I have a friend whose idea of a nice business suit is a camouflage shirt, pants, jacket, and a matching hat. On the best business days, his outfit will include enough orange to be safe. His ideal office has a view, preferably from a deer or turkey stand or looking out from a duck blind. He writes a weekly column: Water Scott's Outdoors. As the title implies, he writes about the great outdoors. Whether it's a recent adventure he was on or just sitting and observing nature; his column is always fun to read. This week he wrote about the challenges that come with running a local newspaper during a pandemic.
Walter closed the offices of his newspaper. He and his staff all work from home now. He dedicated a downstairs room in his house for his office. The office window looks out over his countryside property, including the lake, the rolling hillsides, and into the woods. He wrote, after some adjustments, the transition has been pretty smooth. I wondered how a guy like Walter would get any work done with that view!
He wrote in his column that the biggest problem working from home had been the scenery. When something outside is more interesting, like two bucks sparring on the dam, it distracts him, taking his attention away from his work. It is a blessing to have such a problem. Walter wrote of more significant issues in the home office setting.
The other day, through his window, he spotted the largest buck he had seen in years. It was well within bow range, and he had his deer tags in his pocket. The problem was his bow. It was in the garage.
While planning how to sneak to the garage without disturbing the buck, Walter's mind got ahead of him. He had visions of his new deer mount proudly hung on the office wall. He envisioned a freezer full of venison and probably a steak on the table, a baked potato with melting butter and sour cream, a side of buttered carrots, a dinner roll, and a slice of warm apple pie – ala mode. But Walter had more problems than bow separation anxiety.
Billie, the designated office guard dog, was on duty. Sensing an imminent invasion, the poodle sounded off. The buck heard the dog. Fearing what sounded like a pack of wolves hunting, he hightailed it over the crest of the hill and out of sight. I can only imagine the look of disgust Walter gave his comrade, Billie.
Walter took steps to correct the problem. For the next few days, he kept Billie upstairs should the buck return, and his bow next to his desk with all the other office equipment necessary to publish a newspaper. True outdoorsmen can be fanatical like that. The sportsmen of northern Minnesota are every bit as enthusiastic.
Every opening day is an event treated like a national holiday. Men and women will take time off work for the fishing season's opening day, bear season, hockey, and such - deer season included. Although I don't hunt anymore, I listened with interest, hearing people talking a week or so in advance about their opening day plans.
They told stories of a huge buck they've seen on the trail cam, a specific group of does moving together, bedding spots, and wolves. Occasionally someone will ask, "Where did you see that?" The answer is always specific: "Out there in the woods." Hunter's discuss their equipment, the terrain, different weather scenarios, all in anticipation of Saturday, opening day.
It was just a few minutes after eight in the morning when I heard the first gunshots. Someone filled their tag early. All-day long, I saw pickups and SUVs along the roadside, many pulling trailers with four wheelers and side-by-sides to retrieve their game from the woods.
Hunters in camouflage with proper orange markings gathered at the side of the road. Some were getting ready to head into the woods. Unsuccessful hunters discussed what area they would try next, while a successful hunter boasted details on how they took down the buck tied to the rack on their ATV. Others were taking a break, enjoying a cup of coffee. All the activity tapers off at sunset when the hunters go home - well, most of them. I was just getting started. Hunting deer after dark is illegal, but that's when I went.
I was driving into town when a large doe came sprinting out of the woods across the highway. "Oh darn," I said out loud, or something like that. I hit the brakes hard. I could hear everything in the bed of my truck slamming forward. It looked like I was going to miss her, but BAM! I got her in the hindquarter. "Son of a gun," I yelled, or something like that. Thrown by the impact, the doe spun in the air before going down on the shoulder of the road. I quickly thought, "At least I can fill the freezer."
I envisioned my deep-freeze filled with packages, neatly wrapped in the white butcher paper, and a steak on the table, a baked potato with melting butter and sour cream, a side of buttered carrots, a dinner roll, and a slice of warm apple pie – ala mode. I imagined the kids asking, what's for dinner, Dad? "Roadkill." I would tell them.
