Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Remembering Arloa and Chuck White

How many young people in Duchesne learned how to dance – square dancing, ballroom dancing, line dancing – from Mrs. White in elementary school?  How many young people in Duchesne learned to be more responsible for their own actions by interacting with Mrs. White in elementary school?

I must admit, there were times that I was a little scared of Mrs. White.  She could be a little sharp with her words and firm in her expectations, especially for a carefree young boy.  Not once, however, did I doubt that she cared about me and all the other students at school.  A person can’t work that hard at their job and not love the people they serve. 

When I was on the “dance team” in sixth grade, one of my favorite things was to see her smile or hear her offer praise to us after we had done well at a dance.  Praises and smiles came only after work, practice, correction, and more instruction.  Her passion and high expectations pushed me to work harder and to expect more of myself. 

And who didn’t love to see Mrs. White riding around town on her scooter?

It wasn’t until high school, however, that I got to know her at a personal level.  At Church, I was assigned to be home teaching companions with her husband Chuck.  He was just starting to get active in the Church and I was assigned to show him how to be a home teacher.  Spending time with Chuck was a treat for me.  He had a wonderful sense of humor and great stories about working all over the Basin and the Mountain West.  It was great to listen to him visit and share stories with the families we were assigned to visit.  We even had the privilege of working together for two summers at the school district.  One day, after I had graduated from high school and before I left on my mission, we were assigned to tear out a bathroom at Union High School.  The school year had just started.  It was time to carry a toilet out of the bathroom and throw in the back of our truck, but it was in between classes.  I told Chuck that we should wait until everyone was back in the classroom. 

He smiled and said, “No, let’s do it now.”

So I was on the front side of that heavy, industrial toilet with the front of the bowl tucked right up under my chin.  We stepped out into the hallway, completely full of students and faculty.  I endured the shocked and teasing comments in good cheer, until I saw a girl that I spent time with at a dance a week or two before.  She looked right at me, she recognized me and her face contorted in disgust.  I never asked her out.

One Sunday, after Chuck and I were home teaching companions for a bit, Mrs. White pulled me aside to tell me thank you for being friends with her husband.  I wasn’t sure what to say, but I assured her that it was an honor for me.  She then invited me to come by their home sometime to visit. 

Over the course of my last year of high school I did just that a handful of times.  Usually it was just for a dessert on a Sunday afternoon.  It also turned out that all three of us liked Ray Stevens, so we spent an afternoon watching their collection of Ray Stevens VHS tapes.  They told me about their family, about Chuck’s work in the oil field, about their family vacations.  Chuck even once called to confide in me a problem he was having and asked me, a seventeen year old kid for advice. They listened as I discussed plans for college and a mission and my dating life.

I was saddened to learn of Mrs. White's passing this week.  I was blessed to get to know Chuck and her so well.  All of us were blessed for knowing Arloa and Chuck White.

Blackburn Vernal Mortuary

Arloa Woolley White
September 11, 1940 ~ November 17, 2017
On November 17, 2017, we lost our dearly devoted wife, mother, grandmother and friend. Arloa was born on September 11, 1940, to Arlo and Stella Wooley in Vernal, Utah. After being raised in Rangley, Colorado, she married Charles (Chuck) White on December 21, 1957. She traveled all over the western US with Chuck's work, until settling in Duchesne, Utah in 1971. She touched many children's lives while working as the elementary secretary and teaching dance. After retiring in 2000, her and Chuck traveled all over the country in a motorhome for 11 years, finally settling in a new home in Stansbury Park, Utah. She loved to sing karaoke, and teach line dancing to her friends. She is survived by her children; Rick (Debbie) White; San Antonio, Texas; Arla (Mark) Liebmann, of Stansbury Park, Utah; 7 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren, and numerous relatives and friends, including siblings sister, Connie (Bill) Bankster, of Grand Junction, Colorado; Leon (Jenny) Wooley, of Rifle, Colorado; Gwen (Les) Wilson, of Pasco, Washington. She was preceded in death by her parents, and brother, Art Wooley. Funeral services will be conducted on Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 11 a.m. at the Blackburn and Sons Vernal Mortuary. A viewing will be held Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. and one hour prior to the services. Burial will be in Maeser Fairview Cemetery, under the care and direction of the Blackburn and Sons Vernal Mortuary.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Hiking with Landon

Landon mailed this to me when I was living in Florida.

