing the morning show at the radio station, I would leave the house (usually in a hurry) about four hours before Melissa had to be at work. In my haste, I’d never noticed a groundhog in the back yard. I did however, start noticing Gus in the yard when I drove by during the day and in the evenings, especially when I was mowing the lawn. It seemed he was always out there eating and he wasn’t bothered much by my lawn tractor.
Sometimes I would talk to him from the seat of my John Deere, “Hey Gus, if you’d eat more, I could mow less, but you are getting a bit portly there, big fella.” I’d laugh and keep riding by. Another time, I just couldn’t resist, “Hey Gus, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” He shook his head, rolled his dark eyes and snatched another clover stalk.
One day Melissa and I were driving down the alley behind our house. Gus was in the yard eating as usual. “Gus is looking kind of thin,” I said with concern, “I wonder if he’s feeling okay?”
“That’s not Gus,” She said as if I should have known, “Gus is over there. That’s Millie.”
“Millie?” I repeated with a mischievous smile, “Gus has a lady friend? Atta boy, Gus, you da man!”
I drew a look of disapproval from my wife, “She’s not just a lady friend, she’s his better half. She is a proper lady and I’ll not have you speaking of her in that tone, thank you very much.” We shared a good laugh about that, even though I knew I’d just been put in my place.
After moving into our new house, just a few blocks away, we would often go by the old house (once again a rental property) and we would see Gus and Millie. I also saw them every time I went to mow the big lawn. They would be out in the yard eating together; clover tops, daises and any other flowering weeds they came upon. Millie didn’t seem to mind the lawn tractor either. Gus must have told her the guy on the mower is safe; albeit a little annoying at times. They always seemed to watch out for one another.
One day while mowing, I passed Gus, “Hey Gus.” I called out in jest, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if…”
Millie stood up on her hind legs, placing her paws on her hips. She gave me a stern look of contempt then interrupted me in mid-sentence, “Okay, give it a rest, lawn boy! We’ve heard that one a million times, alright?” We shared a good laugh about that, even though I knew I’d just been put in my place.
Gus and Millie never seemed to be very far apart. If they were spooked, they always ran away in the same direction. While Gus and Millie moved together in one direction, Melissa and I moved together in another.
Our long term plan was to relocate in Minnesota. We found our house on the north shore. Our youngest daughter would be heading off to college in the fall and I hired someone to mow the big lawn at the rental property. Things were falling into place nicely. The time was right for us to go.
At our new home in Minnesota, we have a lot more wildlife going through our yard. Deer and moose, bears, wolves, lynx, fox, martens and fishers. Of course, squirrels, rabbits, racoons and this one possessed chipmunk. We have all kinds of birds too, ravens and eagles, seagulls, hummingbirds, chickadees, nuthatches, and many more. But for all the wild things in our yard, we just don’t see many soulmates like Gus and Millie.
We did see a pair of pileated woodpeckers together in a tree, doing what I thought was a courting ritual – until someone explained they were both males. (how was I to know?) There’s also a lot of grouse courting that goes on in the springtime, under the apple tree. It’s easy to spot the male grouse. He’s the one that struts an awful lot like that swanky guy in a nightclub. I miss old Gus and Millie.
A couple weeks ago, I was back in Iowa. I drove down the alley behind our rental property, stopping to take a couple pictures of a large woodchuck in the yard behind the house. He was sitting on his hind legs, eating dandelions in our back yard. I smiled and wondered, “Could it be? Nah, it can’t be.” It has been almost six years since we moved away.
Less than a minute later, another woodchuck, a smaller one, lumbered across the alley, passing in front of my van. It kept going until it was within ten feet of the first, where she also started eating the bright yellow flowers tops of the dandelions.
Curious, I rolled down my window and called out softly, “Gus?” The bigger marmot stopped chewing for a moment and stared at me as if he knew me; he recognized my voice. I smiled, “Hey Gus, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” He rolled his big dark eyes and picked another dandelion. The other groundhog sat up on her hind legs, placing her paws on her hips. She gave me a stern look of contempt. I laughed, even though I knew I was about to be put in my place.