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When I was a kid I read a lot of outdoor novels. I read everything our library had by Jim Kjelgaard and Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild. I always saw myself as that loner out in the wilds by himself with just his trusty dog to keep him company. One day I came across Jean Craighead George’s book, My Side of the Mountain, and it changed my life. The book is about a kid who runs away and lives in the mountains by himself. That is what I wanted to do. I often told people I had read the book and would like to do that myself. Usually people looked at me with shock and surprise. “You can read?” they’d ask in amazement.
Immediately I started preparing for a life of self-sufficiency in the mountains. I taught myself the ancient skill of building fire with just two sticks, half a bottle of lighter fluid and a book of matches. Learning to procure food became essential. I developed my fishing skills to the legendary proportions they are today. I’d gather grasshoppers, crickets and worms for bait and take them to the river. After only a few hours of fishing, I’d have a sizzling skillet full of fried grasshoppers, crickets and worms. I found mushrooms and learned the difference between the good ones and the poisonous ones. The internet did not exist at the time, and no books on the subject were available to me. My mushroom education was simply trial and error. Of course, I was not so stupid as to eat the mushrooms; instead I fed them to my little brother and gauged his reactions. No reactions = good mushrooms. Stomachache, foaming at the mouth and/or uncontrollable muscle spasms = bad mushrooms.
My younger years were filled with daydreams of living in the wild. Many times it saved me from the horrors of learning anything constructive in algebra class. While the teacher droned on about integers, variables and coefficients that I knew I’d never use, in my head I would be tucked safely away in my mountain cave feasting on fried grasshoppers and mushrooms.
As with all dreams the day comes when dreaming is not enough. That day for me came when I filled my oldest sister’s (the mean one’s) jewelry box with Cheez Whiz. At the time I thought it would be a good prank—one we could have a hearty laugh about. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe my sister would not see the subtle humor and social commentary on rich versus poor. She was more likely to just beat the snot out of me. I tried to clean it up, but once you put Cheez Whiz in a wicker jewelry box it is there for eternity. You can remove some of it, but it will never be clean again. My best option was to finally fulfill my dream and go off into the wilds until she cooled down or became too old and feeble to do any major damage.
Originally my dream called for it to be me and my trusty dog. A dog is always useful. It provides companionship, guards the campsite, assists in hunting and, if things got really bad, I could always eat it—or it could eat me, depending on how big of dog I had. As luck would have it, I happened to be between dogs at the time, so instead I asked my friend Weiner to come along. The choice of Weiner for a partner was not made at random. I put much thought into it and considered all my friends. I chose him because we got along well, we had often camped out together and, most importantly, he was smaller and looked more tender and tasty than any of my other friends.
When we started out I could tell right away that Weiner didn’t grasp the concept that we were leaving forever. I knew this because I didn’t tell him for fear he wouldn’t go. What I said was “Let’s go do some self-sufficiency camping for awhile.” After a couple months he’d figure out the rest on his own. Weiner also had trouble with the term self-sufficiency. I carried a folding knife in my pocket and a belt axe on my waist. What Weiner had strapped to his back looked like a silver-back gorilla covered with a canvas tarp.
Since neither of us drove and there are few mountains in Iowa and even less wilderness areas, we chose a big hill outside town. It wasn’t exactly wilderness, but it was almost two miles from my house, so I was sure no one would ever find us. We set up on the side of a hill and started our campfire. I scrounged up some grasshoppers for supper. When I got back to the campsite, Weiner was digging a can of beef stew out of his pack.
“So how come you decided to do this camping trip all of a sudden?” Weiner asked. “Usually you spend weeks planning these things.”
Guilt-ridden, I confessed about the jewelry box and a mean sister who would beat the tar out of me when she found out.
“So why don’t you just throw the jewelry box away?” Weiner asked still rummaging through his pack. “She’ll just think she lost it or someone took it.” He threw the flap on his pack closed. “You know what? I think I left the can opener at home.”
Since I started this blog I have had two guest bloggers, Tara Looft, who is currently trying to get her first novel published, and my granddaughter who is currently trying to get her first novel read (I’m joking). Today you’re getting a third. After my last post about all the things I wanted to do when I was young, I was contacted by a fellow author who took up skydiving and toured the world when she was grown up and should have known better. Before that one time when her parachute doesn’t open, she agreed to let me repost one of her blogs. I hope you enjoy it. If you want to read more of her blog it’s at this link http://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging I’m sure she’d appreciate any comments you might have.