Landon was the first friend I made when my family moved to Duchesne.  It was around thirty-seven years ago when we moved into the Twin River Apartments.  He has been my friend longer than anyone outside of my family and was the first person with whom I had any memorable adventures including almost getting bit by a rattlesnake and nearly finding the Basin Bigfoot.  Starting that year in kindergarten, we spent hours exploring everything outdoors in our neighborhood.

Eventually we both ended up in the subdivision near Porter Merrill’s farm next door to one another.  He didn’t live there for long because his dad built the coolest house ever on the Bench, an underground house.  For several years, we spent time going back and forth between our homes.  Little time was spent inside. 

At our house, we would spend entire days in the mountains.  We walked miles and miles.  We went back and forth between the two Devil’s Soup Bowls, built a zip line across a draw (it didn’t work very well), and crafted an amazing shelter in an old juniper up on what we called “The Ridge.”  We created a rock vault, trying to be like Moroni, and buried a few items there.  When I moved back to Duchesne my junior year of high school we went back up to that juniper and tried to find the vault.  We couldn’t find it, but on the way, there I did manage to have a small rattlesnake strike my boot when I stepped off a rock.

In all of our exploring, Landon loved to look at and explore the wildlife.  If we came across a deer or two, we had to watch them or try to follow them.  Once we had five or six deer run within a few yards of us while we sat in our shelter on “The Ridge”.  Another time we found several ground owls that ran around staring at us.  We were always on the lookout for Sasquatch.  We swore we found sign of him one time.  Heading up Indian Canyon we came across a particularly tall juniper with no branches on one side.  Something with brown fur had rubbed all over tree up all the way up above our heads, leaving pieces of fur everywhere on the tree.  It looked like deer hair, but it was too high in the tree for a deer to reach.  While the fur was interesting, the most interesting thing was a deer antler that was stuck into a hole in the tree up high.

On a different trip up Indian Canyon we were shot at.  At one point, we crossed from one side of the canyon to the other side of the highway.  We came out right at the spot everyone used as a shooting range.  Being unwise, we decided to climb up right above the shooting range.  As we were about halfway up a truck pulled up and two people got out.  They proceeded to shoot at targets directly below us.  I’m not sure if they ever did see us, but we got out of there as quickly as we could.

Many lizards in those hills and on the bench lost their tails as we did everything we could to catch as many of them as possible.  Landon had a quick hand and was unafraid to go into the sage brush to get them.  Occasionally we would take them home, put them in a bucket and try to feed them.  I don’t think we ever kept any for long, mostly just tried to see if we could catch them.  One time, however, we caught several and had plans to keep them.  Finding a place to hold them during the hike home was always difficult.  This day we were lucky.  I had on a windbreaker with the pockets torn out.  We put the lizards in my pockets and they would run all over in the lining.  That day we must have caught over a dozen.  The plan was to take them out and do something with them once we got back to my house.  Unfortunately for the lizards, as soon as I got home I had to hurry off for some other activity.  My mom put my jacket into the washer and then into the dryer without any idea of what was inside.  She found them everywhere in the laundry after that.

I loved going to stay the night at Landon’s house on the Bench.  We stayed out as late we could in the evenings and would spend the entire next day roaming anywhere and everywhere.  From the ledges along the edge of the Bench by the Old River Road all the way back to the irrigation ditches and canals by the Spencers and Poulsons, we walked and explored.  More than once we followed an irrigation ditch off the bench into some ponds by property owned by one of the Grants.  Every time we would go right into the pond, (we called it a swamp).  Once we even managed to get into a water snake fight—which hurt both the snakes and us. 

One day we went down into a thick grove of trees on the bank of the Duchesne River just off of the bench.  I’ll never forget being in those trees.  They were so thick that hardly any sunlight could make it through.  Everything was so silent that I almost felt uncomfortable.  I started to say something to Landon, but he put a finger to his lips, signaling me to stay quiet.  Slowly he pointed up into one of the trees.  A large owl sat there looking around.  I assumed we must have woke it when we walked it.  Suddenly, without making any noise, it swooped from the tree to the ground.  It grasped a large mouse in its talons and flew off to another tree. 

