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Archive for May, 2010

Memorial Day, is a bitter sweet Holiday. Happy Memorial Day; doesn’t seem to be the correct greeting given the nature of the day.

The Ultimate Sacrifice.

When I was a very young man, seventeen or eighteen, I worked a few summers as a hod carrier, this was over thirty years ago, man that’s hard to believe. During that time I worked with a man named Jim. He was a strong man, and he carried hod on the same crew as I. Jim was about thirty five or so, he kept to himself for the most part, but sometimes he would share a beer, or smoke a joint with me at the end of a long day.

Jim had joined the Marines in 1968, I once asked him, ‘why he would do such a thing during the  Vietnam War?’ He shrugged his shoulders as he inhaled, holding it I waited, he exhaled. “Seemed better than getting drafted”. He stared at me, like he was waiting for me to challenge his logic. At the time I couldn’t make sense of it, but I didn’t question it.

Jim wasn’t married, and although I don’t think he would ever admit it, it seemed like his heart was struggling with the burden of Vietnam; too full of pain and anger to have room to care for some one in a committed relationship. He treated me like a little brother at times, usually when we were getting high, it was on those occasions he would expose those tiny shards that tore at him, from his time in the Marines.

I recall having dinner at his house once, we sat smoking pot, and listening to old albums of CCR, Niel Young, and The Allman Brothers, as Jim told me stories of his two tours in Southeast Asia. Getting up from his chair, he walked over to the book shelf, pulled out an old photo album, and leafed through his collection of snap shots, sharing his memories in black and white. Revealing to me the names of places that held special meaning to him, sadly they were associated with the loss of  fellow soldiers, or someone being sent home broken and torn.

As we continued to smoke and drink, he would retell events as if they had happened yesterday. I felt like he was trying to explain to me what it was like. How it was a matter of survival, not only physical, but emotional as well. Fighting a life and death battle with an enemy determined by his  superiors, and the conflict within his platoon, as they struggled to make their way through the tensions that were taking place back home, it was 1968.  The price we paid for that was sitting in the arm chair next to me, his eyes red from smoke and memories, the tales would go on well past midnight. With the last of the beer gone, and our minds fogged by too much weed, we would eventually call it a night.

A Different War, The Sacrifice Is Still The Same

That was over thirty years ago, I don’t know if Jim is still alive today. I regret that I was too young or foolish at the time, to grasp what kind of sacrifice he and his brethren had made for this  country, and for me. But I believe that those times, listening to Niel Young in the back ground, as Jim would tell me his stories, have some how had a part in shaping me into who I am today, and I wanted to thank him for that.

The  sacrifices made by our service men and women continue, it’s a different war, fighting a different ideology, but the pain and loss experienced by their families is the same. Today, I wanted to take a moment, to thank every one in the Armed Forces, whether you are here at Home, or far away, active duty or retired; thank you, and your families for all you have given.

To my brother Kevin, and brother-in-law Calvin, who thankfully are safe at home with their families. Thank You.

Talk to you later.

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A bucket list: A list of things that an individual would like to do or experience before they die. No I don’t have anything terminal, and no, I’m not making a bucket list, well not yet. I was just thinking about my life, and about making a list of  things that I probably shouldn’t have done, sort of a been there, done that, wished I hadn’t done it that way list.

Choosing the proper dress is critical.

1. Jumping from the top of my bunk bed using a parachute fashioned from my sisters play dress. After two weeks in rehab and reviewing the results; I have determined that a couple of minor miscalculations were made in what seemed like a good idea at the time: A. Next time I attempt this, the sleeves and neck openings need to be tied shut. B. The jump needs to be made from a higher elevation, the fall time was too short to allow adequate time for the parachute to deploy.

A bad idea in general. I recommend aborting the idea altogether.

2. Attempting to swing from the rafters in the hay barn. This was a bad idea. It looked good on paper and Johnny Weissmuller made it look easy. I later discovered that this was done with mirrors, and a projected image. Fortunately the minor bruising to the sternum and splinters in the palms of the hand healed quickly, and did not require immediate medical attention.

This is definitely an outdoor activity.

