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Gather around the campfire OR Never step on the Butterflies
(Exterior view. Small rise just up from a slowly meandering stream. Back dropped by cottonwoods and whippoorwills trilling their early evening song. Camera pulls in: tight shot of a cheery campfire, with logs and ground pads surrounding the fire. Camera pulls back: Entering from the right off camera to take reclining seats around the campfire is a group of tweens and teenagers, accompanied by some adults. Trailing behind is an older, more bitter and disenchanted man. Older man takes a seat on a strategically placed stump. Group settles in and turns to older man giving him their attention. One of the adults poses a question to the older man.)
“So uncle MayDay do you have a story to entertain us with tonight?”
“I’m not sure you will be entertained but I will do my best.”
A young eager face askes “Will it be a run and gun, blood on the sand, fast paced story uncle MayDay?”
“Well little Billy, ah…not at first, maybe late, late in the story, maybe.”
A small girl with twin ponytails askes, “Will there be real good prepper tips interspersed with miraculous home remedies?”
Clearing his throat, “Well, no, no there won’t be much of that, at least probably not.”
One of the adults askes, “If it isn’t any of those things, what the heck is it about uncle MayDay?”
“Actually I’m not certain what it is exactly. If I had to give an answer I suppose I would say it is just a story about a boy who becomes a man and about those people that pass through his life. About who and what friends are, to some extent.”
One of the adults, MM says, “So what you are really saying is that it isn’t a story at all just some boring thoughts you had? If that’s the case then why the heck are we here? I mean it’s beautiful and all but couldn’t we be spending our time better by hunting or fishing?”
“Ah…well…ya I guess that is an accurate statement. Hmm, well there will be hot dogs and smores to roast later. Sweet iced tea and lemonade.” Said uncle MayDay in a tentative voice.
“Ok, if I’m gonna get fed it might be worth sitting here listening to you drone on for a little while.“ Said MM in a grudging voice.
One of the other adults asks, “Will it at least be over quickly, will it be a short story told in one seatting?”
“Umm..no, actually it will probably drag on for a while as I come up with an ending. Sorry.” Said uncle MayDay.
Low groans could be heard from the adults and a few of the teenagers who had had to suffer through uncle Mayday’s stories before.
Never step on the Butterflies
You just never know when life is going to rare back and slap you up side the head.
The Wikipedia says: “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.”
That always seemed a little too complicated a way to say, don’t step on any butterflies if you have taken a time machine into the distant past.
I have no idea if anyone else has seen the movie A Sound of Thunder, which wasn’t very good, but it did explain the butterfly effect pretty well. Basically the movie takes place in Chicago 2055: The Time Safari Company offers the ability for people to hunt dinosaurs in the past via time travel technology. As a precaution against the potential changing of the past, the company preys only on the dinosaurs who would otherwise die of natural causes and keeps the clients from stepping off the designated path because of the dangers of interfering with the time line. Doing so could alter the future through a time travelers activities in the past, there are strict rules in place.
Basically a trip with two clients goes afoul when the gun carried by team leader fails to go off. The dinosaur rushes the group, scattering the clients. The leader finally manages to kill the dinosaur, regroup the clients and return to 2055, unaware that one client had stepped on a butterfly. Over the next few days there are reports of global increases in temperature and humidity, and a sudden increase in plant life. The world is hit by successive "time waves" that cause drastic alterations to the world and humanity. The world we all know is finally inhabited by simian-like Babboonlizards and humans are turned into a humanoid catfish-like creatures.
What that boils down to is that you never know what seemingly innocent, inconsequential act or decision will do to your life at some point. Considering what happened only a few minutes ago, to not only me, but for all I know the entire world, trying to pinpoint my personal butterfly moment seemed pretty logical. My mind may have been rambling through the twists and turns of my life up to this point, but that doesn’t mean my body is standing still. Quite the contrary, I am moving as fast as I can to accomplish all the tasks such a butterfly moment dictated.
Maybe I should explain some things about myself. With a few exceptions I am about as average a guy as anyone might logically expect to meet. The product of a middle class mom and dad, with mostly middle class values and attitudes. My folks worked hard all their lives and did their best to instill a good solid work ethic, tolerance of others ideas and beliefs, and their personal ideals into their son, me.
Growing up I liked computer and console games, but found that gaming wasn’t nearly as interesting as what could be done with computers in other ways. So, I began reading and learning computer languages and how to program on my own then took classes at the local Junior College along with my High School classes. Before I turned fifteen I had earned enough credits to graduate High School, but the school let me take one elective class three days a week so I could stay in school with my friends.
My parents liked to hunt and fish and camp, so that kept me from becoming a couch potato or a dyed in the wool computer nerd. Not that they were Daniel Boon level hunters, more casual, hunters believing in eating what you hunted. While I could find my way in the woods, and keep from shooting myself or others inadvertently, and learned to be a modest tracker, I certainly wasn’t any Indian scout. What I learned in the outdoors gave me a love of trying to physically challenge myself.
In grade school at the age of ten I decided I wanted to be a runner. I didn’t like the idea of what hard hitting contact sports could do to a person’s body. At one point there had been a big stink about concussions and other serious injuries that athletes would suffer for later in life. My dad took those reports seriously and made sure I took them seriously as well. By twelve I had grown enough that my body was no longer a runners body, but I doggedly kept on until the track coach had no choice but to move me into what he called the “Clydesdale” class. That didn’t allow me to compete in very may events and was in truth mostly sitting around watching the smaller kids run, and practicing mostly by myself. Just watching from the bench all the time was boring.
The coach, Sam, was a good egg, and made a suggestion about an outlet for my energies. He had been a mixed martial arts instructor for the Seal Teams before he retired and decided to supplement his retirement by teaching track in the public school system. He taught a class three days a week at a local karate dojo slash gym, passing on what he had learned as an instructor. He invited me to come to one of his classes and see what it was all about. My mom wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea but my dad convinced her it was better than sitting in front of the boob tube, or playing computer games six hours a night. My dad was a firm believer in the idea that you lost one IQ point per hour doing either of those things. I was about twelve and half when I started and I can’t say I fell in love with the training, but it sure as heck tired me out to the point I didn’t have any trouble going to sleep at night. Not that I slept that much, only about five hours a night, which seemed like plenty for me. Guess some people need less than others to feel their best. I did manage to find time to work on running too.
In Middle School the track coach took one look at me and suggested I try out for the football team. I did my best to explain my logic about not wanting to destroy my body, and could see the logic wasn’t exactly wasted on him to his credit, but he just couldn’t figure out where I would fit in on the track team. You see, by fourteen my competition running days were about over. At 6’1” 204lbs there just weren’t any running sports I could compete in on a Middle School level. Oh, I could still run like the wind, well, a 204lbs wind. I could still beat 90% of the kids my age, and give the rest a run for their money, but that didn’t make me a competition class runner either.
With competition running out of the picture I spent more and more time at the dojo and gym working with Sam. At night I read and studied all I could, took courses at the local Community College and some online ones as well. Three mornings and afternoons I ran on the gym track, worked out on weights and learned as much about mixed martial arts as Sam could teach me. It turned out that Sam was a very interesting guy. Before becoming an instructor he was on the Teams as he called them and he had a lot of interesting and insightful stories to tell.
Weekends and summers I worked for a friend of my parents who owned his own business. Mr. Jackson ran a medium size metal working shop. His wife handled most of the office work to help out and keep the payroll down. She was a nice lady but anything to do with computers, beyond pushing the power switch was a mystery to her. I spent some time helping her showing her how to us the various billing and accounting systems. Mostly I worked on the production floor learning how to use a cutting torch and plasma cutters and several methods of welding. It was hard work manhandling some of the heavier pieces of metal but I was young and thought it was great fun.
Even as a teenager I felt bad for the Jacksons. They were such nice people. They had a daughter a couple years older than me and a son that was only two months older than me. They had a daughter, Greta that was two years younger than me and she was their only child who seemed to be worth a darn. When the families got together my dad always said that Greta was “bright as a new penny!” Both the older daughter and son were into drugs and underage drinking for as long as I could remember.
Neither of the older two children ever worked a day in their lives. They dropped out of school as soon as they could and mooched off their parents to buy drugs. When Mr. and Mrs. Jackson stopped giving them money they stole from their parents, friends and anyone they could think of to buy more drugs. The boy broke out a window to get into my parents’ house one day and stole several things left to my mom, one of them my grandmothers wedding rings. We eventually got most of it back but my grandmother on my mom’s side wedding ring and a ring my dad’s mom left him were never recovered. The Jacksons were broken hearted and very embarrassed. They offered to pay for the items, but how do you put a price on family treasures?
Maybe because her two siblings were pieces of crap, Greta and I became good pals. I often teased her by calling her Re-Greta but she would just laugh and stick her tongue out at me, she was great fun. She would tell me about the boys she liked and in general all the gossip from her group of friends. She made good company because she was interesting and entertaining when she told you about things, but also could remain silent and just be companionable if you were trying to get a fish to bite. She was there the day I stepped onto the bus to head to basic training and for the whole time I was away sent me at least two e-mails a week. She kept me up on what was going on at home and about my friends and her boyfriends and which of her girlfriends liked which boys. That might sound boring, but if your thousands of miles away from family and friends, being shot at, with the chance of stepping on an IED, it really helps keep your sanity intact.
There is a physical fitness test for the Navy Seals program, known as BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs) that you can take when you turn seventeen, call it a pre-enlistment test to see if you could be accepted for Seal training. Navy SEAL PST Standards require a 500 yard swim, 80 to 100 pushups, 80 to 100 Sit-ups, and 15 to 20 pull-ups in 8 minutes, to make it into the competitive standards level. Also you must run 1.5 miles in 9 to 10 minutes. Those are just too actually be competitive, it doesn’t assure you of actually passing the tests, just gives you a chance. Of course there is nothing to keep you from working on those goals on your own, especially if you have a former instructor training and advising you. When I first ran across the requirements I couldn’t quite understand why the article I read seemed to make a big deal of it. Sam had me doing more than that every training day since I was fourteen.
When I brought the idea up I was sixteen and already 6’3”, I had pretty much held at 6’1” until I turned sixteen then shot up 2 inches in less than 5 months, and was 236lbs with less than 2% body fat. You would think that being a former Seal, Sam would be all for the idea but that was far from the fact. He brought up several issues in his attempt to dissuade me from any such notion. First he pointed out I was only sixteen and 75 inches, there was no telling how tall I would actually get. There is a height limit of 80 inches for the Navy, although in some cases you can get a waiver. Then he said right now and especially if I grew any taller that I was sure to be picked on by the instructors. Not only that there was the issue of working as a team with seals who were shorter. Especially when carrying things like boats etc. the height difference could be a hindrance in a smooth lift and carry. Lastly he said I would make too good a target for snipers.
I decided not to bring the idea of joining the Navy up for a while, even though the more I thought on how much I loved my country, the more determined I was to serve.
In another four months my seventeenth birthday was fast approaching, and I had been training even harder than ever before. Finally I was running out of time so I tried to talk to Sam about it one more time. That was the only real argument we ever had. At the end he was steaming mad and cussing me for an idiot. Even so he helped me with the paper work so that I could take the test when I turned seventeen.
On the day of the testing Sam used some of his old contacts and was able to observe everything. Guess there’s an old buddy system active in all branches of the service.
When it was all done I out performed all the others taking the tests by 15%. Through it all Sam just looked more and more like he had been gut shot.
I’m pretty sure he talked with my folks because they refused to sign the papers that would allow me to enlist at seventeen in the Navy. I have no idea what he said to them but they were adamant. Funny thing is, they were willing to let me join the Army. Their point of view was that I could at least get some MOS that would keep me behind a desk and able to get training and perhaps even further my education instead of being dropped behind enemy lines to die.
I was really determined to serve so I enlist under the Army's 11X, Infantry Enlistment Option, and during training I was designated as MOS 11B, Infantryman. I was careful not to tell my folks or Sam what I intended beforehand. I had an 8 year contract, 4 years active duty and 4 years inactive/reserve status. As it turned out I actually did close to 6 years active, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
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It was based on a SF short story, I can't remember the author. In the story, only the client panics and drops his gun, fleeing from the walkway. The guide shoots the T. Rex then removes the bullets from the carcass. When they return, beauty and love are of little regard. When they look at the boots of the client's they see a proto-butterfly.
Gather around the campfire OR Never step on the Butterflies
Thanks for the encouragement folks. And thanks for coming along for the ride.
After 6 years I was about to leave active duty and had a 2 year commitment left, just in case Uncle Sam decided my skills as a living breathing target were ever needed. By that point I was crossing my fingers and crossing my eyes hoping that my flesh and blood was no longer of interest to anyone in the military. Don’t get me wrong, it was a learning experience, just not one I cared to improve on.
Anyway there I was 23 years old with some college credits but no work record to speak of. Putting on your resume that you were a good shot and could mostly avoid IEDs and ambushes doesn’t translate well to that many jobs.
There were a couple of ways to look at my situation. Either I was somewhat screwed or I was in really good shape because every type of job or career choice was wide open to me. All I had to do was figure out what I wanted to do and get myself back in school.
Before that I had to figure out a way to pick up the pieces of my life. Life had taken a couple sharp turns for me since as a seventeen year old boy I walked out of my parents’ house to head to basic training. When I was eighteen I made it back to visit the folks while on leave and that was the last time I ever saw them alive. When I was nineteen they were killed when a woman trying to kill her husband and his secretary drove her Mercedes SUV through the window of the restaurant my folks were eating in and ended their lives. I was told by the medical examiner that they died within a few minutes of being struck, and the fact that the woman reversed and spun the tires over them didn’t add to their suffering all that much. Ya, right.
Being rich she could afford the best group of lawyers money could buy. With a prosecutor who wanted to run for public office later and needed the financial support of the rich and entitled she did eighteen months in a minimum security facility. She was out on parole before the dirt on my parents graves had time to settle. Her parole must have been a real hardship on her. She got 4 years on parole, after the first year she only had to meet with her parole officer four times a year. Sure hope it didn’t interfere with her social calendar.
Despite a few bumps in their relationship caused by Mr. Jackson’s son my dad and mom considered him a close friend and an honest man. So they made him the executor of their estate.
Estate, that sure sounds like a big deal. In reality after the house and one of the cars was sold, along with some other things minus the funeral costs and an assortment of bills, there wasn’t what anyone would call a fortune left.
By the time the house sold and all the monetary matters were concluded I was already back in the sand box ducking and trying to keep my happy ass alive. Mr. Jackson did his best, making sure that the money went into traditionally safe investments, money market or CDs. Not exactly an inspired investment strategy but safe enough I suppose.
After seeing what the Jackson’s son and daughter were doing to themselves I never felt the urge to use alcohol, recreational drugs or tobacco products. Being raised by folks who had to watch their pennies also caused me to avoid spending my pay on a lot of the worthless junk young soldiers traditionally spent their pay on.