I quickly turned the truck around just in time to see her get up, shake off the injury, and bound off through the ditch. "Are you kidding me?" I asked her as she disappeared into the woods. I cursed the deer, "Hunting after dark is illegal, but so is fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run accident!" I laughed to myself. Usually, when an outdoorsman tells about the one that got away, they're talking about fishing.
Next came that sinking feeling in my gut, wondering the extent of the damage done. Maybe I got lucky, and it would be minimal since I barely got the doe. The headlight was still on but pointing downward, toward the road. I pulled under the lights at the gas station to assess the damages.
"Darn it!" I said, or something like that. "A wrinkled fender, a broken headlight, and all for naught – no meat for my freezer!" There's no sense in crying over spilled milk. It is what it is. I tried to find some humor in the situation by asking myself, "What's the penalty for taking one doe after dark? About twenty-five hundred bucks," I chuckled, wishing I had someone with whom to share my quick wit.
Just like Walter, I had been thinking ahead of myself. Now when the kids ask, what's for dinner, I'll sarcastically tell them, " Just eat your mac-n-cheese, and I'll nuke some hotdogs."
I looked out the window across the driveway at my damaged Dodge pickup. I cringed a little, and then I looked at my old dump truck parked next to it. Not everything was terrible. Behind it, I stacked a load of split firewood about twenty feet long and six feet high. There were logs scatted on the ground. "Hmm. I thought I had put it all up." The top two feet of my stack was toppled over. "Wow." I said, "we must have had some pretty strong winds while we were gone this past weekend."
It was then I noticed a bird under the old Ford's dump box. A grouse, if you're an Iowan; a partridge, here in Minnesota. The hen looked like an inflated balloon with her feathers thoroughly roughed. Then I saw a second bird behind the truck by the spilled firewood, and then a third! They were pecking at seeds or something in the grass.
Suddenly, it occurred to me; I parked the truck and stacked the wood right where those birds frequently gather. The wind didn't blow that pile over – it was those grouse. They knocked my woodpile down! And Walter thought he had problems? Between the deer that boogered-up my truck and grouse that vandalized my woodpile - Geesh!
It is a blessing to live amongst all this wildlife, but maybe it'd be best to let Walter write about it in his Outdoors column. On a brighter note: Hey Walter. I got a deer on opening day. How'd you do?
It had been a productive week. I got a lot of work done, including splitting and stacking several face cords of firewood. It was no wonder I went to bed with a few stiff and sore muscles. The next morning, I slid out of bed. My back was still stiff when I bent over to get my slippers. I wondered, "Did I move that much wood?" Then it hit me like a ton of bricks; smacked me right in the face, "Dude. You're sixty! It might just be old age." I didn't feel sixty, but then again, I've never been sixty before. I had no idea how it should feel. I was a little confused, almost like I was in the Twilight Zone. I needed some confirmation and orientation.
I went to the bathroom, put on my glasses, and picked up my cell phone. "6:37 a.m., November fifteenth. Yep. It's my birthday." I had planned to welcome sixty with a cup of Norseman Grog, watching the sunrise over Lake Superior. With rain and snow falling from a completely overcast sky, I wouldn't be seeing the rising sun on this birthday. I cleaned my glasses with the bottom of my T-shirt, put them back on my face, and looked in the mirror. "Glasses." Sigh.
I remember when I first got glasses as an adult. I was having a little trouble reading, mostly at night when I was tired. The optometrist prescribed reading glasses. Several years later, I found myself using the readers more and more, even when I wasn't reading. Eventually, I needed a little correction all the time and something a little more substantial for reading. After wearing spectacles for about ten years, Dr. Mark suggested bifocals. "Bifocals?" I questioned his absurd comment, then laughed, "I don't think so."
He suggested bifocals again at each of my annual eye exams over the next four years, but I consistently refused them. He finally asked me, "What is your aversion to being able to see well?"
"Bifocals are for old people, and I am not old!" I adamantly told him. "I'm barely in my fifties!" Mark had a good laugh about that, then explained he had patients in their twenties wearing bifocals. "Really?" I raised my eyebrows, quite surprised. I agreed to bifocal contacts, "But not glasses. Those are for old people, and I am not old." I smiled, recalling that visit, then put my glasses on to look in the mirror.