I remember the year I turned fifty. The closest of my friends were eager to present me with black balloons and shower me with bits of shiny confetti that said, “Over the Hill.” But I had an answer for them.
“Today is the first day of the second half of my life!”
The second HALF was important to me. For one thing, my grandmother lived to be a hundred and two and I aimed to match her. But more importantly, I had a huge bucket list of things that I wanted to do and I was eager to get started. Fifty was a good place to start. My baby had gone off to college and I’d moved to my new home by the sea in Maine. I had a new and interesting job with a fantastic boss, who is still my friend today, even though I’ve retired now. I look back on that birthday today and it seems like a lot more years than it’s been. But then, I’ve been to a lot more places than even I’d dreamed was possible and done some really neat things.
“I took up skydiving, which is probably the most outrageous and exciting thing on my bucket list. What an incredible thing to really fly with the air rushing past, tipping, turning and flipping. Then you pull the ripcord and suddenly the world is silent except for the soft flutter of your parachute. You can see for miles and it’s fantastic. Better than looking out an airplane window, even a small plane with big windows. How I love that canopy ride back to earth. The feeling of freedom is amazing.
“I swam with the Whales snorkeled over coral reefs and climbed Mt. Tafahi. Then I joined the Peace Corps. That adventure took me to the other side of the world to a culture and climate very different from anything I’d ever known. I lived with a Tongan family for two years, taught English to beautiful brown-eyed children and made a whole raft of new friends. While I was there, I swam with whales and crawled through lava tubes, climbed an extinct volcano mountain, and bobbed in a warm volcano fed spa of very green water. I dove into Mariner’s Cave and snorkeled over fantastic colored coral reefs, camped on a South Pacific beach and sailed on water so blue it made me catch my breath.
“I found a new family in Tonga taught ESL and explored a lava tube.
“When I left Tonga, I traveled home the long way. In New Zealand I hiked over a glacier and into ice caves, rode in a helicopter and took a train ride through the alps. In Syndey Australia, I climbed the bridge, met a wallaby and visited the Opera House. Two of my children traveled to meet me in Thailand and during our week there we had a James Bond experience, running through a busy market from a tuk tuk driver who didn’t want to lose his fare. We fed monkeys and fish, rode elephants and rafts and participated in Song kran, the Thai New Year where NO one stays dry. In Vietnam, I toured the Hanoi Hilton, Khe San, the Mekong River and the tunnels of Chu Chi and got the “Other” side of the story of the American War. But I also took a train ride down the coast from Hanoi to Saigon, stopping in Hue, Hoi An, and Nga Trang, visiting thousands-of-years-old ruins and temples, cruising on the Perfume River, and I swam in the South China Sea where once our soldiers went for R&R. In Saigon, I had lunch at the Rex Hotel before flying on to Singapore. From there, I visited friends in Marseille, France and was treated to a week long jaunt of castles, quaint villages, churches and pubs and the beautiful coast. And then I was home again.
In the years since then, I’ve acquired ten new grandchildren and moved again, this time to St Augustine, Florida. I’ve become a published author and begun a new career. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in places like Paris France and Times Square. I’ve dressed as a colonial Spanish lady and worked in a taberna circa 1740. I’ve made dozens of new friends and discovered dozens of new historic sites, but I’m just getting started on that bucket list. So, this year is number sixty-eight, but who’s counting? I’ve still got a lot of places to see yet, new friends I haven’t met and books that still need writing. What’s on your BUCKET LIST?
If you want to check out her books here is a link to her authors page. Skye Taylor. I’d buy them now. When that parachute doesn’t open, the price will go up.
Back when I was young, indestructible and had the common sense of Brussels sprouts, I wanted to go skydiving. Jumping out of an airplane and freefalling within a few hundred feet of the ground before popping the ripcord was a thrill I couldn’t imagine. I’d want to hold off opening the parachute for as long as possible, because at the time, hanging below a parachute hundreds of feet off the ground had to be the most boring thing I could imagine. Today if I was in an airplane it would take a whip, gun and a very angry sasquatch to get me out of it.