I started at 6 months before the date I had decided to disengage myself from the military working on my exit strategy. I had done most all of my separation details like Pre-separation counseling, looked into the transition assistance program, had my final medical and dental exams. Next I needed to visit the transportation management office and schedule my move or storage of my household goods. The last part wasn’t hard as I didn’t have any household goods. The real puzzler was where did I want to be transported to? At 23 most all the people I went to school with, even those I thought of as friends, had moved on with their lives. A few of them had sent e-mails and kept in touch for the first couple of years but as they married or move out of state that had ended and I couldn’t even be sure how many of them might still be back home. Greta and Mr. and Mrs. Jackson had been pressuring me to come back home and stay with them while I decided what to do with my life, but did I really want move in with them even though they were really nice folks?
I was an E-5 who had been a squad leader at the end, with assurances from my commanding officer that if I would stay active for another year or 84 months total I would make E-6. I had seen war up close and personal, seen friends and fellow soldiers wounded and watched them die. Even if I wanted to, could I go back to being the kid/person everyone back home knew 6 years ago?
It made me a little sad but the answer was a firm no. Maybe in time when I wound down from being who I had become, I could at least act like the person they had known.
I did some serious thinking about what friends were. If not those who I knew as a teenager then who were my friends? Thinking about it the answer was obvious. My friends were those I had served with, those from my company who thought like I did and felt about things the way I did. There is a lot of time to talk, while you sit around waiting for things to heat up. After a couple years you know a lot more about your team mates and the teams you regularly patrol with than you ever really wanted to know. I knew the names of more guy’s first dogs than I could stand. You hear about their families and their loves. The girls who broke their hearts and those that said they would wait, only to send a Dear John letter at some point. There was a small circle of men that I would call real friends, people I believed I could count on no matter what. From that small circle there were some real characters that stood out in my mind. A 1SG (First Sergeant) stood out in particular.
When first sergeants are exceptional, their units are exceptional, regardless of any other single personality involved. It is the position of first sergeant in which almost all unit operations merge.
The first sergeant holds formations, instructs platoon sergeants, and assists in training all enlisted members. The first sergeants is proud of the unit and, understandably, wants others to be aware of the unit's success.
There is a unique relationship of confidence and respect that exists between the first sergeant and the Company Commander not found at another level within the Army.
First Sergeant MacDonald was everything a First Sergeant should be. He helped me immensely when I was trying for promotion to E-5. For whatever reason Mac took a liking to me and a few of my close friends. It isn’t easy for a 1SG to be friends with a Sergeant E-5 a Corporal E-4 and some Specialists E-4s. Mac managed to juggle the proprieties of being the First Sergeant and still be a friend.
After my parents died and block leave came around the group of us took at least part of four block leaves together. Block leave refers to time when most or all of the unit takes leave at the same time. It is commonly allowed during the summer and Christmas holidays, and before and after deployments.
At the time we took leave together Mac had a brother David that was six years older and retired from the Army. David had flown Chinooks in combat situations and now that he was retired he flew the BV-234 Chinooks for a private company that contracted with the US Forest Service to fight fires during fire season, and did other things in the off season.
When it wasn’t fire season he flew the BV-234 civilian Chinook reconfigured from firefighting to passenger carrying. The Chinook has the largest capacity of any commercial helicopter, with four-abreast seating for a maximum of 44 passengers. The interior design and comfort is similar to that found in the Boeing Company's airliners, with roomy, comfortable seats; individual service units; complete lavatory facilities; overhead baggage compartments; ample windows, and pleasant lighting conditions; a food or beverage galley; and a stereo system. Access for passengers is via a door at the forward end of the cabin on the port side, and the undersurface of the upswept rear fuselage is formed by a hydraulically-operated cargo-landing ramp.
In a typical 'combi' layout, 18 passengers can be accommodated in the forward area of the cabin, with 16001lbs of freight at the rear. In an all-cargo configuration up to 20000lbs can be carried internally, or a maximum of 28000lbs externally, suspended from a cargo hook or hooks.
The helicopter can be converted from one version to the other in about eight hours of work by two specialists.
When there wasn’t any need for helicopters of the Chinooks size he flew tourists in 4 to 16 passenger commercial helicopters. His specialty was flying hunters into remote and hard to reach by any other method areas.
In hunting season by flying out of places like Hamilton, MT. or Salmon, ID. David flew groups of hunters and sometimes, outfitters and guides along with their customers. In many cases his customers wanted to fly into remote locations in places like the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, and the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. While somewhat expensive, it filled a niche for those well healed hunters who didn’t want to spend days on horseback getting into remote locations. More times than not the outfitters were in place with tents and all the accouterments and all David did was fly in the customers to the already set up camp. Fuel consumption is roughly $19 a mile on the Chinook. While expensive it wasn’t really prohibitive cost wise.
The rules for flying into or overflying these areas is remarkably straight forward and easy to comply with:
Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface of the following: National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, Lakeshores, Recreation Areas and Scenic Riverways administered by the National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuges, Big Game Refuges, Game Ranges and Wildlife Ranges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wilderness and Primitive areas administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
FAA Advisory Circular AC91-36 defines the surface of a National Park area as: the highest terrain within 2,000 feet laterally of the route of flight, or the upper-most rim of a canyon or valley. Simply stated, find the highest ground on your flight path and add 2,000 feet to your cruising altitude.
There are regulated areas, mind you, like the Grand Canyon, where Special FAR's codify prohibited areas and violations are pursued for scofflaws. But for generic wilderness areas, avoiding overflight is voluntary.
Hamilton was a town of about four or five thousand and around a 50 mile trip to Missoula. David leased an old farm 50 miles outside of Hamilton with a big old farm house and fields that had gone unused for more than 15 years. There had only been a handful of farms out that way and almost all of them had been abandoned for more than 20 years. The owner couldn’t even lease the fields to other farms because of the remoteness. The old gentleman, Mr. Samuels who owned it was up there in age and wasn’t able to work the place but also didn’t want to sell it since it had been in his family for several generations. The farming or ranching areas in many states were suffering from the same problem they had in Montana. Farms and ranches that had been in families for multiple generations were not attractive to the younger generation. Too many of them wanted city life so the family places were dying. Ether boarded up or deserted they sat on the landscape like ghostly memories of ages past. It was beautiful country and it was very sad to see the farms and ranches moldering away.
During our periods of leave David was very generous and always threw his house open to his brother and the men he served with. Even those who had been out a few years. There was quite a gathering of current and former members of the Army there during block leave. I once asked one of the guys who had been out for a while how he happened to be there just when we were. His response was, that it didn’t “happen” he planned his time so that he could be there. He couldn’t quite explain it but basically he felt a kind of comfort being there with others who had similar experiences to his and the peaceful atmosphere of the farm. David had a few semi-permanent boarders or maybe just men who washed up on his doorstep. One or two suffered from some degree of PTSD. The solitude of the farm seemed to help them as well.
I was on patrol one day and was close to a vehicle mounted GAU 19B 50 Cal Gatling Gun. The expended brass was pouring off the vehicle making a pile in a small depression. At the time it was just a curiosity. Later sitting around
David’s house and shooting the **** about the treatment of vets after their separation from the military, that pile took on new meaning. Without thinking I expressed the opinion that we were a lot like that pile of brass. Expended and of little value now. Some enthusiastically agreed, others got a speculative look in their eyes, but no one disagreed either.
David would arrange his schedule so he could spend time with us. True we hadn’t served directly with him but there was a kind of comradery between those of us who had been to see the elephant that transcended that.
David was for sure a generous host to say nothing of having to have a really good sense of humor. David and Sam were the oldest guys there and for them to put up with 9 to 15 guys between 18 and 26 who were barely house broken says a lot for their personalities. There were always plans to take those who wanted to hunt out into the back country or for those who preferred fishing there was that too. Of course for some of the crowd drinking seemed to be number one on their agenda. If you drank and especially if you drank too much close to the time for hunting trips you got told in no uncertain terms you were staying at the farm. David always said, the only thing more frightening than a bunch of drunk hunters was a bunch of active duty, just out of combat drunk hunters!
Personally I could never see the attraction of hunting considering what my profession was at the time, even if I was on leave. Fishing was more my speed and since I didn’t drink I wasn’t much of a danger to myself, my friends or the fish. Well, I wasn’t much of a threat to fish period. I spent more time just relaxing than catching fish.
After our first leave there, we sort of shook out into roughly three groups. One group basically stayed drunk for the first week at least. The second group took advantage of the hunting opportunities and the third group fishing and working on some of David’s list of ongoing projects. When the hunting fever and the getting drunk all day every day for a week wore off everyone was willing to give a helping hand on those projects as well.
I always felt bad for Mr. Samuels. He was a victim of age I suppose you would say. He was a spry 86 years old, had had two good wives and 9 kids. I call him a victim because he had outlived both wives and 7 of his kids. I never knew what his children thought about the farm life except for the two still alive.
By the time I knew him that was all that was left of his family, and his daughter was dying of very aggressive ovarian cancer. His son was a sculptor and was living somewhere in Californian around Carmel or some such. I think it was called Carmel-by-the-Sea. Seems that Carmel is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history. In 1906, the San Francisco Call devoted a full page to the "artists, poets and writers of Carmel-by-the-Sea", and in 1910 it reported that 60 percent of Carmel's houses were built by citizens who were "devoting their lives to work connected to the aesthetic arts." Early City Councils were dominated by artists, and the city has had several mayors who were poets or actors, including Herbert Heron, founder of the Forest Theater, bohemian writer and actor Perry Newberry, and Clint Eastwood. You can imagine that the son’s interest in living on a working farm/ranch was about as close to zero as it is possible to come.
I never found out if it was intentional or not but David had created a sort of oasis for those of us who needed just such a place to be. It was a place to unwind and renew yourself. I was especially grateful for it. With my parents gone and only the Jacksons to spend my leave with I would have been at a loss as to where to go or what to do with myself.
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The Farm resonates with me. For reasons I wont publicly share.
Thank you for the work.
the part about grumpy uncle MM
I know the feelings of coming home after four years in the Army and two of that in
ground combat. It took a good woman and a good occupation for me to finally fit in.
That and I hated the Peaceniks and the War Protesters with a passion.
Great Story, I hope you work hard and finish it.
No No Not really grumpy
The growling of his stomach just made him sound grumpy. : )
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It was never my intention.
Sometimes my weak attempts to entertain lead me down allies I didn’t think far enough ahead to avoid. Sometimes I excel at putting my big boot firmly in my mouth.
Your sincerity in your compassion is admirable....
Your writings show the reality of what happens once a soldier parts from the service....
Thank you for the story....
A Proud Deplorable....
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MayDay, I'm very sure I'm not alone in looking forward to your next chapter-
please be encouraged to keep writing! The world is so crazy right now (October 29) that some intelligent, thoughtful diversion (your story) would be so much appreciated. Thank you for writing.
This is a good thing. Keep telling the story.
Our world could certainly use more folks such as yourself and your friend. I think we hear so much bad in the news that we sometimes forget there are good people out there. People like you and your friend give me hope. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for being such a good sport and going along with all the joking about Lost Spanish Gold Mines. Apparently you and I made at least a few folks smile or laugh outload, always a good thing. Thanks again!
Now that I have been properly humbled, yes I realize that was not your intent, nonetheless, by your actions I’m not exactly sure about the story I had in mind. For better or worse I'll just plug ahead with the outline I have and hope it works out.
This new perspective of you as a business owner, instead of a long bearded recluse hiding in his mountain retreat, has made me re-evaluate your status vis-à-vis the campfire ring. You Sir now rate a stump of your own, instead of the community logs the others are using! (You might also qualify for your own personal roll of paper in the outhouse, but that will take a vote from the steering committee.) : )
Gather around the campfire OR Never step on the Butterflies Chapter 2
There I was, minutes away from picking up my copy of DD Form 214, Discharge Papers and Separation Documents with no pressing duties to perform, no obligations to the civilian world and no idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I fished my tablet out of my bag and read the last e-mail I received from Retired First Sergeant MacDonald. It was a most generous and friendly invitation to come and stay at David’s, well now his and David’s ranch for a week or a year. It was a short message but it was obviously a heartfelt offer, the last line said “you will always have a home here if you want it”.
Sam knew my parents were both dead and I didn’t really have any other family so I guess this was his way of trying to take care of “one of his boys” as he called some of us. I figured I should take both of them up on the offer. I could do a lot worse than get my head straight in the company of men who had my back and who I could trust. I had one stop to make before heading to Montana, one I wished I could avoid but knew I couldn’t.
It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it but trying to transition from years in the military with a lot of that time spent in combat is a very hard thing to accomplish.
Imagine you are at your best shape in your life EVER. You are awesome, always hanging out with your best buds, in good times and bad. While you are deployed in some godforsaken hole like Iraq or Afghanistan you are always on guard, ready for anything. You barely sleep and your head is always on a swivel! You joke with your pals but in the back of your mind you know you could die any second. You go on long patrols. You eat the same food every week. You try to stay constantly on alert. For you and your buddies there is nothing else in life but protecting yourself and your friends.
You get into firefights and no one gets hurt. If somebody trips you laugh because he fell when running for cover. It’s hilarious that he tripped and hit a rock. He looked like an uncoordinated idiot the way he ran. You and your buddies will never let that guy live it down. He didn’t get hurt so you find it a lot funnier than it actually is because any humor, any break in the tension is a huge relief. Something doesn’t even have to be funny for you and your squad to find it hilarious. You’re passing a wall made from mud bricks and you try leaning against it while taking a break. Soon as you put your weight against it dirt and mud bricks clobber you and you get dirt and crap down your shirt. Guys are rolling around laughing till it hurts. Like I said, a lot funnier because of where you are than it really is.
Then one patrol comes, and KABOOM! One of your squad steps on a damn pressure plate. Your first thought is "That idiot! Why wasn’t he paying better attention! But that isn’t what you are thinking deep down, what you are thinking is “Why didn't I notice the dirt was disturbed. You try and stop the blood pouring out of his severed leg and help slap battle dressings on his gapping wounds. Nothing you do helps him! Despite everything you do, everything others do to help he doesn’t make it. He dies right in front of you.
You’re not even ashamed when you cry with your best friends. Of course you try to hide the fact that you cry when you are alone for what seems like forever. Maybe you and the squad try to explain what a great guy he was and how bravely he died in a group letter you send to his family. You all loved the guy for his good humor and his dedication to keeping all of you alive. The whole squad knows he loved you guys back. Everyone swears they will never forget him.
Finally you come home attend a memorial service and do your best not to blame yourself.
You can’t help it. What if you had been aware enough to see the disturbed dirt first and yelled to him? What if you had worked just a little harder to stop all that blood! At least he would still be alive even if he lost the leg. He had a family. A wife and kids. You don’t have any family. Your folks are dead and you don’t have a wife or kids. Why couldn't it be you instead!!! He had so much to live for. You rack your brain trying to see how you could have saved him or how you could trade places with him! You didn't have nearly as much as he did to lose. DAMN, DAMN, DAMN! What if? WHAT IF???????