Before I could say anything, Landon asked if I could hear something.  Unsure what he meant, I said I didn’t hear anything.  Quickly he walked forward to where the mouse had been and picked up a baby mouse that he said he had heard squeaking. 

Unfortunately I took it upon myself to label and date this picture.

I swear, Landon and I walked all over all the hills and down every street in town.  Sometimes he was talkative, but mostly he liked to keep silent.  I made him angry one day.  We were walking from town back to his house.  For some reason, we already were on each other’s nerves.  Yet, as we walked we would walk into each other, bumping shoulders and leaning into one another, separate for a few steps and then do it again.  I kept trying to get him to talk, but he wouldn’t.  Finally, I stopped right before we ran into each other and I put my foot out.  Landon was so focused on looking ahead that he didn’t see what I had done—he tripped right over my foot and fell into the full irrigation ditch along the road.  He started talking then and not much of it was pleasant, but I was too busy laughing to care.

Besides exploring, Landon loved to create art.  His handwriting was a form of art.  I once changed the way I signed my name for a couple of years, trying to do it the way I had seen him sign my name.  In fact, his handwriting was so good, that more than once he forged parents’ signatures on unfavorable progress reports for some of his classmates.  (I’m not admitting to anything.)  You just had to bring in a copy of a returned check that they had signed and he worked his, umm, magic.  Sitting in a classroom for hours wasn’t his favorite thing, so he signed a few of his own progress reports on behalf of his mother.

His wildlife drawings were amazing from early on.  I loved to watch him draw.  More than once I pushed him to draw something so I could watch.  I managed to talk him into giving me a handful of his drawings.  I’ve had them for over three decades.  Every few years I’ll pull them out to look at and share with my wife and children.  To this day I cannot look at a piece of art that depicts wildlife without thinking of Landon.  A few short weeks ago I stood in a bookshop in Cusco, Peru looking at drawings and paintings of birds.  I thought of Landon, his talent, and his art.

I will miss my friend.  We had limited contact the past few years, but we were in touch about work and family.  Each time I go on a hike or look at artwork, I will think of him and the adventures we had and the amazing person he is.  He loved his family and he loved his friends.  As so many others, I’m a better person for being his friend.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Back Story (A Memorial to Veterans)

Global War on Terror
At the end of May I had the privilege of attending the dedication of the Nevada State Veterans Memorial.  It was a moving event, but there is also a power in the Memorial itself.  Later that afternoon, once the crowds from the dedication had dispersed, I walked through the Memorial contemplating the service of so many ordinary people that were willing to sacrifice so much for others.  In an attempt to capture the power of the sculptures, I snapped a number of pictures.  

Family and Predecessors 
For days I've thought about how to capture my thoughts regarding those that serve.  This week I came across this poem by cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.  The story told is representative of what so many have experienced-veterans, families, and those on the home front.  I hope this might touch others the way it touched me.

Vietnam War
Back Story
by Waddie Mitchell

Who the fella was eluded us
              Nobody in town knew
Just showed up that mild winter
              Back in 1982

He became our burg’s first homeless
              Proving harmless in his ways
Hanging near the bins and benches
              In our city park all day

‘Til the sheriff came and told him
              He must move around ‘til dark
For, we don’t want people loitering
              Or begging in our park

So, move he did, perpetually
              He marched our small town streets
From can ‘til can’t he constantly
              Made rounds around his beat

Well, season passed as did the years
              He’d melded in our ‘scape
Though he’s talking, now, as walking
              In his never-changing gait

Then, with time, he starts expounding
              Using gestures and raised voice
We were sure he’d be committed
              Seemed they’d have no other choice

But he made sure that he checked out
              Before that’s what they could do
And our country, then interred
              The strangest man we never knew

‘Twas time and lots of query
              Finally found his next of kin
Who had given up on
              Ever hearing anything of him

So, they wrote and sent an obit
              That was printed in our rag
Which filled a lot of gaps in
              With its all too tellin’ tag