Examining my face, I found no new wrinkles. Oh sure, my crow's feet were still there, but I'm rather proud of them. I didn't get them squinting at the sun; I earned them by laughing – a lot. As a matter of fact, I prefer to call them my laugh tracks. Rows of horizontal lines run across my forehead, but they've been there for as long as I can remember. I got those by raising my eyebrows.
Over the years, I've had many brow-raising experiences and surprises, some good and some bad. Some amazed me while others frankly scared the daylights out of me. Having three daughters caused my brows to rise quite often. It also happened while flying airplanes, driving fast cars, riding motorcycles, running up and down rivers in a boat, and riding my Jet Ski. I’ve been blessed with so many experiences, I could write a book – actually several books about them all.
In the mirror, I noticed a small cut on my head. I banged it while stacking firewood. I started talking to the man in the mirror. "Back when you had a full head of hair, no one would have noticed a little scrape on your noggin, but with all that bare space…" I laughed. The man mimicked me and laughed back. "It's not funny," I told him. "It is so," he argued. "Oh my gosh. I'm talking to myself, and he's answering!" I quickly put toothpaste on the bristles, brushed my teeth, then straightened my hair on the sides of my head. My hair has been slowly departing since my late thirties, but I still have over half of it, so I'm doing okay. I got dressed, ready to go to church.
The readings were about a master entrusting his servants with talents. Father challenged us to ask ourselves, are we best using the God-given talents our Master has entrusted to us in serving one another? It was a good sermon prompting me to do some personal soul searching.
When I got home, my wife offered to make breakfast; I told her I wanted to cook. I would use some of my talents to serve her, even if it was my birthday. I made scratch buttermilk biscuits and gravy while she prepared the table in the dining room. She placed a birthday card in front of my plate. A large box was in the chair to my right and a whole onion was sitting on a placemat. I don't know; maybe she was going to ask me to cook something else later.
After breakfast, I opened the card. It was very cool. Melissa has a knack for choosing very thoughtful, meaningful gifts. She had bought the card over twenty years ago and kept it, waiting for the right person to give it to. "You're that person." She said. That made me feel very warm and fuzzy inside. She said to open the present. I reached for the big box. "No, the smaller present with the bow." She said. I started laughing as I remembered.
A year or two ago, I gave her a present, but I didn't have a bow – so I put an onion on the gift box. "That's a bow." I said, explaining, "An onion has many loops just like the ribbon that makes a bow." I noticed a flat bulge; something was under the placemat. I lifted it to find a book: Gone…But Not Forgotten; Ottumwa, Iowa in the twentieth century.
I opened the book, where she placed a note marking page 174. It was a nice feature on my dad and his positive impact on the city. Of his forty-one-year career in radio broadcasting, Dad had spent twenty of them in Ottumwa.
I smiled, reflecting on the good times I had both working with and learning from him. Dad taught me that radio was about serving the public; your community. He did that exceptionally well, instilling that talent in me to carry on in my thirty-five-year broadcasting career. Melissa and I spent the next hour or so looking through the book together; then, it was time to open the big present.
I cut the top open. Inside was a ton of plastic packaging. After digging through the large air pouches, I pulled out something rectangular wrapped in large bubble wrap sheets. "More layers." I smiled, thinking about the onion. I carefully unwrapped it and found a beautiful watercolor painting.
I recognized the piece as being the talent of Richard Dutton, one of our favorite artists. Richard was Melissa's art instructor in college, as well as a good friend of my family's for decades. Although I knew it was his work, I didn't recognize the scene. It reminded me of a road on the Arrowhead Trail in northern Minnesota, but I don't know that Richard had ever been there.
He titled the painting: "Lake Wapello Trail." She liked the image because it depicts a place from where we came, southeastern Iowa, and also looked like places in northern Minnesota, where we live now. The fact that Richard created it made the artwork much more meaningful for both of us. It was a special gift that we will proudly display on our dining room wall.
Melissa and I spent the rest of the day lounging around the house. All three daughters and our two granddaughters called to wish me a happy birthday. We had homemade potato soup for dinner, then shared a slice of rich, dark, chocolate birthday cake for dessert. Afterward, we retired to the living room to enjoy a local brew and conversation near the hearth of a warm fire. Our dog, June Bug, and cat, Edgar Allen, took advantage of the woodstove's heat; it was an opportunity for a well-deserved evening nap.