You’ve been back in the US for a while now, you are about to leave the military. But everything is so different now. You can’t relate to any civilian you meet because you KNOW they can’t understand! The more you try to adjust to being back home, the more you know you don’t fit in and never will. You look around at civilian life and there is nothing exciting anymore. You were on a hair trigger, on constant guard for a full year at a time. There’s no threat no rush. Life is just ashes in your mouth! You don't get that adrenaline dump anymore either. Nothing in civilian life is ever going to top how cool you and your team were back in the 'stan. Looking forward to the rest of your life you know deep down in your soul, nothing for the rest of your life, is ever coming close to the awesome work you and your team did.
Everything you do, everything you will ever do is boring by comparison. You listen to the inane nattering of civilians and find it hard not to get angry, because they are so clueless. Half the time you suspicion that everyone is trying to hurt you the other half you suspicion they don’t see you or know you exist.
No one is trying to hurt you and most of the time barely notice you are there. You wish they were trying to hurt you or planning some confrontation, so you could feel alive again. But you never do because there is no conceivable threat, no rush that can compare to what you and the squad did and felt! Nothing is the same. Nothing feels right. You’ve done your mandatory pre-separation counseling but they don’t really care. Maybe they suggest you might need therapy from the VA but you know therapy is bull****. The VA is going to try to pump you full of pills, that’s just more bull****!
So you try to find a way to take your mind off of that squirrel running around in your head who keeps whispering to you. So you try games maybe buy an Xbox. It doesn’t help. Pretending there is any danger or life and death decisions in a video game is just crap!
Maybe you try getting stupid drunk. It doesn’t help, it can’t help!
Somehow you have to get a grip on something. If you can’t find a way to reconnect or make yourself useful you are going to step in front of a bus or eat the business end of a weapon!
My way to rejoin civilian life was a farm in Montana.
I had told myself I had no civilian obligations but deep in my heart I knew I couldn’t just disappear. The Jacksons had been good friends of my parents and done a lot for me settling my parents’ affairs and setting up investments and a checking account for me over the years. They were good people and deserved the courtesy of a visit from me after my years of absence from their lives. True I exchanged e-mails with Greta every week and one every few month with Mr. or Mrs. Jackson but it wasn’t the same as a visit.
I told myself to “man up” and I made the call telling them I would be in town in a few days. Of course they insisted I stay with them. It was with mixed emotions that I left the base for the last time and headed out into the world as a civilian. I was on my way to visit people who had no clue what I had seen, what I had done or what I had become. There may be those who can spend years in combat zones, exchanging fire on an almost daily basis and return home unchanged by their experience. I wasn’t one of them.
I stepped off the bus at the Greyhound station out by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. That’s south of town. It was 3AM. I needed to get to the north side of town and there was a station on Forsyth St in downtown Atlanta closer to the north side but having survived years of combat I decided not to temp fait by being right down town in the middle of the night.
I stepped into the terminal expecting to see Mr. Jackson. Instead I heard a voice shriek “Earl” and then a blond head dressed all in red streaking my way and then suddenly left the ground to wrap arms and legs around my upper body. If she had weight more than 112lbs soaking wet or if I wasn’t 235lb and somewhat braced we would have both gone down. As it was, it was a near thing.
“What in the world are you doing here Greta? I thought your dad was going to pick me up!”
“Ha! I haven’t seen you in the flesh in almost 5 years and you think I am going to wait until you get to the house before I give you a big hug and a kiss?”
I had seen a lot since joining up and I had been feeling like there wasn’t much left that would actually surprise me. By this point I had a pretty low opinion of the masses in general and politicians in particular. I was totally wrong! Greta not only surprised me right down to my toes but also managed to take my breath away. When I left home at 17 she was a skin and bones towheaded 15 year old kid. At my parents funeral she was still pretty skinny at 16 but somewhere somehow in the last 5 years she had managed to fill out. She was still towheaded but man oh man she wasn’t skin and bones and she for sure wasn’t a kid!
Not that I wanted to, but I pried her legs and arms off of me and set her down on her own two feet. I’ll admit it, I was more than a little flustered looking at her. All our lives she had been a friend and a pal that shared stories, and told me all the juicy gossip young girls share between them. She could dig up her own worms bait her own hook. When we target practiced with a .22, Coke bottles or cans weren’t safe around her. For sure she wasn’t Annie Oakley but still, she was a fair shot. If I called her Re-Greta when we were kids she would stick her tongue out at me, punch my arm…hard, then laugh. It was going to take more than a few minutes to shift gears from onetime pal to this attractive young woman.
“I dressed just for you. What do you think?” With that she did a pirouette in 5 inch heels and a fire engine red dress with a tight bodice and a full skirt.
“I think we better get out of here before you cause a riot! That’s what I think.”
She was so fair skinned that when she blushed it went from her cheeks all the way up to her hairline. I didn’t know anyone could blush like that these days. Guess I’d been spending too much time with big hairy guys who had had the boyishness knocked out of them, if they had ever had any boy in them to begin with.
With a big grin she said, “Well…I mean..ah..you sure know how to embarrass a girl! Come on I’ll show you where I parked. You want to drive?”
“Nope, I haven’t been doing what you might call much driving in the last few years so you drive and I’ll co-piolet.”
While she was navigating us to the Interstate I was absorbed with taking in every detail of this new vivacious, attractive girl and trying to see my pal in there somewhere. She kept up a steady stream of conversation about her graduation from college next year and her friends. She was telling me about the boys she had been dating for the last couple of years, it was all music to my ears. Try spending a few years talking to the same group of guys about the same things over and over. There is no comparing that with the chatter from a young girl who was so full of life. True I might get tired of it eventually but for now it was music to me ears.
As soon as we hit the Interstate things started changing. That musical voice and my appreciation and satisfaction at seeing her again started to evaporate. When we hit 85 miles an hour and she was gesturing with one hand and chattering away things changed. True it was 3AM but Atlanta is a big town and there are trucks and other traffic. She nonchalantly ignored all of them and evidently took the speed limit signs as a suggestion not a real rule. She decided we should stop at a Waffle House for a greasy breakfast as we had done before I left. By the time we got there I would never again willing ride in the passenger seat with her again. Not until I was ready to shuffle of this mortal coil anyway!
“Let’s sit in a booth if that’s OK?” she asked.
“Sure but shouldn’t we take one away from the front window?”
“Why would we need to be in the back away from a window?”
“Well, they might have taken your picture at the bank robbery and be looking for you.” I told her.
She gave me a completely mystified look with raised eyebrows.
“I didn’t even know banks were open this early but I guess things have changed since I left.”
“What in the world are you talking about?”
“Considering the high speed maneuvering and our breaking the sound barrier, I figured you had at least robbed a bank. Robbing anything less wouldn’t call for what I just experienced!”
Her heartfelt and unabashed full on laughter rang out like those little bells you hear people play at Christmas time. Frankly it did funny things to my ability to breath. It didn’t help that the top of that shear, skin tight red dress was struggling to keep her womanly charms contained. Speaking of a struggle I was having one with the inner Cro-Magnon. I kept telling myself that hoping a seam would split was no way to think of a friend! Mentally slapping myself I manfully kept my gaze at eye level.
“I guess that means you are driving from here to my parents’ house?”
“Either that or I’m hiking there!”
She shared another tinkling laugh with me and again my breathing seemed a bit strained.
“I’ve been nattering on like some high school bird brain, it’s your turn. You need to tell me all about your experiences and what it was like for you. In your e-mails you never gave me any facts or told me about what you did exactly.”
“No, no I don’t need to tell you about it. There are some things you will never ever “need” to know and I hope you never have to learn on your own.” I told her with a heavy heart.
“OK. The look you just gave me could have melted steel. I can’t help but think you would feel better if you talked about it and who better to listen than someone who has known you all her life?”
“I did my mandatory pre-separation counseling so you don’t need to worry about helping me work anything out.” I told her.
“I know you say that but I have heard and read so many things about those coming back from so many tours having Delayed Stress Response Syndromes that I want to help.”
She was being as earnest as she could but I honestly couldn’t think of anything she could do to help. As far as I could see I was as OK as you might reasonably expect to be. True my interviewer didn’t seem to be that happy with my response to his questions about how I felt about killing so many men. It seemed to be his opinion that the answer “It’s a job like any other job. Besides it wasn’t like I had much choice. I either shot them or they shot me or my friends. Seems like a pretty good reason to make them dead” might just be covering up some deep seated guilt. If it was I didn’t know it or feel it. We went around and around about it and he even made me come back for more sessions but in the end all he could do was cut me loose since I kept to my original story.
“Fine, but I am here for you any time you need someone to talk to.”
“Thanks Greta but I’ll be fine. Now let’s order I’m famished.”
We dawdled over breakfast and coffee to make sure we didn’t get to her parents’ house before her dad was up and going for the day. Did I mention that we actually did sit in the back? I couldn’t sit with my back to a window or door without breaking into a sweat, so I sat in the back row with a wall at my back. That way I could see the entrances and who passed in front of the windows.
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Gather around the campfire OR Never step on the Butterflies Chapter 3
Folks something you should probably know. I use things in my writing that I have either experienced or seen others experience quite often. There is a silent auction in this chapter where a trailer is purchased for $50, this actually happened. The big boss where I worked got a trailer almost exactly as I describe it for $50. In one of my other stories the family finds they can drill a gas well on their property. I got that from a guy I worked with. He was showing pictures of his family back home and in the background was what appeared to be a metal building with pipes etc. I asked what that was and he told us that his great grand dad purchased the farm his family lived on many, many years ago. One day a man came to the farm and talked with his dad. Anyway long story short a company drilled wells on their farm and did hit a gas deposit. The point I am making is that even things that may sound a little far out many times have a basis in fact.
“Dad, mom we’re home.”
Mr. and Mrs. Jackson came out of the kitchen and before he could grab my hand and shake it, his lovely wife had me in a fierce bear hug while tears ran unashamedly down her face.
“You’ve grown up while you were away and become quit the man. If only you mother could see you now!” Now the tears really came.
“Here I am ruining your home coming with my foolishness. It’s just that I miss both of your parents more than I can tell you.”
“No ma’am you haven’t ruined a thing. Actually seeing you two and Greta are just what I need to make me realize I’m actually a civilian again.”
By now Mr. Jackson had tears in his eyes and was pumping my hand like he was a Deep South politician trying for votes. As soon as I got my hand free and Mrs. Jackson backed off to dry her eyes I had a crying 5’2” girl hanging from my neck making sniffling sounds. All this was nice but not only was it disconcerting I couldn’t quite see why all the waterworks and glowing faces. It seemed to be making them feel good so I just did my best to glow back.
“I suppose you two stopped at one of those horrible greasy spoons since it took you so long to get here. I’ll go make coffee, you’re sure to have room for that. Greta you go change and come help me in the kitchen the men are going to want some alone time and you can have Earl after your father is done.” Mrs. Jackson told us.
Mr. Jackson motioned me into his office and waved me at the guest chair then took his spot behind his desk.
“How was your trip? You realize you could have flown a lot faster and for not that much more money since you knew in advance when you would be coming?”
“The trip was fine and I know I could have flown but I left town on a bus and figured it was somehow poetic that I ride back in on one. Besides it gave me more time to get my head together and decide some things. I’m not sure I can remember anything I decided though. Greta being there and her greeting about wiped my mind clear!” I told him.
Mr. Jacksons laugh wasn’t anything like Greta’s. His was more like a baritone guffaw. Nope nothing “tinkley” there.
“She must have tried on every dress or combination of skirt and top in her closet trying to find the right outfit to pick you up in. She kept saying she needed something to give you a 10,000 watt greeting in. She’s been working on it for a week. Finally she gave up and went shopping for that red, I hate to call it a dress. That red second skin!” Again his laughing was nothing at all like Greta’s.
“It was all of that and more. You do realize that even a young guy like me could have a heart attack, right?” I told him.
I must have tickled his sense of humor because he laughed until he was out of breath.
“I bet you have had to clean your shotgun in front of a steady stream of guys taking her on dates!” I was being serious but he just smiled a bigger smile.
“I’ll admit there were a couple of those young studs I considered showing my shotgun but I knew I had nothing to worry about. Yes, yes I know every father wants to think his little girl is a good girl and won’t let things get out of hand and I do believe that about Greta. That isn’t the real reason I never worried though. I knew she was just dating and being in the social whirl. She was never interested in any of them romantically or sexually.” He told me.
I guess my jaw dropped or something because he just smiled and started talking.
“Greta is a mixture of demure girl and a woman who has her own opinions. She knows what she wants in a man and won’t settle for less. At the same time she isn’t the kind of woman that thinks the man might be the head of the household but she is the neck that turns the head. She doesn’t have an underhanded or manipulative bone in her body. She decided several years ago who she wanted and that is that. Sure she dated and went to parties with boys and socialized with her group of friends. After all she is young and is in college.”
I thought to myself whoever he was he was going to be one heck of a lucky guy.
“I didn’t pull you in here to talk about Greta though. I wanted to give you the keys to your dad’s pickup. Except for some specific things he asked in his will for me to store for you until you returned that is one of the few large items I didn’t sell. I’ve been driving it a few miles a week to keep it from freezing up. Had I known it was going to take this long for you to come home I might have sold it too. Anyway it runs fine and I’ve had the oil and fluids changed or topped up at least once a year even though I probably only drove it less than a few hundred miles a year. Mostly it sits in the back of the garage with a vehicle cover over it. I’ve kept a trickle charger on it so it should start up any time you want to drive it. I suppose we should call today and get you some insurance.
Here is a folder with all the information, web addresses, passwords and contact numbers for your investment account and your money market account.
There is something I am curious about. I see your checking accounts electronic statement and your two credit card accounts. It’s entirely your own business but as far as I can tell you never charge more than one or two hundred dollars a month and not every month either. Some months go by without an expenditure at all. The credit cards are automatically paid from the checking account so you don’t even write any checks to speak of. You have never used the money market except to put money into it. And you have never used any of the money your parents left you. As far as I can tell you haven’t even spent all your pay, just part of it then banked the rest.”
It was obvious he didn’t want to pry but taking his responsibility to my parents, and myself, so seriously he really needed to know how I handled money. I didn’t mind. He and his wife along with Greta were as close to family as I had except for the men I had served with.
“Except for a smart phone that can store and play thousands of songs and music, a Kindle and eBooks there isn’t much for a nondrinking, nonsmoking, nondrug user to spend their money on in a combat zone. The books and music got traded around a lot so there wasn’t a lot of money tied up in those either. When I went on block leave I had saved money and spent most of my time at a friend’s farm. Except for kicking in on the food and some drinks that was inexpensive as well. Every few months I would see that I had enough for those things and just sent the rest to the money market. There wasn’t any good reason to have it sitting making no return. About everything else was issued to us.”