Seems he’d been his high school’s quarter back
              And top of his large class
Won a scholarship to Stanford
              But he humbly took a pass

So, he joined the U.S. Army
              Scored high on all their tests
Finished jump and Ranger schools up
              Where they only take the best

Then OCS, then off to war
              Where he was in its hell
The Bronze Star and a Purple heart
              Ain’t half there is to tell

Returning home he found he
              Couldn’t acclimate or cope
And his family prays, he’s finally found
              A bit of peace and hope

Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War

Civil War

World War II

Korean War

Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Memoriam: Mike Allred

His home was across a small field from mine when both of us were quite young.  He is one of my earliest friends that I can remember.  Two events connected me to him in those very early days.  First, his family had suffered a tragedy and I was there the day part of it happened.  Only five or six years old, I remember standing outside of his home crying because of the sadness within.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but I felt it.  Around the same time, I don’t remember if it was before or after his family's tragedy, my two-year old brother passed away during the night.  My sister and I watched from the front door as my mother, who had just found her lifeless son, run barefoot across the snowy field to my friend’s home to use their phone to call my father.  We didn’t have a phone.

At the time he was the only one outside of my family that I could speak with about what happened.  He would share his sadness with me at times as well.  At different times throughout the years, even when we weren’t as close, we would remember the sadness of those events.  It was an honor to share a few moments of silence with the one person that I knew understood how I felt at that time.

While our friendship helped each of us through sorrow, most of our time together was full of joy, happiness, and on occasion mischief. 

Speaking of the mischief, we had the fortune (our teacher’s misfortune) of being in the same class in first grade.  One day, for some now forgotten reason we stayed longer in the lunchroom/gym instead of going outside for the longest recess of the day.  This was odd because I loved lunch recess.  I don’t remember how long they lasted then, but it always seemed like we could accomplish an unbelievable amount of play and recreation in the time allotted.  On this day, however, we stayed inside long enough to watch as the high schoolers came in for their lunch.  Soon they were sitting all around us and, magically, we became their entertainment.  I don’t remember how we started making them laugh…I think he started calling them names and teasing them.  Eventually it led to a (I must say rather minor) food fight with a few of the high school boys. 

Realizing that we were going to completely miss recess, we decided it was time to go outside to play.  (Unbeknownst to us we had already missed recess completely and were the targets of an angry teacher’s focused search.)  On the way out, we thought it would be funny to tie one set of our shoelaces together.  Watching two first graders do a version of the three-legged race to leave the lunchroom was highly entertaining to all of the teenagers.  Halfway across the hardwood floor, I was looking down at our feet to make sure I could step at the right time to avoid falling down.  Seemingly out of nowhere our teacher, face red with anger, was in front of us.  I don’t remember what she said because several high schoolers started to heckle her or us.  We knew we were in trouble, but the laughter from the room made it seem not so serious.  Our teacher, on the other hand, was ready to leave the room and escape the high schoolers.  In order to hasten our exit, she grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him as fast as she could toward the door.  With a thud and a crash, I hit the floor as my foot was pulled out from under me.

Immediately, many of the high schoolers were on their feet clapping and cheering.  Our teacher was beyond angry and embarrassed at this point, enough so that I began to worry about my safety.  My friend had a big smile on his face as he soaked up the applause and admiration of our audience.

Roll forward a year to second grade.  He and I were classmates again.  Apparently the teachers didn’t discuss the potentially disastrous dynamics of certain personalities in the same classroom.  Now, my second grade teacher was possibly one of the meanest teachers I’ve ever had.  Should others feel to defend her, they don’t understand her level of cruelty because they were probably better behaved than was I.  She once made me miss my ride home, as a second grader, because I had blown air into my crayon box and made what I thought was a most excellent whistling noise.  (Unfortunately for her, she had to deal with my mother after that episode.)

So, here we are in second grade and we really were trying our best to behave.  Our best just wasn’t that great yet.  He and I loved to talk.  One day our teacher had had enough.  In short order both of us were behind fold out, cardboard closets with masking tape across our lips.  As the shame of my situation started to build, I suddenly found that the tape had come loose on my bottom lip.  I was able to make a funny face and noise when I moved my mouth.  In short order I was leaning, carefully, outside of my closet to make my friend and other friends laugh.  Soon our teacher was out of fold out closets. 