3. Placing D cell batteries in a burning gas log fire place in the family room. Another bad idea. On the positive side, in times of crisis siblings draw together for the common good. The clean up effort and subsequent cover up brought us closer together.  It also defined the statute of limitations for wrong doings. Given enough time between the offense, it’s discovery, and the severity of the   offense, the punishment for said crime is typically waived. Footnote: If the urge to place sealed containers in an open flame is irrepressible, use a campfire or fire pit and clear the area, avoiding flammable liquids in this exercise is strongly recommended.

Please keep your arms and legs in the drier.

4. Drier rides for your younger siblings. Good idea if the drier is in fluff mode, and the participant is under 35 pounds. Bad idea if the unsuspecting victim is 135 pounds with only her leg in drier, and had no intention of going for a drier ride. I can not state these items clearly enough: A. Do not let persons over 35 pounds participate in drier rides. B. Keep arms and legs inside the rotating drum at all times. C. Persons not wishing to participate in a drier ride, should keep their legs out of the drier. Footnote: The femur does not bend, and when broken will require resetting and up to six weeks of traction to heal.

Select the proper materials for the roof of your sanctuary

5. Digging a six foot pit in your mother’s vegetable garden. This seemed like a good idea at the time. A sanctuary of sorts, a hole can be a warm and comforting place, as long as it’s kept dry. It only becomes dangerous when unsuspecting neighborhood  children wander too close to its edge and fall in. When considering the installation of a pit in your garden, reasonable measures should be taken to prevent the entrapment of children under the age of 6. Consider the weight capacity of the material you have selected for the roof of your sanctuary. Cardboard is probably not the ideal choice, plywood, or 2×12 planking might provide a better  alternative. Footnote: If a child should fall into your sanctuary, offering him/her a lifetime membership to your club might go a long way in the effort to preserving said sanctuary.

The list is much longer than this, but the statue of limitations has not expired on several of the possible entries. A work in progress, I may revisit this topic at a later date, as the time between the offense and it’s detection lengthens, allowing for full disclosure.

Talk to you later.

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Ninety three degrees. That put yesterdays temperature forty three degrees into my legal riding limit. My wife and I jokingly talk about our legal limits usually in the spring and fall of the year, it can be found by taking the outside air temperature and subtracting your age from it. If the number is zero or greater, the day is considered a perfect day to go  riding. If the number comes out negative, silk underwear, an extra shirt or two,  and winter riding leathers are in order. With summer approaching, yesterdays high of ninety three might have been a little warm if you were caught in traffic, the perfect excuse to escape the city and ride in the mountains.

Stove Prairie Road near Ft Collins

Switch backs and long sweeping turns, last winters sand still occupies the corners, late spring can be a challenging time to ride in the mountains. When it comes to roads for riding, I much prefer the ones less traveled. That perfect road would be a paved two lane with undulating turns that are spaced well, feeding one into the other. A gradual rise in the road holds back a secret, only to be revealed upon reaching the top. A gift to me, from the builder of the road. The terrain falls away fast, an asphalt roller coaster of twists and turns, the black ribbon connecting you to the final destination is accentuated by green grasses, and splashes of color. Wild iris, Indian paint brush, with patches of white and purple Asters define the edge of the road, it makes you wonder if Van Gogh might have had a hand in picking the design.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison; Highway 92

With names like, Stove Prairie, Twenty Mile, and State Highway 92, finding The Perfect Road requires an eye for detail and a little luck. I finger through the pages of a road atlas looking for the path least traveled, not knowing  whether it’s paved or gravel, I cross reference it using other maps looking for information that might provide additional clues. Riding it for the first time, I anticipate every twist and turn having traced and retraced their path all winter long, from the dog eared and worn pages of my De Lorme Road Atlas.

Summer is on the horizon, the threat of snow has been replaced by predictable afternoon thunderstorms and not so predictable hail. Friends gather, an impromptu discussion is held and a decision is made based on time available to ride, and direction. Roads aren’t named, only locations, Red Feather, or Westcliff, Bishops Castle or The Buck Snort, like a pictorial  Rolodex  images of the road connecting our present location with the named destination come to mind. The route in my head is strung together by sections of road, each a Perfect Little Road onto their own. We set out, paced by the traffic in front of us, waiting for the moment to break free, and then letting skill and lack of better judgement be our guide.