Mr. Jackson seemed a little dazed after my explanation for some reason,
“Earl I didn’t mean to pry I was just trying to understand.”
The young man in front of him just smile at his explanation. For the first time Jackson looked, really looked at the young man. No, scratch that. The man if front of him. There was something about him. A hint of the weight of the ages on him. What had their country done to Earl and all those who came before and after him? Had they somehow damned the best of their country, consigned them to some living hell? For the first time in his life he felt shame for what had been done to this generation of men and women.
At the same time he marveled at the simple statement made by Earl. A simple no nonsense approach to finances that left him wondering. After hearing what his friends and the men he worked with said about their children and their lack of respect for money or where it came from, Earls’ explanation was like a breath of fresh air.
“Now that we have that settled, the other things I kept for you I have stored at the metal working shop. I didn’t want to lose any of it and there have been some…..unfortunate occurrences around here so I thought it prudent to keep them there.”
The pain in Mr. Jackson’s eyes gave me a pretty good idea of what or I guess more accurately who, was responsible for the misfortunes at his home. Obviously his son had been up to his old tricks of stealing anything anywhere from anyone, including his parents.
“The only other thing I can think of right now is the money from the annuity your dad bought. It’s only $320 a month. I had it set up to go right into your investment account but when I knew for sure you were headed home I sent in a change to have it deposited directly to your checking account. It’s not much but since you are going to be paying for everything now you will need it.”
“Mr. Jackson I glanced at all the paperwork you sent me but I haven’t really payed much attention. Every time I tried it brought up bad memories. Now I’m going to have to take care of all of it myself no more leaning on you. I guess my question is how much does it come too all together?”
“Well…the investments go up and down a little every day of course. However if you could sell it all and clear out the money market at today’s prices you would have approximately $86,400 plus the monthly annuity. Not a fortune but enough to buy a newer vehicle and make a good down payment on a house. Of course you are going to have to either go to school for a couple more years or find something you can do with a reasonable income to do that. You’ve always been interested in computers so maybe something in that field. I’d be happy to give you a full time job at the shop doing basically what you did before. Not sure that would be a help though. Business has been bad lately and I’ve been thinking of selling while the business is still worth something and retiring, so working for me isn’t much of a long term solution. I’ll have to sell pretty quickly actually or it won’t be worth anything.”
“I’m surprised business is that bad Mr. Jackson, I thought you had a pretty good customer base.”
“I used to. I catered to people who wanted quality and didn’t mind paying what it is worth. In the last 4 years with the economy being sort of stalled for small businesses many of my customers are now driven by price more than quality.”
“Isn’t there any way to stay competitive?”
“Not really Earl. I won’t hire illegals and in the last 4 years two shops opened up that use only illegals. There is no way to compete with that. Even if I was willing to scrimp on quality there’s no way to get my wages low enough to compete. One of the guys that ran a shop south of town who I’ve known for years had to call it quits 8 months ago, he just couldn’t match the prices.”
“I had no idea that illegals were that big of a problem here.”
“A lot has changed since you left Earl. If you go half a mile south of here where all the apartments were along the highway you will see that there is no one living there but those from south of the border. There are thousands of them. No way can they all be legal of course.”
Just then Mrs. Jackson called us into the kitchen for coffee, sweet rolls and conversation.
After the coffee Mr. Jackson headed off to his shop, Mrs. Jackson started her housework. Greta took off to get to a class and that left me at loose ends. I’d slept on the bus so I wasn’t really sleepy yet. I decided to check on my dad’s, well I guess my pickup and head over to my bank to get an ATM card.
Just as predicted the 8 year old Ford F150 started right up. It wasn’t anything special, just a pretty plain truck with one of those almost useless five and a half or six foot beds with a fiberglass cap that didn’t stick up any higher than the top of the cab. At least it was a four door. The body was in good shape no dents or serious dings. My dad bought it used, but it had been a fairly low mileage truck and he never took it farther than work or the Home Depot. I used to laugh at that truck though. Any time he needed long lumber or something long and bulky he had to rent a trailer or a flatbed to get his stuff home. His argument was always that he didn’t need that stuff all that often anyway. Like I said, I got a good laugh at that trucks expense from time to time.
After checking all the fluids I examined the tires. They had a lot of tread left but they were 8 years old. I better head to the local tire store and get some new ones. I hadn’t priced tires in a long time and the price for five, since I decided to change the spare as well, was kind of an eye popper. The guy that waited on me had explained that the tires were steel belted. Considering the price I was hoping for gold belts or something!
Entering the closest Wells Fargo to Mr. Jackson’s home I got something of an eye opening. First off the advertising on little stainless steel poles were all in Spanish. Second when I took my turn at the small slot in the bullet proof wall and slid my check in to be cashed I discovered the teller had such accented English I couldn’t understand her through the glass. Two more tellers and I got one whose accent was decipherable. It took a while but with my Government ID, my credit card issued by Wells Fargo along with a blood sample I did get my cash.
For the ATM card I was directed to a desk where a bank employee was diligently working. As I walked up another customer was walking away and when the employee saw me he greeted me in Spanish. I’m a blond, blue eyed person of Germanic descent. I’m so fair I could hide in front of a white marker board. Matter of fact if I got out in the sun without a hat people accused me of bleaching my hair. Spanish? Sure there are a lot of very fair folks from down South America way but you would think he might have taken a wild stab and considered using English on me.
As soon as he saw the blank look on my face he switched to barely accented English, I’ll give him that. He processed my request quickly and efficiently for the ATM card, then informed me it would take 5 to 7 work days to send the card. Seemed reasonable enough. I didn’t have much choice so I had him send it to the Jacksons home. I suppose I should have left well enough alone but I was a little bewildered and starting to get tired. As politely as I could, at least I think it was polite. I asked what was up with all the functionally non-English speaking employees. While he wasn’t outright rude he got a tone to his voice of being offended.
There I stood. A man who had just gotten back from being shot at thousands of times, ducking snipers and mortar bombs, slogging through boiling hot heat by day and freezing temperatures by night, doing my best to do what I had been told my country needed from me. Right in front me less than arms reach away sat a short round minor functionary with greasy hair giving me lip. I only moved my hand six inches or so, before I caught myself. I wanted so badly to see if I could smash his pudgy body through that little slot in the bullet proof glass and let him say Hey to tellers who couldn’t communicate with an American.
All I said was “have a nice day, and kiss your family tonight because you came so very close to never seeing them again”. And walked out. I’m still not sure if I was proud or ashamed of my lack of action. It being a bank there was a reasonable chance I might find myself in a world of Government hurt, but frankly at the time I never considered that.
What actually saved the little pimple was the thought of what my mother would have said. It isn’t until those situations that we can really see how much influence our parents have or had on us. Later in the day I laughed out loud at myself. I had been to see the elephant but I still worried what my long dead mother would think and how it would hurt her if I did what I wanted so badly to do. Sorry mom, I turned the other cheek. This time.
Thinking it over I decided it would be best not to press my luck so I headed back to the Jacksons for a power nap. I said Hey to Mrs. Jackson and tried to slip up to my room but she would have none of that. She insisted on feeding my roast beef sandwiches on homemade rolls, slices of provolone and jarlsberg cheese, fresh tomatoes and spinach. Homemade potato chips along with homemade garlic dill pickles. Two sandwiches and four glasses of sweet tea later I could hardly keep my eyes open so she took pity on me and sent me off to catch that power nap.
I barely had time to strip down to my underwear before I felt myself slowly collapsing onto the bed. Instantly I was wide awake. What the heck? Something was nagging at the back of my mind. Eventually I had to drag the mattress along with the sheets and blanket to the other side of the room where I was offset from the door and then I wedged a straight back chair that sat in the corner under the door knob before falling into a deep exhausted sleep.
Hours later I was again awake with my scalp crawling. In the semi darkness I grabbed for my weapon in the same position I always left it in and panicked when it wasn’t there. Someone was creeping up on my position quietly but I could hear some of their equipment gently knocking together. Then a voice called to me quietly.
“Earl are you awake?”
Now I knew where I was and realized Greta must have been trying to see if I was awake without waking me if I had still been asleep. With my heart beating 200 beats a minute I said, “Sure, sure Greta I’m awake be right there.”
“Come down stairs when you are ready.”
I heard her walking off and started rearranging the mattress. Wouldn’t do to have the Jacksons think there was a nut job under their roof. By the time I was finished my heart rate was down to a hundred and I noticed I was bathed in sweat. I needed to calm down and take a shower, get myself together.
I made it down to the family room in time to hear that Greta wanted me to take her to a charity auction. Seemed that the ladies from Mrs. Jacksons gardening group were having a pot luck dinner and a silent charity auction. I was about to ask what a silent auction was when Greta grabbed my neck and tried to pull me down to give me a kiss. I was still a little on edge so she had to pull herself up to me with a little assistance and gave me a quick peck on the lips. Then she dashed off to the kitchen to help box up the food Mrs. Jackson was taking to the auction.
Greta’s dad was sorting through some cardboard boxes but had seen the whole kiss thing. For whatever reason I felt like I should apologize.
“Sorry about that sir, I don’t know what’s gotten into Greta but I swear I haven’t been encouraging her.”
“I saw you manfully resist Earl, so no fault on your part. What I don’t understand is, why?”
“Well…you have done so much for me and graciously invited me into your home I am not going to repay all your kindness by taking advantage sir. As soon as Greta gets used to me being home safe and sound I’m sure things will get back to normal!”
“I have no doubt you are an honorable man. So don’t worry yourself on that account.”
Why was he grinning when he said that?
Mrs. Jackson called from the kitchen and said, “Earl, can you help load some of this?”
“Yes ma’am no problem.”
“I have to take some folding tables plus all this food I believe we are going to have to take two vehicles to get it all there in one trip.”
“That’s OK momma Earl and I can take my car and put some of the food on the back seat.”
“No we can put it in my truck.”
Laughing in my directions Greta said, “OK scaredy cat you can drive my car.”
“If you want to go with me you are riding in my truck. If not you can ride with your parents or drive yourself.”
When I turned with a load of food in my arms to go outside Greta was giving her mother a funny look and her mother was silently laughing at her. Why was she doing that? Apparently there was a lot I didn’t know about the Jacksons. Seemed like they found a lot of humor in things I didn’t understand.
After loading I stuck my head into the kitchen and asked Mrs. Jackson for directions.
Greta said in a low voice, “If you will let me ride with you I can show you the way.”
“Sure thing Greta, come on let’s get rolling. I’ve never been to a silent auction and I want to scope things out before everyone gets there.”
After helping set up the tables and the food the ladies shooed the men away while they gossiped and got things ready. Mr. Jackson and I walked around looking at the items up for auction while he explained what a silent auction was. It turned out to be about as simple a thing as you could imagine. All you did was look the items over, then get a pencil, piece of paper and an envelope from a table. You wrote your name and the number of the item and the amount in dollars you wanted to bid for that item. Then you folded it in half, put it in the envelope and sealed it then dropped it into a big box with a slot in the top.
When it was time, two ladies took the envelopes out and read the number of the item and the bid. High bidder got the item.
There was only one thing there I had any interest in at all. According to what Mr. Jackson told me he had saved a lot of my parent’s household things. If I was going to be headed to Montana in the near future a trailer would come in handy. As it turned out he saved a lot of stuff I couldn’t see the need for, but that comes later. The trailer was a two axel fourteen foot long five foot wide closed trailer. The interior height was right at five foot five inches. From three feet up it was steel but the rest of the side and top was aluminum. It needed new tires and the paint was peeling on at least 30% of it. It was rusty with gunk on it everywhere the paint had peeled. All the rest of the paint was very faded to many shades of nasty orangey rusty color.
“What do you think Mr. Jackson, it looks like heck but structurally it seems in real good shape?”
“It’s a mess that’s for sure Earl. But you’re right it mostly looks cosmetic. Strip the crap away, paint it a decent color and buff the aluminum back to some kind of shine and it would make a good utility trailer. You would probably have to repack the wheel bearings. Since it needs all new tires you could either get it done at the same time or do it yourself. New that is probably at least a $4,000 maybe even a $5,000 trailer. If you’re interested in it you can use the equipment at the shop to sandblast it and spray paint it. Right now that equipment is just sitting there, you might as well get some use out of it.”
“I don’t like to impose but I think I’ll take you up on that offer if I can get the trailer for a decent price.”
“I’ll tell you what. The sandblasting area is way past due to have the used sand shoveled up and wheelbarrowed to the dumpster. Besides that I have a truck loaded with scrap metal for the recycler. If you clean up the sand after you blast the trailer and drive the truck across town to the scrap guy we will call it even. Not only that I have some leftover paint that a customer custom ordered for her job. I’ll never use those two gallons in that color. If it seems good enough for you I’ll throw that in as well. Otherwise in another year I’ll just have to throw it away.”
“Sounds good to me sir. At least I won’t have to worry about taking so much advantage of you.”
“Son, wait till you see the pile of sand and drive that old truck through Atlanta traffic. Then we will see who feels taken advantage of.”
There was that laugh again. Maybe it wasn’t as good a deal as I thought?
That trailer was the only item that was big enough and dirty enough to have to be parked in the lot behind the building. The whole time Mr. Jackson and I stood there discussing it only two other people came to examine it. It took only seconds for them both to laugh throw up their hands and walk away. I didn’t even really have a use for it right now. Being unemployed with no job lined up made me cautious about spending any money on an old rusty trailer. Finally I made up my mind to go low and live with the outcome.
When the bids were all read and the high bids were announced it was a little embarrassing. I got the trailer for $50. I’m pretty sure the lady who read the bid give me the stink eye when I stepped up to pay.
As it turned out I had to come back the next day to pick the trailer up. None of the lights on the back or the body worked. So I couldn’t pull it at night.
It took 4 full days to get everything done, not including work done on the trailer at the tire shop. First I pulled out all the wiring and the lights. During that chore I found that the trailer had come equipped with electric breaks. Then I sandblasted the outside. In the daylight the underside wasn’t in any better shape than the outside so I had to borrow the forklift and pick it up and duck walk around under it and sandblast the whole underside till it shined.
I couldn’t tow it so I took the truck full of scrap and emptied it. It had a tilt bed on it so I used the fork lift to load the trailer on it with the crappy old tires on the truck. When I got to the tire shop the guy who sold me my truck tires looked at me like I was crazy. After a couple times explaining I could just tilt the bed and roll the trailer off, he shook his head and said OK. I got it on the ground and with some help from him and a couple of his guys we got it pushed into one of the bays.