When I was little, a friend of mine, Ray, and I would climb an old railroad trestle. We would climb it from the ground to the top: up the stone supports, onto the steel girders and up to the railroad tracks where we would be about seventeen gazillion feet in the air. (I never actually measured it, so I may be off by a few feet one way or the other.) We never worried about falling because there was a river below with water to fall into. If we missed the water, there were trees along the banks with branches we could grab before we hit the ground. And if we missed the branches, we could maneuver ourselves in the air so we would land between the rocks, and the soft sand would break our fall–sometimes high optimism covers up low intelligence. Someday I hoped to scale some unconquerable peak. Hanging by two fingers, I’d stop for lunch and deftly unwrap a baloney sandwich with one hand and enjoy a cold Dr. Pepper from the cooler with ice strapped to my back, while all the time looking for that soft spot between the rocks in case I lost my grip. Nowadays I drive pitons, string ropes and put on a safety harness if I have to climb up on a chair to get a dish out of the top cupboard in our kitchen.
I used to skateboard when I was little, and I’m not talking the wussy skateboards they use today that don’t break in half over jumps and the wheels stay on. I’m talking homemade skateboards where you grab a 1X6 or 8 or 10 and nail an old pair of metal roller skates to it. That was skateboarding at its finest. We didn’t wear those sissy elbow pads and knee pads they wear today. No siree, nothing but skin to protect us from the pavement when we crashed. And we crashed a lot; because those old wheels locked up if you hit a crack wider than a quarter, a rock, a stick or a night crawler crossing the road. We had scrapes and cuts, but we were fine–most of the time you could barely see the bone. It didn’t bother us because we were tough and in a punch-drunk daze most of the time from loss of blood and head injuries, because we didn’t wear those sissy helmets either. Occasionally now, I’ll see one of those new skateboards with the polyurethane wheels sitting on the sidewalk, and a small voice will say, “You can still do it.” It’s Satan talking. So I don’t do it, because I still have the will to live.
I think part of the reason I don’t want to do dangerous things anymore is because I spent twenty-six years in law enforcement and had to do many dangerous things, such as teaching my oldest daughter to drive. (See Driving a Straight Stick.) I’ve driven as fast as I want to go in conditions I’d rather not drive in at all. I’ve felt that adrenaline rush as much as I care to in one lifetime. It’s not that I still don’t take chances. Just this morning I skipped my bran muffin. There’ll be hell to pay tomorrow, but I can take it.
Quick update on the sequel to my first novel In The
Quick update on the sequel to my first novel In The
Sticks. I had been really struggling with it for awhile now. It’s not that I didn’t know where the story was headed, it’s just that there weren’t many twists and turns and a half a billion suspects. Those of you who read my first book know I like a lot of suspects. I like to let the reader think he knows who the murderer is, then, wham, I throw water all over his conclusion. I found a bunch of water buckets lately and the story is going well.
I’m a white guy. I mean I’m a really white guy. Oh I can get a tan on my arms, face and even my back, but not my legs. My legs look like they belong to some alien creature from a planet without a sun. I’m not joking. They won’t tan and they won’t burn. I think they reflect too much for the sun to penetrate. Maybe it’s a hold-over from my ancestor’s caveman days. Mine were the ones who lived in the deepest part of the cave–I’m talking miles below the Mole people– and didn’t get any sunshine.
Having white legs comes in handy sometimes. If I ever got lost in the woods, I can just raise a pant leg and soon black government helicopters will be hovering overhead to check out the strange light seen on satellite photographs. When I was camping out as a kid if someone needed to find something in the tent at night, I would just stick a leg out of the sleeping bag, and they could use the light to look for whatever they needed, while making sure not to look directly at my legs to keep from singeing their retinas. They were always appreciative, but the radioactive hum coming from my legs got a little annoying, and people passing by would occasionally call the fire department, certain that the intense blaze inside the tent could only be the result of a raging inferno.
There are of course disadvantages to having glowing legs. Whatever is radiating from inside my legs has killed off many of the hair follicles. Over the years huge bald patches have developed on my legs. My calves and upper thighs are without hair. Nair and electrolysis could not make those patches smoother or more hair free. I wouldn’t put it pass my wife to shave them in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping, but if she’s doing it, she’s been very consistent over the years.