My favorite road? There isn’t just one. Twenty Mile Road, approached from the north end, has an unassuming quality about it, not disclosing what it has waiting for you until it breaks over the top of the first rise. Then for the next twenty miles you find yourself chasing a black strip that weaves back and forth past green rolling hills as it plays hide and seek. Ducking in and out of blind turns and emerging from  deep valleys, it makes you wait for it, guessing whether it’s  going to break left or right as it takes you south to Oak Creek.

That read like some promo piece from a AAA travel brochure. If you’re out there this weekend, on two wheels or four, have a good time, be safe, and let lack of better judgement be your guide.

Talk to you later.

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It hit my brain and was gone in a flash. It’s wasn’t really an image, more of a recollection bordering on something primal. Silvery splashes of moonlight reflecting off our spalling concrete patio, highlighted by the gray shadows of the towering evergreen out back. Children’s games of hide and go seek, camping trips just below timberline, feeding cats in a deserted Wisconsin barnyard. They all came rushing back, moments from my childhood.

A winters night, illuminated only by the natural light reflecting from the moon. Our emotions stir, knowing that tucked away in the shadows, beyond the reach of that cold light, something waits. Scanning from shadow to shadow our eyes struggle to bring detail to a form, daring to blink, afraid that we might miss it’s detection. We keep telling our selves there’s nothing there, but… we still have to stare. Our pace quickens as we try to escape that feeling, it stalks us ready to pounce. We feel it retreat as we reach for the door, the soft glow of a warm light cuts through the emotional mire, driving it back into the darkened shadows.

That’s why kids hate the dark.

It hides from the light.

We used to play a game called Star Light, Moon Light when we were kids. It was Hide and Go Seek with a twist. Laying in the damp grass hiding along side one of my Fathers old wheel barrows, or positioned next to a collection of wooden pallets he had removed from a job site; destined for a family room remodel someday. I would try to slow down my breathing, going stealth, as my younger brother or sister would try to find me.  It was kind of scary being the Seeker, not knowing who or when some one was going to jump out of their hiding spot and make a run for it. Chanting “Star Light, Moonlight, Hope To Catch A Ghost Tonight” added a bit of tension to the air. Darkness was my friend, as I waited for the perfect moment to spring up and run for the safety of home base. For the Seeker the moon was a blessing, it allowed them a chance to identify the Hider before they could tag up. We would play for hours. It didn’t require  joy sticks, or Wii Balance Pads. Ear-buds?  Forget about it. Life was simple.

When it comes to darkness, there’s strength in numbers.

Starlight Moonlight

As summer approaches much of my time is spent woolgathering about warm nights, walking down overgrown trails, guided only by the moonlight from a cloudless sky. Listening for coyotes in the distance, unsure if they are chattering about my presence, or sharing in my excitement over G-d’s perfect lunar offering. Sitting at a campfire the ruby embers flicker as they consume the remains of the nearly spent fuel. I love waiting for that moment when the last flame blinks out, returns, and then disappears for good. Any smoke that was visible is now cloaked in the ink of the night, an occasional snap or pop from the burning pitch sends small red embers scattering into the air. The moon is so bright it casts a shadow, white light, pure, revealing. Through the willows and down the small embankment, I can hear water running over a tumble of small rocks, dropping into a shallow pool, creating the lyrical serenade that will eventually take me away.

My escape from reality.

Warmth

All that from a quick glance out the sliding glass door, as I made my way to bed.

Talk to you later.

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Several months ago you may remember me mentioning a short story contest hosted by N.P.R. (National Public Radio) that I had entered. Because of rule restrictions, I could not electronically  publish my piece before the  announcement of the winner. Before anyone gets too excited, first let me say, it wasn’t me!

The rules were relatively simple; write a short a story 600 words or less, using the picture they had published below. I thought I would post the story here.

Refuge                                                       By: A.J. Gest

The front wheel on the cart wobbled, chattered, and pulled to the right as Sid made his way down the sidewalk. It had been a long cold night, the feeling in his legs had not completely returned. Plumes of vapor rose from the street as he eased his shopping cart from the curb. A taxi emerged from the fog and blasted its horn, “Aahh, Screw You Too!” Sid waited for the yellow car to pass, then continued across the street.

There weren’t too many places along 16th Street that would let him inside. He was counting on Maxi’s; they usually didn’t put up too much fuss, as long as he had the money and sat near the door. Sid pushed his cart up alongside the large plate glass window; he reached into his right front pocket, paddled his hand back and forth confirming that he still had the change from yesterday.