I’ll never understand how some things are priced. The shop pulled the bearings and repacked them. Turned the brake drums on a lathe, rebuilt the wheel cylinders and put new shoes on it. They explained what kind of set up I would need to put on my truck to activate the trailer breaks. Then explained what kind of harness was needed to replace the leads from the back of the truck to the trailer brakes. Finally they gave me directions to the parts house where I could get it all. They helped me install the activator on my truck and run the harness. Not only that they put 4 new tires on the trailer. The price? A hundred dollars less than the five new truck tires I just bought a few days before. As it turned out the tires for my truck were more than twice as expensive as the tires for the trailer. How’s that possible?
All finished at the tire shop but as it turned out it is a lot easier to roll down off of a tilt bed than it is to roll it up. It took some grunting and some judicial use of one end of their lift but we got it loaded up. Back at Mr. Jacksons shop I replaced all the running lights, tail lights and break lights with new ones hooking them to the new wiring. Every one of those lights had to be securely grounded to the body and the frame to make them work.
After taping off the aluminum top I again lifted that sucker up on the forklift and spray painted the underside. By this time I wasn’t feeling all that artistic so I painted the axel and every exposed metal spot with two coats of the free paint. The next day I painted the outside with another two coats. Compared to the underside the outside was a snap. Rinse and repeat. I ended up with four coats on everything and two coats of automotive clear sealer. In-between while waiting for the paint to dry I shoveled sand, and more sand and more sand. I’m sure I didn’t take advantage of anyone!
Oh, the free paint. Hhmm. It was a sort of dark olive green color. It was free though. I never bothered to polish the aluminum top. It was almost a grey color. It seemed to go with the green so I left it alone.
I spent five days off and on, on that trailer. In the evenings I spent time with the Jacksons chatting or watching a movie. Oh ya, news flash. I actually got my ATM card the seventh day. The night after I finished the trailer Greta went out on a date that had been in the works before I decided to come home. It had something to do with a function at her school, I didn’t know what. I met the guy. He seemed nice enough, but kind of nervous acting when I shook his hand. He seemed really relieved to get out the front door. Hunh, no explaining some folks I guess. The really weird part was that they were back in about an hour, maybe less. Greta seemed upset as the guy was saying his good nights.
I’ll have to admit that part didn’t sit very well with me so I sort of moseyed over and stepped through the door before he could leave and gentle like put my hand around his neck. I’ve got pretty big hands. Now I know I wasn’t owed any explanations, but I had known Greta most of my life and all of hers so I sort of wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on. I was asking him about it in a quiet like voice but he wasn’t saying anything. Guess I might have raised my voice a little because all of a sudden Mrs. Jackson and Greta were standing there and Mr. Jackson had both his hands on my right arm sort of tugging on it.
“You know Earl if you were to ease up on the boy’s throat he might be able to speak.”
I can’t be sure but I think Mr. Jackson might have been laughing a little.
Somewhere along the way Greta had kind of crawled up my back and gotten her arms around my neck. Kind of a funny time to be giving me a hug but she was doing it real sweet like, except for the jerking back on my neck that is.
“Earl the boy is turning blue how about letting up.”
By now that boy and Mr. Jackson both had ahold of my wrist and forearm. I supposed that was a sign so I gentle like opened my hand. That poor guy must have had epilepsy or something because just before I let go he went all limp and then sort of oozed down to the ground.
“Earl if you would take Greta inside I’ll see about helping this boy catch his breath then help him to his car if he is able to drive.”
I had to peal Greta off of my back and set her down on her own two feet. For whatever reason she was crying to beat the band. She gave me a kind of wild look and took off running for her room. Women, who can explain them?
The front door was open and I could see the epileptic seizure must be over because Mr. Jackson was helping that boy walk to his car.
Mrs. Jackson was standing in the kitchen doorway laughing to beat the band as she watched Greta run up the stairs. A real nice lady, just a tad bit strange.
“Earl let’s step into the kitchen find us some coffee and see if Mrs. Jackson has any of those sweet rolls.” Mr. Jackson said.
The Jacksons and I got settled in with our coffee in the kitchen and I waited to see what Mr. Jackson had on his mind.
“Now if you don’t mind me asking Earl, why did you decide to ah….question that boy? Was it because Greta seemed upset?”
“That and the fact they got back in less than an hour. I never heard of a date that short. Greta is a special person to me and I wanted to find out what he had done to her.”
Mrs. Jackson must have given him one of those married folks look because he turned to her and started explaining.
“Earl made it to just outside the door before the boy could make his exit, then grabbed him with his right hand and lifted him a few inches off the ground then started asking him what he had done to upset Greta.”
I admit I was concentrating on asking questions so I suppose I could have lifted him off the ground.
There she went again Mrs. Jackson was laughing.
“What did he have to say for himself?”
“Not much Mr. Jackson told her. He was having some trouble breathing, I don’t think he could speak since his throat was probably completely closed.”
Now he was grinning. What was I missing?
Mrs. Jackson turned to me and with a motherly look in her eyes said,
“Greta is 21 and a grown woman. She doesn’t need any help with twerps like that. I appreciate your willingness to protect her but in this case she probably didn’t need it. I’m just guessing of course but I don’t think he did anything to her. After you glared at him and about broke his hand shaking it I can’t imagine he would have said boo to her, let alone done anything.”
“So what you both are saying is I over reacted?”
“Just a little.” Mr. Jackson told me.
I headed up stairs and knocked softly on Greta’s door but she wouldn’t talk to me.
As the days had gone by I had more and more trouble sleeping at the Jacksons, at least tonight I had some deep thinking to do to fill the hours.
I tried the next morning as well before heading off to Mr. Jacksons shop. Greta still wouldn’t talk to me so I gave up. That made up my mind. I packed my duffle and put it in the truck while breakfast was being cooked. I thanked Mr. and Mrs. Jackson many times for their generosity and told them I was leaving. Mrs. Jackson cried. A lot. I felt a little bad about that but I had made up my mind and it would take a lot more than a crying woman to change it. I headed to the shop at the same time as Mr. Jackson and had him show me the things he had been saving for me. He was a good man and had proven to be a friend but I had to wonder about some of the stuff he held on to.
There was one pile that had a fitted quilted cover over it that I was pretty sure I knew what it was. I was right. It was a Winchester Defender 35 guns safe. In a large cardboard box there were two push button combination lock quick access pistol safes that were 9” X 10” X 14”. I had to open them when I was home for the funeral so they could be dismounted without tearing them apart. I left the weapons in them where they were for now. Another box had .45cal ammo for my dad’s personal carry weapon an HK45ct. In the same box were 8 Double Mag Pouch’s 8, 8 round magazines and 12, 10 round magazines. It also contained 7 holster rigs for the HK. My dad tried different ones. Depending on what the occasion was he would use different ones. I found one shoulder holster with a two magazine pouch on the off side and an inside or outside the belt holster that fit like a glove. I wasn’t going to carry concealed until I could qualify for a CCW in Montana. But I sure wanted the HK in the cab of the truck on the trip. I loaded up two 8 round mags and 4 10 rounds ones for the trip. In the box was changeable grip panels or back straps that could be used to change the size of the grip to fit the weapon to various hand sizes. I took the time to adjust the fit. I was a bit bigger than my dad.
After the accident it took two plus years, multiple requests and some letters from a lawyer to get the police to return the HK but they never coughed up my mom’s. Both her weapon and her holster rig disappeared into the black hole of bureaucracy. The rig for my dad’s HK had too much blood on it so I had Mr. Jackson toss it.
Another box held a Mossberg 500 for in home defense and boxes of shells for it along with a couple bags dad carried extra shot shells in. Dad always loaded the Mossberg with 00 Buck. Because he had experimented with 00 Buck he made sure I understood that it would penetrate several pieces of wall board and to make sure if I had to ever use it that none of the family or friends were in the line of fire even if they were in another room.
There were eleven large ammo cans that I knew were filled with ammo for the various weapons. My dad was a bit of an ammo hoarder. He always said it was better to have and not need than to need and not have. Plus, to be frank he always worried that the government might ban the sale of ammo to private citizens as a sort of ad hock gun control. Sure if you had reloading equipment you could reload your spent brass but stop the sale of ammo and component parts and eventually there would be a lot of weapons that were just decorations.
Just glancing in the top of the many boxes I could see what looked like antique kitchen stuff. I could see a hand cranked meat grinder and a big pressure cooker. I didn’t have the time or the will to go further so I headed to the closest Home Depot and bought 6 3 inch ratchet straps and hardware to create tie down point in the wood floor and the steel supports on the sides of the trailer. I had to borrow the forklift again to get the gun safe in the trailer. I used all 6 straps to tie that sucker in front of the axels. After that I loaded all the other stuff until there was a wall of household goods at the back. There were eight huge boxes of paperback books, three boxes of hard cover books. Those went in the back as well. I locked the lift gate with locks I picked up along with the straps and called it good.
By the time I said my goodbyes again to Mr. Jackson and did another round of thanks with the guys working in the shop I didn’t manage to get on the road until 11am. Pulling out of the parking lot I saw Mr. Jackson in the side mirrors looking after me with a sad expression on his face. I felt bad about that but it was time I got out of a big city.
Before I hit the Interstate I called Sam and chatted with him letting him know I was on my way. I was a little tired of people right now so I turned my cell phone off, got up to the legal speed limit engaged the cruise control and pointed my nose west.
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Gather around the campfire OR Never step on the Butterflies Chapter 4
I’d never driven outside of the state of Georgia and found the steady sound of rushing wind and the highway whispering through the tires very soothing. Somewhere in the state of Tennessee I managed to figure out why I was having a hard time sleeping at the Jackson’s. In the back of my mind I knew there was no one on guard and what the military encourages you to have, a battle buddy, wasn’t there watching my back.
It had taken me a couple of years to find another guy who I “clicked” with. Don’t get me wrong, I had found guys I could trust but you spend so much time with your battle buddy that it takes more than that. At least for me. I had cycled through 4 or 5 guys before Roger got shifted into my platoon. With some help from the First Sergeant, Roger got assigned to the same squad I was in. It’s hard to explain but some guys you just have a subliminal connection to.
Outwardly we weren’t much alike. I was a blond blue eyed German, a product of a southern upbringing and a slight drawl. Roger was a dark swarthy Italian from Brooklyn New York with the most god awful accent. I didn’t have a girl back home or even a family, Roger talked about the girl he was going to marry back home in Brooklyn frequently and his family. Make that constantly!
Those things aren’t what made us a good fit. What did make us a good fit was that basically we had the same opinions on women, and the state of the political situation in our country. We were interested in prepper and dystopian fiction and had similar tastes in music. Except for his love of 70’s disco music. Not all of it, just 30 or so disco tracks. I suppose everyone has one flaw.
We had similar work ethics always doing our part and never trying to dodge those unpleasant duties that came around with regularity. For me there were two things that stood out above all the rest. One, I could know with absolute certainty that if Roger was supposed to be watching my six, he was. He could count on the same thing from me. There are times that come around regularly where your life and or your sanity depends on the dependability and skills of your battle buddy.
Second, when I made E5 and took over the squad he had no problem drawing a line between taking orders and knowing when we were just friends. All of those things and more that I won’t go into not only keep you alive but help you maintain your sanity in what is a very much screwed up environment.
It felt better to have diagnosed my sleep problem, but no immediate solution presented itself so I would just have to keep trucking on.
Nine hours after starting out, somewhere around the Kentucky, Missouri border it began to sink in on me just how far away Montana was from Georgia. The map I pulled up with directions and distances from the Internet said 2,300 miles, but without a frame of reference that doesn’t really mean much. I must have really been wired by my last morning and previous night at the Jackson’s.
Twenty-three hours after pulling out of Mr. Jacksons shop, several stops for gas, strong coffee, four stops for a heart attack in a sack and I was almost to Sheridan, WY. There was an Information Center with a parking lot near there and I was finally getting tired. It was about 9am their time when I pulled in, found a parking spot a few hundred feet from the Information Center door, rolled down a couple of windows a few inches and fell asleep. The Information Center was manned and there was a steady stream of people in and out of the parking lot. There were at least 8 other cars with people doing the same thing I was doing, so I wasn’t really worried about any trouble.
I managed to sleep 3 whole hours, before I was wide awake and twitching to get moving. From the print out I made at Mr. Jacksons shop it looked like I was 16 hours away from the farm. It was 12pm now so it looked like I wouldn’t make it until 4am. I better give Sam a call around 8pm and give him a heads up. Pulling in unannounced at 4am didn’t seem like the healthiest thing I could do. There wasn’t any cell service there but they did have a satellite Internet connection with a VoIP phone hookup.
It took me every bit of the 16 hours. I made it to Hamilton Mt. in good time and the next 18 miles of narrow state road wasn’t too bad. Mostly I just had to pay attention not to slip off on the dirt shoulders because the road was so narrow. Also I had to keep my speed down to 40 or so. The next 13 miles was on an unimproved county gravel road. They weren’t kidding about the unimproved part. I never got above 25mph. The next 11 miles was on a really rough dirt road. Yes dirt! I’m not even sure it was a state road of any kind since I never saw any road signs. The last 8 miles was just two dirt tracks masquerading as the access drive to the farm that took forever. If you were driving a regular car or pickup anything over 12mph was liable to cause you to end up with a hole in the oil pan or a broken axel. Up till now I had been a passenger in a four wheel drive vehicle getting to the farm and that had all been in broad daylight. Or flying in and out with David. Driving it in a regular F150 dragging a low slung trailer on a moonless night turned out to be a totally different experiences. If I was going to stay at the farm I could see a four wheel drive with maybe a four inch lift kit in my future!
Sam was there to greet me but after one look at me and a brief conversation he waved down a hallway, and said, “Your rig will be fine outside, you can settle in tomorrow. I think the room you used last time is still available.”
I mumbled a thanks and headed for my room. For the first time since leaving the base headed to the Jackson’s I slept a dreamless sleep and didn’t wake up until I heard someone coming down the hall toward my room. Intellectually I knew I was among friends, but the animal side of my brain said be careful. I hadn’t been so tired or sleepy that I didn’t slip the HK under my pillow or slip the Mossberg 500 on the off side of the bed on a low stool where I could easily reach it.
No one tried the door but someone did knock on the door frame, sounded like she must be standing to the right of door when a female voice asked if I was awake and ready to eat. Interesting.
“Have I got 30 minutes to take care of the 3 S’s?”
Laughter came from outside then she said, “Sure thing, call it 40 minutes and I’ll have it on the table.”
I heard footsteps heading back up the hall so I pulled some clothes out of my duffle, grabbed my shaving kit and headed to the bathroom. I had to smile at myself for calling it a shaving kit. True it technically was one but my beard was so blond and fine and grew so slowly that I had to have not shaved for at least 3 days before I actually needed to shave. At least I could use the toothbrush out of the kit. There was a comb in there as well but since I had gotten a “high and tight” before leaving the base it was of limited use right now. I guess old habits die hard. I’d been dead tired and asleep on my feet last night but I had snagged my clothes and my weapons before entering the house.