Now, my memory on the next part gets a little fuzzy.  I think it happened while we were behind the closets.  My compatriot in mischief had taken all he could and had to find another way to make someone laugh and I was his target.  He grunted and caught my attention.  Carefully I leaned out to look at him.  He had a crayon coming out of each ear and made faces with his eyes.  I followed suit.  Soon each of us had a crayon in each ear and one in each nostril.  At that point one or more of our classmates gave us up as they laughed out loud.

Just then it was time for recess.  As everyone went out, my friend and I were detained in the classroom to write, several hundred times, the sentence: “I will not stick crayons in my ears or up my nose.”  After recess everyone else went to the neighboring second grade classroom for some special activity involving the principal.  As we were writing the sentences, the principal walked through our classroom to get to the event.  Seeing us sitting there he asked what we were doing. 

“Writing sentences,” my friend said.

“What is the sentence,” asked the principal.

“I will not stick crayons in my ears or up my nose.”

Both of us were quite happy at his reaction, a happy laugh.

(I truly believe that my terrible penmanship started in second grade as I was forced, due to my improper actions, to write what likely was several thousand sentences as quickly as I could.)

As my friend and I moved onto junior high and high school, we did less together as our interests diverged.  Despite that, we often would find ourselves spending time together quite easily.  He was an amazing bowler, who would spend time, mostly in vain, to help me get better.  When a new video game would come out, we often would find ourselves crashing at his house for hours on a Saturday to figure out how to beat it.  After Little League baseball, he didn’t have much to do with organized sports, which was too bad, because he was a talented athlete.  Anytime there was a softball game, you wanted him on your team because he could hit the ball further than anyone else.

He was almost always happy and he was kind to almost everyone (except perhaps to those who were unkind).  His smile was quick to brighten life for everyone.  Like me his level of mischief decreased, but never completely.  He was friends with every kind and type of person.  He would help anyone.

My friend Mike Allred passed away this past weekend.  It’s been years and years since I’ve spoken with him and this makes me sad.  I wish we could have laughed together one more time, that we could have remembered together the early sadness in our lives.  My last memory of him is this.  It was the day of our high school graduation.  We had just lined up outside of the Duchesne High School big gym so that family, friends, and neighbors could congratulate us.  I was standing there by Mike and my another close friend.  Mike and I were all smiles, excited for the opportunities that were ahead of us and the amazing memories that were behind us.  Suddenly, Mike and I noticed that our other friend’s eyes were filling with tears.

“Why are you crying,” we asked at the same time. 

“It’s over, those fun years are over.”

All three of us teared up for a bit.  He was right, those were fun years.  But, I know that Mike brought years of fun and happiness to many others after that.  That’s the Mike I will always remember.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Running Partners: Real and Imaginary

To run alone or to run with someone.  That is a normal question for anyone looking to hit the pavement, sidewalks, and trails.  Personally, I enjoy running both ways—alone and with someone or a group of people.  I know some people that almost can’t get out to run unless someone is going with them.  I know others that have no desire for a running partner. 

There are obvious benefits to both.  Running with someone else can provide motivation to get out the door, to run further, and/or to run faster.  It can provide excellent conversation while you run, an opportunity to take your mind off of the physical discomfort that can accompany a run.  It can also give you a ready ear to hear your complaints about the physical discomfort that can accompany a run.

Running by myself gives me the opportunity to spend time alone, important time in my head.  It’s a great way to meditate and to push myself at my own pace without the stress of worrying whether or I’m slowing someone down or being slowed down by someone.  

On occasion, I run alone when I would prefer to be running with someone and sometimes I run with someone when I would prefer to be running alone.

Today I was running alone.  As I started, I was satisfied with the arrangement.  It was an opportunity for me to open up on my pace and push myself faster than I’ve been going.  The run, as I expected, started out a little rough until my muscles loosened up sufficiently.  At about the two mile mark I was feeling pretty good, so as I often do I increased my distance goal in order to take advantage of the endorphins. 