Giving one last glance at his cart Sid pulled on the brass door handle. He looked at the back of his hand, a testimony that it had been a week or two since his last bath. A small bell rang overhead as the door swung open; self consciously he rubbed the back of his hand on his brown trousers, gave it a second look, shrugged his shoulders, “Screw it”.

It was warm inside and the smell of bacon grease and hash brown potatoes on the grill, filled the air. Sid sat down on one of the plastic red chairs near the door. He adjusted its position, the steel legs of the chair squawked as they slid across the tiled floor. On the orange table in front of him was the morning Post, Sid squinted in an effort to make out the blurred text. He grinned and shook his head as he read the editorial. ‘Effort To Clean Up Lower Down Town Stalled.’

The waitress came up to Sid’s table, looked down at the man and then stepped back. “You got money?”

“Yeah, I got money”. He just needed some time to warm up. “Can I get a cup of coffee?”

The waitress rolled her eyes. “That’s $1.75, you got that?”

In a low voice, his words forced through clenched teeth; “Yeah I got it, just get me a cup of coffee.”

The waitress turned, and went back to the counter to get the order.

Sid stared into the plate glass window; the image of an old man stared back, his hair was matted and long. The old man in the window had eyes that held secrets, locked up memories of deeds done 40 years ago.

The waitress returned with his coffee; “This don’t mean you get to hang out here all day, you got that?”

“I get it”

Sid held the cup in both hands; the warm stoneware brought the feeling back into his hands. He brought the dark liquid to his lips and gently blew across the surface, clearing the soft vapor that clung there. The hot brew trickled down his throat; he could feel it hit his empty stomach. The waitress watched as he finished the cup, he thought about getting a second but reconsidered, the atmosphere was too frigid for his liking.

Standing from the table the plastic chair protested again as it slid on the tile floor. He reached into his pocket to pull out his change. Placing the $1.75 in quarters on the table, he turned to the waitress, smiled and dropped two copper pennies on the table, and walked out the door.

*************************************************************************************

There’s my short story. It didn’t place, but I really enjoyed writing it and sharing it with you.

Talk to you later.

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A turtle habitat… You want me… to help you… build a turtle habitat. I did my best to conceal my  inability to comprehend the affection one might develop for a Yellow Four Toed Russian Tortoise, I don’t think I pulled it off. With two fish in a bowl, a left over dog still residing at our home, installing a 8×5 plywood enclosure for a tortoise seems like the last thing my daughter needs sitting on the 6×12 balcony of her 875 square foot apartment.

A Lot Less Adorable Than A Sea Monkey

Growing up I had my share of exotic pets too, a hog nosed snake, a raccoon, and a school of sea  monkeys. The snake was cool for about a month, it was catching the Prairie Lizards twice a week for my snake that got old. After a month of chasing lizards for dinner, the snakes not mine; I finally decided that the snake would fare much better in his original habitat.

Sea Monkeys, what a rip! The packaging described a Happy Family of aquamarine lifeforms, human like, with a Mother and Father each adorned with a crown that depicted royalty. With images of little girl and boy Sea Monkeys chasing each other on the box, they looked perfectly happy. For $6.95 plus shipping and handling, I some how expected something a bit more entertaining, Hell they didn’t even have crowns!

The raccoon was one of my fathers less than thought out ideas. He would begrudgingly admit that today, if you dared to asked him. He bought it from a bricklayer he had met while working in Wyoming, at 8 weeks old it was an orphan, and it was very much a wild animal. It had been rescued from a large  Cottonwood that had fallen on this mans property after a large spring storm the week before.  We named him Banditoe… this is Mexican for, I will bite your finger clear to the bone if you ever try to touch me! Mother was extremely patient, having raised 6 children of her own she figured she could handle this four pound fur ball. The steel mesh cage, and leather feeding gloves, items left over from her child rearing days would certainly come in handy! Three days later my Dad hit the road again, it was the seventies and work for a bricklayer in Colorado Springs was in very short supply. Mother had done well with six kids; how tough could an 8 week old raccoon be? Banditoe lasted about a week and a half.