Later, as I climbed into bed, I thought about my life so far, the person I have been, and who I am now. I considered my blessings and talents. Am I using them in the best way possible? Could I use them better in serving others? Much like the scene in the painting, where I came from looks a lot like where I am. I wonder what it will look like where I am going?
As I laid there, it occurred to me; my back hadn't been stiff throughout the day except right after I got up in the morning. I guess it wasn't old age, after all. "It must have been all the firewood I moved." I smiled, giving thanks for the gift of my good health as I pulled up the covers. "Sixty is going to be a breeze."
Just the other day, my brother Dan and I were going through a storage area of mine. I was looking for a couple of things, and I found some things I wasn't looking for, but it was convenient to take them home while we were there.
One of the items I wanted was an American flag displayed in a triangular wooden case my brother-in-law Gary made. Through the glass front, the properly folded flag shows only the blue canton of white stars. This specific flag was draped over Dad's casket at his funeral. I'll always remember the military service performed at his graveside by the men of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, VFW Post 775 from Ottumwa, Iowa. I could see it again in my mind.
On a sunny day in February, my family, relatives, and friends gathered under a blue tent in the cemetery. Father Nick had completed his service. Outside the tent, a line of seven veterans in military dress stood in formation. The leader called out, "Present arms." Simultaneously the soldiers lifted their rifles, cocking them. "Aim." They raised their firearms to a 45% angle above the horizon. "Fire!" All seven men fired their guns, sending a deafening shock of sound echoing across the land. "Aim. Fire!" They fired again. "Aim. Fire!" They fired their third and final round. "Ceasefire." The leader ordered. The soldiers lowered their arms. Except for sniffles and crying, everyone was silent. My knees were shaking; I had goosebumps on my arms.
I shivered, and a chill ran down my spine as the bugler, who stood alone, played taps from a short distance away. The solitary brass horn sounded soft but powerful as it penetrated the air with an emotional song that pierced my soul. A group of local pilots flew their airplanes in a low pass above the cemetery, followed by a high-speed jet.
Two veterans returned inside the tent. With one on each end, they lifted the American flag from Dad's casket. Methodically they folded the flag. The leader narrated the significance of each of the thirteen folds. He tucked the ends, making a neat triangle, the same shape as the American Revolution's patriots' hats.
The leader carried the folded flag in his two hands at waist height. He leaned forward, presenting the American flag to my mother, who was seated. "On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army Air Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your husband's honorable and faithful service." Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she received the flag and thanked him. My tears flowed, as well. I don't know if I had ever been as proud of my father as I was at that moment.
I began thinking about the people who have fought and died for this country under variations of that flag. In states that were the original thirteen colonies, I visited graveyards and read faded names on deteriorating shale and slate Patriots' grave markers. They died in the American Revolutionary War. A war to gain independence from British rule and assure our religious freedom.
I recalled visiting numerous Civil War battlefields in the east. The spirit of what happened on those fields is still vibrant. In cemeteries and graveyards around the country, I've read the names of young men whose bodies were returned home for burial. Men who died fighting under this flag in a war to end slavery and hold this country together.
I've seen many memorials around the nation honoring the men who died while fighting under this flag in World Wars One and Two. In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, I flew over the USS Arizona. I could see the ship beneath the shallow water where she rests on the harbor floor, next to her mooring. Oil still weeps from the vessel as she continues to mourn. A bright white memorial structure straddles the deck of the battleship, which has become the tomb for those servicemen onboard. In the warm Pacific breeze, the American flag waves high above the sailors at rest.
In Washington, D.C., I ran my fingertips over names engraved in the smooth polished black granite at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. I felt the spirit of those lost soldiers. It was humbling to read just some of the over fifty-eight thousand names on that wall. People had placed small American flags near their loved one's name. The emotions are overwhelming.
The feelings of pride for my father returned as I stood there, holding his flag. The feeling was bittersweet, for I also carried a sense of shame for not having served myself.