Back in my room I slipped into some utilities and combat boots. It’s what I had. I hadn’t had time to buy any civilian work clothes yet. I automatically threaded the holster for the HK onto my belt and added a two magazine carry pouch to the off side. Last night Sam had his sidearm on his belt so I figured I would do the same.
In the kitchen I introduced myself and she told me, “I’m Sharon. Sit down and eat while I clean up. I don’t want to rush you but you are the last one and I need to start on lunch pretty soon so the sooner you are out of here the sooner I can clear the table and take care of the dishes. David is off flying somewhere but Sam and the other guys are either down at the workshop or building some fences.”
No one had to tell me to eat up twice. It was plain food but good. From this one sample I would say Sharon was a reasonably good cook. Other than that the most remarkable thing about her was that she wasn’t very remarkable. She was average height, with an average body and a pleasant face. The word “solid” came to mind when I examined her.
I ate up, thanked her and took my plate, cup and utensils and rinsed them in the sink. She told me I was welcome then waved my out of her kitchen.
I had been to the farm 4 times over the years and this was the first time there were any females there. Interesting.
I found Sam and the other guys loading a truck with rolls of barbed wire.
With a smile Sam said, “You know just because you are a civilian now doesn’t mean you can sleep all day!”
I honored him with the universal single digit, up yours, salute.
“I think you guys know each other but for forms sake, Earl this is Gil the other one is Ted.”
We made our greetings and made pleasant sounds. True we had been in different platoons but we had worked together a bunch of times and knew each other. They were both solid and talented soldiers.
We spent what was left of the morning digging post holes with a tractor mounted auger, next we placed a post in the hole then used shovels to fill it in and a tamper to pack the dirt down as best we could. After lunch we broke up into two crews stringing barbed wire between the posts we put in. Since I had no idea what I was doing Sam took me with him and started showing me the ins and outs of stringing the wire.
“I can see that we are replacing some old fencing with new posts and wire, but why?” I asked Sam.
“You probably remember Mr. Samuels the man we lease the farm from. He has a lot of old farmers and ranchers in his circle of friends and one of them offered to give us a real good price on some weaned calves or feeders that are a bit older. We can fatten them up by grazing them in this pasture. Nothing has grazed here in over 20 years and the fence along this one side is gone now. All that’s left are little nubs where the posts were. When I was a kid my dad used to do the same thing only on a little bit bigger scale. We were kind of poor so it was one way for us to get meat on the table and maybe make enough on the rest of the cattle to pay the property taxes. Plus we have a couple guys here that are having adjustment problems and working with animals seems to help them.”
I spent the next two weeks finishing up the fencing. Then helping put new tin on the house roof and replacing some on all the outbuildings. We replaced a lot of the siding on the outbuildings since they hadn’t been updated since the 60s.
In the early 60s the original farm house which had been added onto many times since the first section was erected in the 1870s burned to the ground. The Samuels family was going through fairly prosperous time’s right then and it was a good thing. With his family of 10 and his older brother who lived there and helped work the property with a family of 8 they decided they needed a serious house. For the next year and a half they basically lived out of the barn and some other outbuildings while they built the new house.
First they dug a full basement and built a central section with the kitchen and common rooms, off of that they built two wings one for each brother and his family. Each wing had 6 bedrooms with one of them being quite a bit larger. Those were for the adults. It being the 60s each bedroom had an actual workable closet. Around that time rumors had been flying around saying the county was going to eventually run power out close to the farm so the house got wired for electricity and the Samuels provided a connection for an outside generator to provide power until the county got the lines to them. With the oil crisis of the 70s then the early 1980s recession following quickly the county shelved any idea of extending the electrical grid out that far. The area remained so sparsely populated that the idea was never revived.
The central portion and each wing had a “wash room” that had cold water run into it from a windmill pump with a tank mounted on the tower. There wasn’t much pressure but at least you didn’t have to haul water inside. The grey water drained into a leaching field. You still had to go outside to the outhouse until sometime in the late 80s.
Originally the house was heated with a variety of cast iron wood burning stoves and the kitchen had a wonderful huge old time cast iron cook stove with a water tank mounted so you had hot water all the time. Sometime in the 80’s along with the bathroom renovations fuel oil heating had been added and most of the cast iron stoves pulled out. They were stored in the work shop.
When I showed up there were a few solar panels and some batteries for charging up small electrical stuff like laptops and cordless tools. When we wanted to use anything bigger like the big screen TV so we could catch the news or some program off the satellite dish we had to use power from a diesel generator. It already ran 8 to 10 hours a day so the freezer and refrigerator could be used. It got pretty expensive, adding any hours for TV etc. just made it more so.
At night when we sat around the common room chewing the fat the subject of a better solar system or a wind turbine came up frequently. The problem was that according to a consumer non-profit it takes and I quote, “On average, a typical American home requires a small turbine with a 5-kilowatt generating capacity to meet all its electricity needs. A machine of this size has a diameter of approximately 18 feet. The exact size needed to power a home, however, can range from 2 kW to 10 kW (12-25 ft. diameter) based on a home’s energy use, average wind speeds, and the turbine’s height above ground (which affects its productivity). Prices can range from $30,000 to $75,000.”
An online solar wholesaler claimed you could get a “Ranch” 7kW system, for around $20,000. I’m not sure how accurate all that is but a range of $20,000 to $75,000 should allow just about anyone to find a product that might fulfill their needs.
We kicked around the idea of everyone chipping in a portion of the cost so we could get off the diesel generator and have a 24 hour a day supply of electricity but then the conversation shift to the condition of the word and our disenchantment with the US government. I lost track of the conversation because I was still thinking about a system to supply us with a more stable and ongoing electrical system.
One particular night we gained two more or less residents both good guys. One had been a diesel mechanic for his 12 years in the military the other was just a moving target like me. Both solid guys though. Sam and David welcomed anyone, especially those with problems dealing with what they had experienced in the military. Of course guys who were just directionless were welcome as well.
As it stood right now there were 9 adults, well 10 counting Sharon. If we wanted to install modern appliances in the kitchen and maybe some modern drill presses and equipment in the work shop I had a feeling we were going to definitely exceed typical American home requirements talked about in the wind turbine article. Thinking about it we were probably going to need some type of hybrid system. We had wind in this part of Montana but not 100% of the time. We had some large south facing roofs for solar, but we had a lot of snow at times, so the system couldn’t be 100% of either of those. We would need some of both.
Just thinking about it around and around wasn’t going to get me anywhere
so I went to bed.
The next morning after breakfast Sam pulled me aside.
“Earl you feel like camping out up in the wilderness area for a couple days and a night maybe two?” Sam asked me.
From the way he said it I figured there was something more to the whole thing. Whatever it was it didn’t much matter. For the last 6 years he had been instrumental in helping send me where I could get shot at or killed, always with good reason. So a veiled question didn’t seem that important.
“Sure why not. Tactical load out?”
With a laugh Sam said, “No we aren’t going into anything hot, just an easy insertion. Basically a couple of nights sleeping out on the side of a mountain in beautiful country. We can even take a cooler with a couple of steaks to grill. You’ll need an emergency pack in case something should go wrong but otherwise it’s just a camping trip and some chewing the fat.
David is flying some well healed campers into the middle of the wilderness so they don’t have to hike or ride horses for a couple days to get there. They want the “wilderness experience” but want nice walled tents and some coolers so they can absorb nature in comfort. We are going to ride along as a couple of guys that want the same thing who David is flying to a different location. Not to be dramatic or anything but I like the idea that they will find us no more remarkable then themselves. There shouldn’t be much conversation. We’ll have our stuff there ahead of time and loaded, but you and I will walk up after David has given them the story and the bird is ready for takeoff. You’ve been in enough birds to know that casual conversation is nearly impossible without a helmet with coms in it so we don’t need an elaborate back story or anything.”
“OK I have all my dad’s and my camping and backpacking gear in the trailer. I can make up just about anything from a day pack to a trekking pack out of what I have there. When do you want to do this?” I asked him.
“If you can pull what you need together this afternoon we can fly up in the morning if you’ll be ready.” Sam told me.
“Works for me, I’ll be ready to go by dinner time today.”
“One other thing. Let’s keep this sort of on the down low. I don’t want any of the other guys inviting themselves along.”
I just gave Sam a nod and a shoulder shrug. It didn’t matter to me one way or the other. Still it was a little odd concealing what we were doing from people we casually met as well as the guys we knew pretty well. Interesting.
By zero eight thirty hours we were airborne 2,000 feet over the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. We were in an older Bell 412 configured for cargo. Most of the seats and the door on one side had been removed. Gear in stuff bags, some packs, and a number of coolers was all strapped down in the center of the floor. There were 4 seats along the back wall all occupied, there were 2 seats facing backwards right behind the piolets seats. Sam had been right. We were watching from a doorway inside what passed for an operations building. Really just a small office built into a small old hanger. With the bird ticking over David ushered his other passengers to the bird and we joined the line as they stepped up and found their seats strapping in. It was loud enough and we were far enough away from the other group all any of us could do was give a friendly wave and a smile.
I have no idea how fast we were going but David wasn’t taking us on any sightseeing tour. We were making a bee line for the other people’s destination at what appeared to be max speed. It wasn’t long before David set the bird down in a remote valley with a stream running through it and just enough clearance for the bird to land.
He powered down the bird but the blade was still moving as he unstrapped the load and started handing everything out to them. Forming a small chain to get their stuff out from under the still moving blade it wasn’t long before the other group had unload their plunder. David had a quick word with them, I imagine confirming their pickup date, shook hands with them and 60 seconds later we were airborne.
David took us down the valley popped up over a mountain and did a 90 degree turn, and flew toward a shear faced mountain straight ahead a few miles. We covered the distance in very little time. It really looked like David had every intention of flying right into the shear faced mountain. About a half a mile from the face he made another 90 degree turn, while losing altitude like we were ridding the express elevator down. Now we were flying 15 feet of the deck with the shear face on our left and a thick tree line to our right. As best I could I did a 360 degree turn with my body and head.
We were flying lower than the tops of the trees around us. So all I could see behind, to both sides and straight ahead were thick stands of trees. Basically we had popped down into a short narrow break in the tree growth maybe 60 feet wide by 100 feet long. There was one small bump just big enough and flat enough to set the bird down on. To set down on it David had to sideslip the bird under tree limbs just high enough to clear the birds blade with a few feet to spare. Even with the bump the birds blade barely cleared the ground on the upslope side. All the rest of the ground around us including what the trees were growing on was steep. I was about to find out it was so steep you had to work at standing up. I knew David had been a bird piolet in the Army and had to get into and out of unusual and tight spots but this display of his abilities was really impressive.
“Give me a hand Earl”, David said
David had pulled out a large bag and was pulling out some camouflage netting. It wasn’t any type or pattern I was familiar with. There were three sections of it and we used all of them to cover the chopper. After getting them stretched out and tied down it became more obvious that those nets had to have been either modified or custom made. They fit in with the surrounding trees and scrub perfectly.
While David and I were working the netting Sam had unloaded the chopper. The slope was so steep he had to brace the cooler against the skids to keep it from tipping over or sliding down hill.
I said while pointing at 3 aluminum deck chairs strapped together Sam had just propped against the skid. “Not to seem overly curious or anything but chairs?”
“David and I aren’t Marines, we like our comfort!” That was accompanied by a big grin.
David and Sam were getting their packs situated so I shrugged into mine and picked up the cooler. It was a little hefty but not that bad. I’d carried a SAW most of my last 3 years and with a 200 round ammo box attached it weighed over 20lbs. I always carried another 600 rounds that weighed around 20 plus pounds. Plus whatever else I had to hump. While it was a little awkwardly shaped its 40lbs and my lightly packed sports pack wasn’t much by comparison to my usual load out. Sam strapped the chairs to the back of his pack, and David strapped a couple stuff bags to the back of his. Without a word they started off slightly up hill across the face of the mountainside we were on. In another 30 feet we were in heavy forest with a nominal amount of underbrush. It was cool and dark under the trees but the smell of the mountains and the trees was pleasant. I’m no authority but it looked to me like there were some junipers growing just at the edge of the open space we landed in. As soon as we got into the thick trees they turned into Pine and Spruce.
There was enough room to walk between the trees fairly easily, still it was pretty dense growth. You couldn’t really see more than 20 or 30 feet ahead at the most because tree trunks and underbrush blocked the view any further away. The slope was so steep you had to sometimes put a hand on the uphill side of a tree and push off to help keep your balance.
Sam was in the lead and must have been navigating by memory because there wasn’t any discernable trail not even a game trail. We were traversing the slope from left to right and kept climbing up and up on an angle. I had been on plenty of steep, rocky and hard to traverse hillsides back in the stan but this was better, I was never in any trees to speak of there. The trees grew so close together that almost no sun made it to the ground. It was cool and shady, still we were climbing a heck of a slope so I could feel the heat building up under my shirt.
After about 2 miles or so we came to a place that looked like the rock had heaved itself up and we and to use our hands to pull ourselves up the last 4 feet. When we got over that the ground ahead was open and remarkably flat considering what we had been hiking over.
We were standing at the edge of a glade or meadow that was open to the sun. It was about 40 feet across and ran to the right and left another 60 feet or so before the heavy forest started again. Sam kept going heading across it toward a stand of trees. On the other side we entered the same type of forest we had just left only this time it was maybe 200 or 250 feet thick then another clearing with needles from the pine and related trees, leaves from birch trees and typical mountain grass you would expect to see.
I call it a clearing but that is only compared to the thick forest we had been in. I would guess the area was maybe 4 acres or so, but it wasn’t just grass and open space. That 4 acres was gently sloping up to the left and there were stands of 5 to 20 trees scattered all around.
Sam led us to what was more or less the center where the rock looked like it had bubbled up, with the top of the bubble popping leaving a big hole in the ground. The down slope side had fallen away leaving an open space that led into the hole. It was cool and shady here. We were in the center of about an acre, thick with beautiful pine and spruce trees that blocked out the sun except right over the hole. What must have been a cabin had tumbled down into the hole. It must have been quit a structure at one time because the hole was filled with old beams and pieces of old roof. The opening on the downhill side had large beams pushing out through it.
Raising his arms and indicating a complete circle around the acreage Sam said. “What do you think Earl?”
“It’s beautiful country that’s for sure. The air is clear and smells of the forest and the plants. There is a calmness, a feeling of life all around. What’s not to like?”
“Exactly. Come around to the other side there is a flat spot where we can pitch the tents and a fire pit.” Sam said.
A couple of hundred feet away up the gentle slope was a spot 50’X50’ that had obviously been flattened with tools and was shaded by big old growth trees. A fire pit like you see in some US Forestry campgrounds was off to one side. It had two thick steel plates about 36” long and 18” high connect by two pipes front and back with a hinged grate over the top.
We all got busy pitched our tents and stashed out packs.