The night of his farewell tour started at about 8:00 on a Friday evening, when he managed to escape from his cage and was holding our 12 year old beagle at bay. Books were scattered across the family room, the lamp that sat on the table was laying on the floor, the shade tilted awkwardly to the side with the 60 watt light bulb still burning brightly. Our dog was barking in a frenzy and Banditoe hissed back as if possessed by demons. How we were able to get him into the card board box is a bit foggy. With six children in tow, a wild animal hissing from inside a Washington State Apple box, my Mother herded her troop into the Ford Esquire Station Wagon and headed to Helen Hunt Falls just west Colorado Springs. Banditoe was going to be free.

As we entered the mountain park, our head lights illuminated the sign that read, ‘Park Closed After Sunset’. Mom figured if they really ‘meant’ it they would have had a gate or at least a chain across the entrance. With hushed voices and suppressed giggles we made our way down the foot path in the moonlit darkness, to a familiar picnic area we would often use… during the day. As we gathered around the now quiet box, Mom gingerly removed the duct tape that held back this Wyoming version of the Tasmanian Devil. Every one stepped back from the card board box, ready for Banditoe to leap out like a some crazed Jack In The Box.

With gentle purrs and the classic raccoon vocals so artfully coined by Walt Disney in ‘Ole Yeller’; our four pound masked  marauder eased himself from his enclosure, and playfully circled my Mothers legs in feline like fashion. Momentarily deceived, every one let out a group aahh; Mom completely  forgetting the state of her family room, bent over to offer him a grape from the leather feeding gloves. With an arched back, a curled upper lip, and one last snarl he scampered in to the under brush. Giving him a grin and one last curse, Mom recoiled and bid him his final ado as well.

Let’s see; three sheets of 3/4 plywood, one box of decking screws, six 1″x1″x8′ furring strips, some gravel and eighty pounds of sand ought to do it.

Talk to you later.

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Rain… all week nothing but rain; a cold Rocky Mountain spring rain, one that teeters on that thermo-dynamic edge between rain and snow. Yesterday I swear I caught the scent of freshly hewed gopher wood in the air, as someone called out measurements in cubits several houses down. I half expected to see animals congregating in pairs. This could be the big one!

Proof Of Spring.

Spring looks like is finally arriving in Colorado, with a subtle presence reminiscent of a dog crawling into your bed. Ever so slowly making it’s way from the foot covers, it creeps upward with  minor body movements, a stretch here, a yawn there, maybe a playful roll, until it has it’s head securely nestled on your pillow. The same thing can be said about the arrival of Spring. We are only vaguely aware of it’s arrival, not until the wintry gray skies have lifted do we see it before us; like the magician pulling back the red silk scarf from his out stretched arm, fully developed leaves magically appear on the trees. The spent brown tangle of last years growth has returned to the soil, only to be replenished with this years promise.

The Land Of Ice Blue Volcanoes.

My wife’s patience is really put to the test during this time of year. She is my kamikaze gardener, planting tomatoes the first week of May, cocooned in their little walls of water. She declares that she wants only the fittest of tomatoes in her garden. They gotta be tough little suckers to make it in here. Our back yard is dotted with tiny ice blue volcanoes erupting here and there, successfully fending off the early spring snows with amazing resolve. Come this summer the drought will be their next test, for the will to live. Good luck little guys.

Maybe Wine In A Box Would Have Been Easier.

The wall-o-wine is slowly making some head way, our amorphous version of the great wall of China. If my liver holds out we should have a 12″ high wall that runs 15 feet long by the end of the summer. I was thinking of having a backyard wine tasting party in an effort to generate some more building materials and to ease the burden on my liver. Unfortunately most of the guys I know only like beer, and their wives only drink wine from a box. Cultural clashes of libation.

I feel edgy, anxious to get in my first long motorcycle ride ride of the season, like watching migrating geese heading back to their summer haunts, I sit at home as my friends head south to New Mexico, and Arizona on a 3000 mile gallop through the southwest. Not envious, or jealous, but wishing that circumstances were such that I could be riding with them on that southwest tour. Obligations dictating our actions, the lament of the responsible cyclist. I’ll probably get in a couple of over nighters this year, weekend rides; The Black Canyon Of the Gunnison, maybe into Utah and see some of the Arches National Monument, never been there. However my wife tells me, somewhere out there, there is photographic proof that she has. She says this with a blush and a grin, it makes me wonder. It’s probably better that I let that one go.

Talk to you later.

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