A mile or so later, and after a long hill, I was feeling a bit of tightness and a growing desire to slow down, perhaps even walk.  It was then that I pulled out one of my trusted mind tricks I use when running alone.  I don’t know if I’ve ever described this method to anyone, but here goes.  I pretend that I’m running with someone.  Depending on the run, my condition, and my need I’ll carefully select a running companion.  Often, if I’m bored or need to talk through things, I’ll have pretend conversations with my dad or my wife.  When I’m running alone in a beautiful place, I’ll pretend my wife is running with me enjoying the scenery.

When I feel like slowing down or walking more than I should; when I want to run faster and further I pick between two imaginary running companions.  Sam and Brett.  When I want someone to persuade me gently and kindly, I pretend I’m running with Sam.  He ran with on several long runs through winter in Colorado Springs as I prepared for my first marathon.  When I need the harsh tough voice of a coach, I run, in my mind, with Brett.  Brett trained with me regularly for my second marathon.  We pushed ourselves hard, increasing our speed.  On our imaginary runs, Brett will prod me, laugh at my desire to be soft, even call me names to keep me running. 

Today I ran with Brett.  He wasn’t kind, but he was motivating. 

As a side note, or perhaps it’s an end note, there is one running companion that will join me, in my mind, without invitation.  It’s Brett’s dog Ryker.  Ryker went on a few runs with us while we were training.  One a particularly long run, our return put the brisk, cold wind in our faces.  Ryker decided to lean against my right leg for four or five of the return miles.  He maintained a constant pressure against me.  By the time we arrived at the car my right knee was aching mightily.  Whenever I get a sore knee or leg on a run when I’m by myself, it seems that Ryker joins me.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Personal Encounters with Wildlife: A Story of Danger and Survival

Sounds of the city, electric entertainment, prepackaged food, heating and air conditioning all provide layers of insulation from nature.  Even the well-planned city park offers only a sanitized experience with the wild side.  Many people enjoy only limited interactions with nature as protected by the modern conveniences of our advanced civilization.  I’m not one of those, at least not completely.  Given the chance, I will go outdoors.  I will go fishing and hunting (even if I never shoot at anything).  Occasionally, if invited, I will go spotting, you know, looking for large bucks, bull elk and moose, coyotes, and whatever else someone with a truck is interested in finding.

While I enjoy these slightly more engaged interactions with nature and wildlife, I have a brother-in-law who lives for wildlife.  From a young age he has been enthralled by seeking, understanding, and interacting with wildlife.  After earning a B.S. in ecology, fisheries and wildlife, he went to work for a number of state agencies in Utah, Idaho, and Colorado.  I’m not aware of all of the work he has done, but I know he has worked with several large species to include elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and probably some others.  Currently, he’s working on a M.S. in wildlife biology with Utah State University.  His research focuses on discovering why mortality rates are high among antelope fawns.  Some of his work involves shooting net guns, tranquilizing, and jumping out of helicopters. 

As one would expect he has a lot of entertaining and interesting stories to share as he has hunted and conducted hands on research with wildlife.  His best story involves a grizzly bear.  Now, in all of the times he and I have talked he’s only expressed concern for his safety over two activities—flying in helicopters and field research of grizzly bears.  So, I hope I get my description of this research project correct.  Wildlife biologists capture the bears by tranquilizing them and then they fit them with a GPS tracking collar.  At some point, the GPS collar is pinged utilizing cutting edge technology to determine where the bear is spending its time.  In order to determine why the bear was in that location, a team of three goes into that location to look for food sources, water sources, or piles of bear droppings.  As a very wise safety precaution, the teams wait two weeks before going into a known location of a grizzly bear.  The goal, I think is to determine why the bear had been in that area—food, to poop, food, sleep.  (Really, I’m not sure what else a bear does, maybe hold bear parties and other social events.) 