Up against one of the trees was what looked like about half cord of wood covered with a 2’X4’ frame with tin tacked to the top to keep the rain off. I made a trip over and hauled some back to the fire pit. There was a lose piece of tin so I used it to cover the cooler so the ice would last longer, not that any sun was likely to hit it under these dense trees. While I was there I dug out some sandwiches for all of us. I didn’t have to ask if anyone else was hungry. David had been walking just in front of me and for the last hour I could hear his stomach growling.
I dug around in my pack got my drink bottle and two snack size bags of Cheetos and carried the sandwiches over to the folding chairs and handed them out.
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Gather around the campfire OR Never step on the Butterflies next part ofChapter 4
I gave him one raised eyebrow and said, “If there’s something you want me to know you’ll tell me. If you have a question you’ll ask it. If you don’t have anything to say I’ll just enjoy the scenery, the good food and better company.”
One thing you learn having to lay low and keep silent so you don’t give your position away is that you don’t have to always be yakking to be good company.
I don’t know if Sam was rolling what I said around in his mind or if he was just deciding what he wanted to say, but it took him a while to speak.
“It’s hard to know where to start. It isn’t like there flash of light, a brilliant idea or some hard facts I can point at to use as a starting point. Part of what I want to talk about comes from what you and some of the other guys used to talk about in bull sessions. Some is from things David and I have been discussing for the last couple years and especially since I retired.”
I was giving Sam my full attention but didn’t know how to help get him started so I just waited.
“One place seems as good as another so I’ll start with what you said about enlisting and wanting to serve your country. In the last few years it seems to me that those reasons aren’t valid any longer. Would you be willing to share with us how you see the world and specifically the US?” Sam asked.
I didn’t mind sharing. Maybe I even wanted to share my disenchantment. I suspected that I had become not only disenchanted but a little bitter.
“In school I had one teacher that had a different slant on the US than most of the others in our school. Most of them painted the US as somehow responsible for all the troubles in the world. That the freedoms we have and the high standard of living a lot of Americans have is somehow shameful. That it was accomplished by holding other countries, other people down.
The teacher I am telling you about taught that the US was an example that other countries should try to emulate. That we had the best political system in the world. She taught us to have a sense of pride in our country. I fell in love with America and all it stood for. That’s why I enlisted. But the longer I was out in the world. The more I saw in the news and the more I read about politicians and their double dealing the more disenchanted I got. When it came out that those supporting Obama care had outright lied about the ramifications of that care just so they could pass the bill my disenchantment got worse. When I saw the president mandating his personal agendas by executive order when he couldn’t get it ratified legally that was about it for me. It took me a while but I finally realized that the country I loved and was willing to die for no longer actually existed. The final blow to my love was when I read how badly vets and especially wounded vets were treated. Now, I realize that I was in love with the “idea” of America. The America of my dreams has been sold out by the politicians the greedy and the special interest groups. That America is long gone.” I told him.
Neither Sam nor David made any comment. Sam just asked another question.
“Suppose you heard that Russia was landing troops on the beaches in Florida tomorrow, what would you?”
“I’d get my ass to Florida and do what I was trained to do, kick their asses! I firmly believe in what Robert Heinlein said, “I want to live long enough to go to hell in style—with eight Russian side boys!”
“Why would you do that? Didn’t you just say you were totally and completely disenchanted?” Sam asked me.
I didn’t even have to think about that one.
“I’m fed up with the politicians and political shenanigans, and those who want to ride the system. I’d go because I wouldn’t be defending the beaches for them, I would be serving the idea, an idea that might live again if we can ever get rid of the political hacks and the fellow travelers!” I realized I was half out of my chair and had been raising my voice. Sam was smiling and making cool down, sit down motions with his hands.
“Sorry, I wasn’t questioning your commitment or your love of country. I just wanted to know what you were committed to.”
I had surprised myself. For a while now I had felt pretty disgusted and a little jaded. Considering my outburst it was obvious that somewhere down deep I still held my country close to my heart.
David spoke up, “Let’s take a break, cool down and tour the area.”
Sounded like a good idea to me so I followed him and Sam as they went a little further up hill. We came to a small pool in the solid rock. Two old rusty 2” pipes came into it from slightly different angles. It was so small you couldn’t even call it a pond. It was maybe 15’ across and 25’ long. The outflow ran in a shallow channel then disappeared into a crack in the rock. The water was remarkably clear and clean except for leaves and needles from the trees overhanging it.
“We are standing in the back country of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. It is close to 1.5 million acres and is listed as containing 2,000 square miles. It is made up of sharp canyons and barren peaks. The Selway river and its drainage area attract about 90% of all those coming into the wilderness and we are over 17 miles across mountains and valleys from the most visited areas. The wilderness is basically surrounded by National Forrest and just to the south is the Frank Church Wilderness with another 2.4 million acres. In case you don’t know it, lands designated as wilderness areas don’t have even dirt roads and are closed to any mechanized traffic. The only real way in over land is either hiking or on horseback. Some areas do allow mountain biking as well. Obviously the higher altitudes with really steep rocky grades is only accessible by foot. The nearest hiking trail to where we are standing is more than 11miles away at its closest point and is on the other side of that mountain you can see over there.” David pointed out a formidable mountain.
Taking up the conversation again David said. “The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is dotted with hundreds of small lakes anywhere from small enough to throw a rock across to a couple acres in size. Virtually all the back country lakes are fed by springs, either hot or cold ones. A big percentage have outflows that never join a stream. They usually disappear into the rock, as the out flow from this pool does, many times creating alpine meadows and swampy land before disappearing.”
Pointing over to the right where I could see a much smaller pool David said, “That small rock pool is filled with hot spring water piped in from a further up the hill than the cold water one.”
“OK, but if a wilderness can’t have roads I am imagining that it also can’t have people building cabins in it. A few minutes ago I saw what had obviously been a log cabin and considering the size of the collapsed building materials it must have been a pretty good size at some point?”
“Yep, it was. The cabin and the 6 acres around it are part of what is called an “inholding.
An inholding is privately owned land inside the boundary of a national park, national forest, state park, or similar publicly owned, protected area. In-holdings result from private ownership of lands predating the designation of the park or forest area, or the expansion of the park area to encompass the privately owned property. In the United States, the main causes of inholdings is that all of the Federal land-management agencies were formed over a century after the government sold and issued land grants to private citizens to fund the administration of the United States. When the park system was formed many of these now called "in-holdings" had been in private ownership for generations and not available for sale when the park was formed. Over the last several decades, conservation groups have lobbied the United States Congress to acquire private residences especially within designated wilderness areas, either by direct purchase or via land exchange which trades the inholding for other federal lands located outside of national parks or wilderness areas. So far that hasn’t happened at least not here or anywhere I have heard about. That being said I also have never heard of another inholding still being in a wilderness area other than this one.
Generally, owners of inholdings are allowed to use their properties in a manner similar to other private property owners in their state. However, they may be subject to additional federal and agency-specific regulations regarding access to their homes and use of their lands by their Federal agency neighbors.
Under the Wilderness Act, the designated area cannot include the privately owned property within the border. So far no government agency has tried to inforce that, at least not here. There is some confusion in the act itself because part of the act says that Under the Act, federal agencies have an obligation to provide property owners "adequate access" across public lands should their property lie within the designated wilderness boundary. So far that has created a sort of catch 22. As such many public agencies have allowed limited use roads to be built in wilderness areas.
Mr. Samuels’s family has owned this land since the 1800s and that cabin you saw was built in 1900 as a hunting lodge. All the workers, all the equipment were brought in on horseback or on mules. The last time any of them were actually here was in the 40s.”
While David was explaining all this we had been walking back to the collapsed lodge. Sam had stepped over to his pack and pulled out a 300ft cloth tape measure.
Pointing at the collapsed building in the hole Sam said, “As far as we can tell they built the cabin over a depression in the rock giving them a basement by the simple expedient of building the cabin over and existing hole. We don’t know that for sure because Mr. Samuels never knew much about the building of the cabin. Since it was 1900 they would have had to dig into solid rock with hand tools which seems unlikely. They may have dressed up the rock floor or some protrusions from the sides but blasting out and then carving it smooth with hand tools seems unlikely.”
Sam handed me the dumb end of the tape and said, “Earl how about helping me see if we can’t get some kind of measurement on the size of the hole?”
As close as we could tell the hole was 70’X95’ or a smidge larger. The bottom of the hole was filled in with not only tumbled down cabin but years and years of leaves, and windblown odds and ends. By standing on the upper lip and lowering the end of the tape to the bottom of the opening in the side of the hole we found it was 20’ to 21’ deep. The pieces of timbers that were sticking out didn’t seem rotten at all. If the cabin hadn’t been built over a hole it would probably still be standing.
“Around the outside edges of the 6 acres you can still see some old stumps back in the trees. It looks like they harvested the trees for the log cabin right off of this land.” Sam said.
“Let’s get a fire going. I know it isn’t even dark yet but camping isn’t camping if you don’t at least have a small fire.” David said.
Off to the other side of the cabin there was an unmistakable outhouse so I gave it a try before joining the others at the fire pit. That outhouse had to have been a much newer addition since it was in very good shape.
While Sam got a small fire going David found an old blue enamelware coffee pot with white speckles in a heavy wooden box with a wooden lid and a hasp to keep it closed. I’d seen the box under the same tin where the woodpile was stacked. He took it to the pool we had been standing at and filled it from one of the pipes.
The coffee pot looked just like one my dad had that had been handed down to him by his father when he was first married to my mom. That pot had to be 50 years old or more. The one David had was all blackened with smoke halfway up from being used on a wood fire. I suspicioned it was at least as old has the one I now had back at the farm in my trailer.
As soon as the fire was going, and the water was boiling David took a can of coffee out of his stuff bag and started filling the pot. He was using a tablespoon to add the coffee and I could see he was counting to himself. Then he let it boil with the coffee in it for at least another ten minutes. Then he took it off the fire and dashed a cup of cold water he had set aside into the top and started filling cups that matched the color and pattern of the pot. I didn’t know what he was making, but I did know what it wasn’t, it wasn’t anything a mere mortal such as I should drink! He just smirked when I told him not to bother with the third cup.
“I’m not asking for your secret formula but exactly how did you determine how much coffee to put in the pot?” I asked him.
“That’s easy. From experience I know by looking into the pot how many cups of water are in there. Then I add one heaping tablespoon for each cup of water, and one for each person who is going to drink some.”
I’m pretty sure my eyes were watering and my stomach was cramping just from hearing about that “coffee”. I drank my water flavored with grape, no sugar no sugar substitute.
“Now that everyone has something to drink let’s get back to it.” Sam said.
“When you had down time and were at the base you and a group of guys did a lot of talking about prepping books, end of the word and dystopian fiction. You all shared books on those subjects back and forth then discussed what you felt writers got wrong or got right. I found it interesting that you personally kept notes about the various points of view and did your best to keep the others from jumping back and forth. You kept it to one subject at a time then moved on to some other point someone had. You even let me read your outline for subjects or writers to talk about and your personal opinions about it all. I hope you don’t mind but I made a copy of it and shared it with David, no one else just the two of us saw it.” Sam said apologetically.
“I don’t mind, it isn’t like it was a formula for transmuting lead to gold or anything. Just a bunch of mental doodling.”
“What you are calling mental doodling was pretty interesting to us. Those notes to yourself setting down what you thought about different scenarios and your opinion of how thing would go in given situations made a lot of sense to us.” Sam said.
Sam was being awfully earnest about a lot of pure speculation and unsupported theories. I must have looked skeptical because he went on.
“What you named the charm bracelet theory is an example. In that theory you took the idea that many authors had about small towns with populations of anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 along a road or highway banding together for mutual support to keep the unwanted out of their small towns. In your notes you took a real highway or road with real towns set anywhere from 5 miles to 25 miles apart. In their pact the towns at each end set up a substantial roadblock with 20 or more men manning them. Then each town in-between set up their own roadblock but with far fewer men because they were being protected through their agreement by the towns on either end. You picked towns a couple of hundred miles from a metropolitan area with millions of residents when an EMP struck. After the easily obtainable food disappeared all the millions were forced to look for food outside of town. All they had for transportation were some older cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Small towns along their route that don’t have mutual aid pacts or a large armed militia are stripped bare, including all stores and any houses around.”
You then posed the question, what happens when the city people get to the roadblock? Do they politely turn around or do they sit there thinking of ways to get around it. You pointed out that all they really need to do is back up around a curve or just out of site and either ferry people to them or wait until a few hundred to a few thousand people low on food and very desperate get there. Then all they have to do is go back to the roadblock and sit at shouting distance asking to be let in while thousands of people take to the woods or fields. They could just keep barely out of sight or not. What are 20 men no matter how well armed going to do to stop thousands of people spread over a couple miles intent on marching into their town?
From the towns they stripped bare they are now undoubtedly armed, so they strip any stores then turn to the individual homes and strip them. What does a homeowner do when a couple hundred people surround their house and make a dash to every door and window? They either run or die. Then that house is stripped no matter what. The mob gains more weapons and maybe more vehicles. One charm is discarded from the bracelet.
Five miles down the road they just lather, rinse, and repeat.
By the time they get to the last town their numbers may have increased by double triple or more. With the last town of the mutual aid pact dead, dying and stripped they have an open highway to the next town and the next.
The beauty of your scenario to the barricaded road is that it isn’t technical or overly complicated. Heck people might accomplish the same thing with no organization at all, just by being hungry enough to shoot the defenders the bird and hike around them.”
I said, “Well it seemed pretty simple. I kept reading those stories where hundreds of people were bamboozled by 15 guys and some trucks across the road. It seemed stupid to think that anyone would just sit there or politely go away. But I’m not sure what your point is about me.”
“OK let me give you another example of one of your notes. You titled it ‘I am a couple thousand feet away from your hidden cabin but I can’t see or smell your cooking fire.” “In it you talked about authors having their characters living 10 to 20 miles outside of town. Or a few thousand feet or even a mile from a paved road. They have hidden their driveways or made them look like they are just old dirt roads into a field or something. But the characters are smoking meat and cooking over wood fires and keep their wood stoves fired up for days as they can the food from their gardens. Not only do the bad guys not see the driveway they apparently have lost all sense of smell. Not only can’t they smell they have gone suddenly blind because they can’t see the smoke from an all-day fire or even an hour long fire a couple of hundred to a couple thousand feet away.”
Sam said, “I have one more. You titled this one, “The fallback position.” This one was actually written as a positive. You pointed out that authors who used the hidden cache, and a fall pack position if their main refuge is attacked or overrun had a good idea. Your only criticism was that most of the authors provided such little amounts of food or very poorly designed or thought out places to hole up that their characters were liable to die anyway.”