I thought of my family; Dad and his brother Dick were both in the Army Air Corps. My brother Dan, standing right next to me, and his son Warren served in the Air Force, as did my uncle John. My brother-in-law, Bill, was a Navy pilot. My nephew Avery was a Marine. Another nephew, Drake, is now serving in the Corps, and my niece Melissa, currently serves in the Illinois Army National Guard. I am proud of every one of them.
I picked up another flag in the storage area; it too was appropriately folded. It was a cotton flag with strong stitching binding the red and white stripes; the white stars were embroidered on the field of dark blue.
I found that banner in Winona, Minnesota. It was in the garage of a property we purchased from the estate of Ruth Brendel. She had been a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Medical Services Corps. I have reason to believe the flag laid over the top of her casket. I tried to reach her children to return the flag to them. Without success, I've kept the flag for the past six years.
I offered it to Danny, "Do you want this?" I asked, telling him the history. He gladly accepted it. I knew he would appreciate and take care of the flag; I also know he would respectfully return it should one of Lt. Brendel's children ever inquire about it.
I thought it was appropriate for Danny to keep her flag. Lt. Brendel never met either of us, yet she and veterans from every branch served in a military that protects us all as Americans.
I love this country. I love our American flag and everything it stands for. I'm grateful to all veterans who fought and kept a vigilant watch over our freedom, the veterans who protect my right to display the red, white, and blue so proudly.
Every place we go in our travels, my wife and I seem to pay attention to houses and businesses that are for sale. She’ll always grab a local real estate magazine from a literature rack and thumb through it, pointing out interesting properties. Neither of us want to move away from the north shore, but still…
We are always looking; wondering what it would be like to live in this town; to build a business here and then in a few years, move on to the next. Or perhaps we see a classic looking old house – one that is dilapidated and grown over with vines, weeds and trees. Sometimes it’s even falling in. I dream of how we could restore that old house, making it our home for a while and then move on for the next owner to call it home.
I suppose I could just chalk it up to being a dreamer, but a for sale sign in a front yard always causes me to turn my head. Recently I was looking for a property to take on as a project and that’s when I noticed it. Signs! Egads, they’re everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of them. This must be an election year.
Signs asking you to vote for this person for city council; that person for county supervisor. Another person wants to be the mayor, the auditor, the treasurer or the sheriff. State representatives and senators want your support as well. This doesn’t even include the signs for issues; people asking you to vote for or against something. There are signs everywhere and most of them seem to be about the same size as a realtor’s yard sign. This is confusing to a dreamer such as myself.
I’m frequently turning my car around to go back and look, thinking a house is for sale, only to have my hopes dashed because so and so wants to be the next elected dog catcher. Lately, I’ve been spinning my head around so often I think it just might come completely unscrewed! I’m not so easily fooled on the highway as I am in town.
With a heated presidential election for 2020, people have been most creative in the signs they put up and the way they display them. Long banners for a candidate will stretch a good distance, tied to sheep-tight fencing on the side of the road. The broad side of a semi, parked in a field, is a good place to hang a banner. Shoot, some of the people have painted the whole side of the trailer. Banners wave, tied to the cable of a crane. The heavy steel ball on the end holds it in place in the wind.
People have set up scenes on flatbed trailers, like a set in the theater. Hay bales are stacked specifically so the large round ends can be used to show support; printed and hand-painted signs get the point across. Farm tractors and heavy machinery are useful as well. Just the other day I saw five front loaders, parked side by side, facing the roadway. Each had its bucket reaching high into the air; each filled with a billboard for their candidate. The passion of this election has brought out the most creative sign displays I’ve ever seen.
I spotted a sole sign in the front yard of a really cool house; a realtor’s sign? I turned my car around to go back. Maybe I would get lucky and they would have the little box of information flyers at the curb, telling about the house. If nothing else I could at least write down the name of the real estate company and the address. I could look up the property at home. I started laughing out loud when I pulled over in front of the house. The sign read: “I Just Wanted A Sign For My Yard.” It was the most honest sign I’ve seen yet.
It reminded me of that song from the early seventies; Signs, by the Five Man Electric Band. “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind.” I’ve had that song stuck in my head for several days now.
I appreciate the enthusiasm people are showing for their candidates, but honestly, I’ll be glad when the election is over and the political signs start to come down. Maybe then I can find a house for sale and fulfill my dream.
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!