My second toe is longer than my big toe. I think that is the way it is supposed to be–after all it is called the big toe and not the long toe. My stubby-toed wife, however, assures me it is not normal, so perhaps that also is a result of whatever is wrong with my legs.
After giving this extensive research and deep thought for thirty seconds, I know what the problem is. When I was young they were still doing above-ground nuclear testing, and my mother told me constantly not to eat snow because it was full of radiation. At the time I was a big fan of Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk; radiation turned them into superheroes. So I ate a lot of snow–especially the yellow stuff, because I figured that’s where the radiation was the most concentrated. It always disappointed me that I never developed superpowers, but maybe I did. However, Captain Lightning Bug just doesn’t seem to have that superhero ring to it.
County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald is still just 99 cents at the Amazon Kindle Store.
The world has gotten too complicated, and when I say the world of course I mean my washing machine. When I was a kid my mother had a wringer-style washing machine with an On/Off button. She sorted clothes into whites and colored–just like the restaurants and bathrooms did in the South at the time. I wasn’t in favor of sorting people, but it worked out well for the laundry. It kept me from having to wear pink underwear if a red shirt was washed with them. It was a simple system, but it worked—okay, Mom would occasionally get her hand caught in the wringer, but she never lost a finger. Our clothes dryer was a clothesline with no buttons. The washing machine we currently have has seven buttons with five selections on each button plus a dial with five more selections that range from PERMANENT PRESS to FRILLY UNDERWEAR THAT NOBODY WEIGHING OVER A HUNDRED POUNDS WOULD EVER WEAR.
I wondered how many combinations were possible on a washing machine with that many buttons. After less than ten minutes with a pencil and paper I discovered that I stink at math, but I’m sure the number of combinations has to be in the bazillions. And my wife sorts clothes into that many piles when she does the laundry. She does whites, colors, permanent press, delicates, Catholic, Protestant, low-fat, sugar free and smoking and non-smoking. The clothes dryer has just as many buttons as the washing machine and a dial, and each load has to be dried in a different way. I think we were better off with just the On/Off switch.
The first copier I ever used had an On/Off button and a Start button. You put the original document on top of a glass plate, closed the lid and pushed START. The machine whirred and a bright light, like some alien sun, went back and forth under the lid. Pretty soon it spit out an exact copy–although only in black and white–and I was truly amazed. The last copier I used had twelve buttons not counting the Start or On/Off buttons. Each button brought up a menu with at least five choices and each choice had five more choices. Now we’re talking a gazillion or so combinations. I once tried to make a two-sided copy of a form. I studied all the menus, pushed the buttons I thought I needed and after about a half hour, I hit START. I know something happened because the machine whirred and the little sun went back and forth. I might have put a copy in the machine’s memory or faxed a copy somewhere or launched a missile strike on Lichtenstein. What I didn’t do was make a two-sided copy. Nothing came out.
I deal with technology because I have to, but I don’t like it. My wife likes it and can’t deal with it. Last week I threw away a VCR we’d had for fifteen years. In all that time my wife never learned to use it, and I’m not talking the complicated stuff like setting the time. Every time she wanted to record a program I would have to help her.
My wife looking at the remote as if it was a piece of modern art: How do I record on this thing?
ME: Push the RECORD button.
My wife: Which one is that?
Me: The one that says record.
Recently we got satellite TV. The remote has forty-seven buttons! My wife is constantly yelling at me from the other room that the TV won’t work. I go in and what is on the TV screen is something Charlie Sheen would see when he’s smoking the really good stuff.
Me: What did you do?
My wife: I just turned it on.
Me: It only takes one button to turn it on.
My wife: I only pushed one button…at first.
I need a TV remote with an On/Off switch and a wringer. Now that would be progress.
Just an update, I was half finished with the novel I was working on, and I started over. I had been writing it in first-person, and it just wasn’t working. First-person works well for short things like this blog, but I have trouble staying with the voice over the long haul. I’ll let you know how it comes out. By the way, has anybody heard from Lichtenstein lately?
COUNTY OPS on sale at Amazon for 99 cents