“I’m flattered that you found my doodling of some value but still, what’s the point?” I appreciated what Sam said but this didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
David cleared his throat and said, “Let me try this. What we are driving at isn’t any one specific thing. It’s more about what you think. While everyone was having fun exchanging books and arguing the good and the bad, most of them were arguing for the fun of it, using it as a way to forget about combat for a while.
What you wrote however shows that you actually took the possibility that people might have to “bug out” as they say, seriously. You went further than the others. You not only read the entertaining stories you bought and read books and articles by “authorities” then tore each idea apart and examined it for worth. In your writings you discarded the ideas that were unworkable or just plain wrong after you researched them. The ones that you could verify you listed as reasonable ideas. The point is that you don’t accept drivel even if the person spouting it is a quote: Authority. You think for yourself and you think outside the box! That is rarer than you might imagine.”
“Thank you, atta boys are always welcome. But you guys didn’t drag me out to this beautiful spot to pat me on the back and embarrass me. You either want something or you want me to help you with something.”
The brothers passed a look between them. I couldn’t tell what it meant but it was real and it was there.
Sam said, “One more question and I give you my word we will get to the point.”
“Lock and load, fall back and fire away.” I told him.
“Ya, well OK. What do you think about our economy?” Sam asked.
I’m sure I was looking at him as if he had suddenly grown two heads but I decided to give it a try.
“Why not give me an easy one, how about I tell you how to cure cancer? OK, I’ll try but I’m not sure what you want. Hhmm, America is trillions in debt that we can’t hope to repay without some very real changes in policy. Either that or some very draconian measures. Basically we are juggling a hundred balls at once and can’t even slow down because one false move means the whole thing collapses like Humpty Dumpty. However it isn’t just us. The rest of the world is dependent on us to keep the balls moving. Without us the world economy is going to go into the crapper.
Now if some country, say the Chinese are willing to take an economic hit for the short term then it is possible they could come up on the other side smelling like roses in 10 to 15 years. All they really have to do is stop buying our debt. Or convince other countries that it would be in their best interest to not buy our debt. If they couple not buying our debt with a strategy to make the Yuan the world currency for businesses or trade the USA would become a second or third class world power overnight. Right now the Chinese GNP is slowing. Some bright functionary might point out that this would be a perfect time to push the Yuan into the spotlight.
Moving on. It is estimated that 50% of the US population is in one way or the other on the government teat. No more buying our debt and asking us to start paying the impossible debt back means no more teat! I will leave it to your imagination what the loss of the teat will equate to in death, destruction and over all violence.
If the Chinese decided to start dumping our debt on the world market we as a country would be in deep crap and I don’t mean just a little.
While this one isn’t in and of itself an economic issue the results are. Cast your mind back to the 9/11 attacks. It was a horrible attack and despicable. It only involved two structures yet it caused over $40 billion in insurance claims alone. The New York stock exchange was closed until the next Monday and airplanes were grounded for days and many people on vacation out of the country didn’t get back for 2 weeks.
What would happen to the economy if only 2 or 3 dirty bombs were set of in New York, DC and Los Angeles? No one knows for sure but at the very least it would be years and years before the economy got even close to previous levels.
What it amounts to is that we have built a skyscraper out of playing cards while standing in the eye of a hurricane. And the hurricane has started moving!”
David said, “We are all grown men you didn’t have to sugar coat it.”
I might have smiled if I hadn’t been listening to myself and just felt someone walk over my grave!
“It’s getting dark and it’s time to wrap the potatoes and get them in the coals. I got some really good aged steaks so let’s concentrate on food for a while.” Sam told us.
Sam was right that was really good meat. I’d had enough talk for the day and especially enough talk about dark subjects. After dinner the guys had coffee and sat around the fire. I got a ground cloth out of my pack and took it out a couple hundred feet. I fell asleep watching the heavens spiral around me, it was glorious. At some point I flipped half the ground sheet over me, turned on my side and kept sleeping. Around 3am I dragged my happy ass to my tent and crawled in. Just before predawn I was wide awake and decided to get the fire going and maybe make some coffee a mere mortal could stomach.
While the water was trying to boil I got my kit and decided to see what the hot spring pool was like. It wasn’t one hole more like three small ones in a row. The bigger one was about 6 feet wide and 7 feet long and only about 4 or 5 feet deep at one end the other end was much shallower. At the shallow end it flowed thru a shallow channel to the next pool which was an oval only about 4 feet across. From there it flowed into a pool of about the same size but only about 18 inches deep. There was a rock conveniently placed about 5 feet away. I stripped down and wallowed around in the shallow one using my hands to scrub myself. I didn’t want to use soap, the kind I had was less than environmentally safe! I wasn’t a tree hugger, still it seemed wrong to intentionally drip poison in such a beautiful spot. I went back to the outhouse to brush my teeth so I could spit into the pit. I was pretty sure nothing I could spit into it would make any difference.
Back at the fire the others were up and about.
“Earl the water is boiling you up for some coffee this morning?” David asked me.
“Only if I put the coffee in.”
“Fine. Once you make yours and get a cup I’ll just add the right amount of coffee and put it back on to boil.”
“Sounds like a plan, be sure to leave a couple ounces in the bottom though OK?” I told him.
He looked a little confused when he said, “A couple of ounces?”
“Ya, I found an old knife in my pack that has a rusted blade and I wanted to use it to eat the rust off.”
Sam and David chuckled about that for 10 minutes.
David was getting a big skillet out of his stuff sack and I grabbed it away from him. We had fresh eggs, bacon, butter and a pint of milk in the cooler. I brought milk, butter, flower and baking powder and a big plastic bowl. I mixed up a batch of what my mom called drop biscuits. Not the kind you drop on a sheet pan and cook in the oven. I mixed it as dry as I could and still be able to form a round half inch thick piece of dough. I had already fried the bacon so I dropped four of them in the bacon fat. I let them cook until I figure they were brown and flipped them over with a fork. Everyone had a plate so I put bacon and a biscuit on the plates and kept them close to the fire, then I friend the eggs. I guess it was OK because the brothers plates emptied in record time.
“How did you learn to cook?” Sam asked.
“My mom always said I should learn to cook some things in case no woman was desperate enough to hook up with me. So I watched her and listened when she explained things. I might not know how to cook too many things but what I do know how to cook hasn’t made any one punch me yet so I guess I’m good to go.”
“Your mom sounds like she was a smart woman. Let’s take a walk around the area.”
Sam and David took turns pointing out things. It was beautiful but there really wasn’t that much to see. The most interesting geological feature was the fact that the more or less level ground where the cabin and the surrounding meadow sat dropped off dramatically on 3 sides. On 3 sides the meadow land was narrow enough that you had to stand dead center to see over the trees surrounding the area to see the tippy top of the surrounding mountains. On the fourth side was the shear sided mountain I had seen when we flew in. It was a thousand feet or more higher than we were. I don’t know what the other side was like but no one who wasn’t and experienced rock climber was getting up this side.
We stopped under some Aspens and Sam hunkered down and leaned against one of them. David took one and I took the last one.
“Earl you’ve been patient and I owe you an explanation so here goes. Both David and I don’t much care for the state of the economy and we frankly don’t trust any other countries that much. Governments are totally self-serving. We have legions of outright and closet enemies. There is no doubt in my mind that terrorist wouldn’t hesitate to use dirty bombs on us if not something worse. Today’s friends are likely to throw us under the bus tomorrow if things get too hot for them. When David leased the farm it was just a secluded spot for us to fish and hunt out of. In the last couple of years we have been thinking of it as more of a refuge from the crazy times we are afraid are coming.
“We intend to create a circle of trustworthy men, men we know are tried and true to ride out whatever is coming. We want you in that circle. Not only are you a good soldier but you have brains and we need brains. I could flower it up and tell you a lot of grandiose plans but we don’t have any of those. We need you and some others to help us make plans, to figure out what to do and how to do it. That’s it, no flowers and no pie in the sky.”
David chimed in with, “We’ve had months to think about this and come to the conclusion we needed to do something. This is all new to you so take a couple of days to make a decision if you like.”
“Come on I want to go over to the cabin area.” Sam said waving us up and away.
We stood looking at the beams that had fallen into the opening discussing how much wood and other junk was in the hole. I said. “No point in wondering. I have some work gloves in my pack. My dad always insisted I have them while camping to gather and cut wood with. We might as well pull some of the easy to reach pieces out so we can see what’s all done there.”
Sam and David produced their own gloves and Sam brought a piece of rope as well.
We might have gotten a little carried away because we worked at clearing the hole for over 4 hours. At that point we had to call a break mostly because my stomach kept sending my throat urgent “Are we cut?” messages.
We had the fixings for sandwiches so we each made up two and sat around munching and talking about how good a lot of the wood was in the hole.
“Guys I’ve been thinking about the whole surviving a collapse or even the end of the world. I don’t want this to sound flip or like I wouldn’t be totally committed to the project. But in reality what am I doing that is any more interesting or important? The only family I have are guys like you that I served with and who understand what I have been through. Until now I had no direction in my life, no goals. The most important thing in my life until now was waking up and getting out of bed in the morning. So I’m in, you can count on me to help make things work.”
“Good. It’s going to be a lot of work. I hope you don’t regret getting involved at some point.” Sam said with a smile.
“You are the first one we have approached about this and I was a little nervous we might sound like a couple of tinfoil hat guys. I have a suggestion that I hope you will consider. I think you should consider becoming a pilot. I am a certified instructor and can train you. The company I fly for has a couple Cessna 180s and some 185s. The one I use to fly to the farm in is mine and we can use it and the companies to get you your flight hours. All we have to supply is the fuel. At 70% throttle they burn around 14 gallons an hour. Right now fuel for them runs about $5. 50 a gallon. As far as the flight time goes, under Part 61 of the federal aviation regulations, the minimums are 20 hours for a sport pilot certificate, 30 hours for a recreational certificate, and 40 hours for a private pilot certificate. I can have you certified in no time. There are some other costs though. The FAA charges a fee for taking the various exams. There are various prices depending on which test you need to take. If I recall correctly the sport pilot test is $150. It does add up but it isn’t the cost of the testing that is so expensive, it’s the buying or renting an aircraft. Paying the instructor and paying for fuel that are the most expensive. Depending on how it goes and if you like it or not, I can get you certified in helicopters in another 40 hours or so as well.” David told me.
“From time to time I have thought about learning to fly. I suppose a lot of young guys do, but I never seriously looked into. I would love to learn though. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth but why are you making the suggestion?” I asked him.
“Have you ever seen any of the programs on Alaska? The ones that show how dependent they are on bush planes?”
“I’ve seen a few. There were a couple that seemed almost impossible. One guy was landing on what was basically a gravel bar in a river. Another one landed on a flatish piece of unimproved land that only had the brush pulled up about 10 foot wide and long enough for the plane to land on. It looked awfully short to me. His plane had big old balloon looking tires to on it. The only other thing that they did to prepare the land was chop down the low brush a few feet out so that the wings wouldn’t hit them. Actually that plane looked a lot like the little plane you have been landing on the grass at the farm.”
“That’s a pretty good example Earl. In Montana we sometimes land in similar conditions. We don’t do it on nearly the scale they do in Alaska of course. And yes that plane is a Cessna 185 with some upgrades and improvements but it is a very common aircraft for bush flying. The reason I think you should get your certificate is practicality. We are maybe 120 miles from Missoula and the population there is around 69,000 which is good for our purposes. Hamilton which is the closest town to us is 4,000 people and 50 miles away. That all sounds pretty innocuous, and it is for survival purposes because we won’t have to deal with close by population centers with millions of people.
We are off the beaten path and remote but we pay a price. The 50 miles to Hamilton can take over 4 hours to drive. By the time you could leave the farm and get to Missoula you are looking at close to 6 hours. In one way a good thing. On the down side it limits anyone’s job opportunities.
My 185 easily cruses at 140 knots which is like 160 miles an hour. I can make the trip to Missoula in 45 minutes for $70 of fuel. Incidentally the company that I fly for allows me to buy fuel at what they pay for bulk fuel. Flying to or from Hamilton is less than half that.
Once you get your certificate you can help bring in supplies or whatever to the farm when I’m not around.
There is one other thing I want you to think about. In those books you’ve read EMPs are talked about often. Should we experience one there aren’t a lot of electronics in some older planes to destroy. The few that are in some of them can be purchased ahead of time and stored in Faraday cages. It might be nice to be able to hop across a mountain to search for supplies or fly high over any roadblocks. Sure GPS is nice but people navigated planes by earth based landmarks for a long time before radar or GPS.
We are starting our busy season and the company I work for hires a lot of seasonal help now. I already asked about getting you a job there and they are good with it. All you have to do is interview and the job is yours. I’m staying in an old unused office in one of their older buildings for sleeping. I have one Heavy Duty Metal Bunk bed and half of another one, a refrigerator, a small apartment stove for cooking and we can use the showers in the locker rooms. It’s tight but it’s free. Plus I’m not there much if the company is hired to fight fires.”
“It’s small and cramped but hardly any worse than what you lived in on deployment. Those converted Conex intermodal containers weren’t exactly the Hilton. It would be a perfect setup for you. You can live rent free, learn to fly and have a job. The owners are good guys and like hiring former service members. I know that’s a lot of information to throw at you all at once but it needed to be said.” David pointed out.
“I’ll give all that some thought, but having a job and learning to fly sounds pretty good to me. Let’s dig some more wood out of that hole while I chew on all you had to say.”
We worked on that hole for a few more hours and made good progress. I figured 2 or 3 guys working full days could get it cleaned out in a couple of days or less. We had to knock off in time to pack up and hike out to the chopper. David wanted to get there and get ready to fly out just as full dark hit. That way we could lift up out of the valley and hop over a mountain and go a ways before turning on our running lights.
The next few days were spent unloading most of my trailer and storing my stuff in the basement and helping around the farm. Sam wanted to plant a large garden but he had been raised on a ranch that raised cattle and some horses. His mom always planted a garden and he and David worked in it but besides hoeing or pulling weeds and picking vegetables he didn’t know much about it. Fortunately one of the other guys, Ted who had washed up at the farm and grown up on what he called a “truck farm” knew something about how to grow a garden. I had to look up truck garden and what I found was: “a farm where vegetables are grown for market, a workplace consisting of farm buildings and cultivated land as a unit; "it takes several people to work the farm.”
I had to leave in a day or two so all I could help with was getting the ground ready. Somewhere Sam had come up with a 1949 Ford 8N Tractor. It came with a couple attachments. A big mowing device, a two bottom plow, a 6’ disc and seeder. There were some others but I hadn’t heard them called anything. While we were up in the mountains Ted and the guys had used it to work on the ground for the garden. Now my mom had a garden most years but the amount of ground they had turned over would have dwarfed that. Basically all I did on that garden was walk along and throw rocks and big tangles of grass into the back of a pickup. Then Ted ran the tractor over the whole thing again.
The next morning I said bye to everyone and headed for Hamilton.
Last edited by MayDay; 12-27-2016 at 02:57 PM..
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