On one of these excursions my brother-in-law and two others walked into one of these known locations.  They took all of the standard precautions--made noise on the way in, had bells on their shoes, carried bear mace, and kept their heads on a swivel and their ears closely attuned.  As it happened they came up on a site where an old female grizzly had hunkered down.  For some reason she had decided to stick around, not expecting humans to interfere in her life yet again.  Bursting forth from an area of dense brush, the she-bear went straight at my brother-in-law while his two counterparts took off running.  Before he could get to his bear mace, the bear was on him, giving him time only to raise his left arm.  The bear bit his arm, threw him to the ground, and quickly departed the area.  As a blessed man, he was able to walk out and receive medical attention.  With excellent medical attention, skilled surgery, and a careful recovery away from bears has made him whole again. 

Recently, while sitting in his parents’ house, looking at a few of his trophies and teasing him about being unfit as bear food, I thought to some of my more memorable run ins with wildlife.  Of course, they’re not as exciting as being attacked by a bear.  (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I made a conscious decision as a young child never to seek out a grizzly bear purposefully.)

I’ll start with the mild experiences in the hopes of building to a crescendo.  In doing this, however, I do recognize that for some these mild experiences may be the equivalent of your nightmare.  Actually, the first three experiences don’t even involve wildlife, just farm animals.  First, once when I was the around the impressionable age of eight or nine I went to help a neighbor herd some of his sheep from one field to another.  Things were going well until one of the ewes made a conscious decision to run over me.  In an attempt to establish my dominance and manhood, I decided to stand my ground.  Recognizing that I had accepted the challenge, the ewe lowered her head and picked up speed.  With cunning and alacrity, I sidestepped at the last minute, and put my arm out to shove the ewe back in the correct direction.  We made contact, I was pushed back but the young ewe was turned in her path and joined the other sheep.  Inwardly I felt a strong sense of satisfaction, satisfaction that I had shown the adults in the field with me of my strength and wisdom.  Feeling something wet on my arm I looked down to see it covered in bloody sheep snot.  Satisfaction disappeared as pride was replaced by disgust and then by shame as I screamed and started to run around to find something on to which to wipe the snot.

Dairy cows are second on my list.  If you’ve ever helped milk, then you know what I mean.  Nothing more dramatic that the occasional crap and urine. splatter.  Luckily the handful of times I helped I managed to avoid getting kicked in the face, although I did once have a wrestling match in a holding pen that was six inches deep in dark green, wet cow manure.

Third, attack chickens can keep life exciting.  The term “laying hens” sounds so pedestrian, calm even, but some of them are wicked evil.  We owned some young chicks that liked to peck and attack whenever I would feed them, nothing serious.  Growing up we had a neighbor who had a laying hen that was completely evil.  I remember holding a rake to hit the hen while my friend, with tears in his eyes, slowly approached the nest with a thick leather glove on his hand.

These aren’t all of my experiences with domesticated farm animals, and it doesn’t even cover the few times I was bitten by a horse or bucked off, but they show some of the excitement that helped make me a little braver in the wilderness and in the city parks.

 Onto the wildlife…

Skunks have had a recurring role in my life.  Luckily most of my experiences have not resulted in me being covered with a funky scent.  My first memorable experience occurred while I was in high school.  We had just finished spreading toilet paper all over the yard of a friend up in Bridgeland.  While we were doing the deed, someone took our car and hid it from us.  (This is a more complex story that may involve another blog post.)  Assuming we would have to walk the ten or so miles back to town, the three of us headed off down the dirt road, cursing our circumstances.  Suddenly, while one of us was complaining loudly a skunk stepped out from the weeds in the ditch directly into our path.  One of us managed to get out the word “Skunk!”, but another didn’t listen and managed to almost kick the skunk as it high-stepped right in front of us.  I don’t know why, but that skunk didn’t spray us but took off running instead.  Because we saw the skunk we decided to take a different road home which resulted in us finding my car after walking just a half mile or so.  What a blessing!

While I was stationed in Oklahoma at Vance AFB, I had driven to the base gym early one morning to work out.  Unfortunately, I locked my keys in the car.  In order to be able to shower and change and to get the extra set of keys, I decided to run home in the dark.  It wasn’t a long run, less than four miles.  Right before the last major intersection, on a road between two fields of corn, I heard something moving in the ditch.  Through the dark I could just make out a large, empty dog food bag that was moving and shaking, a curious thing as there was no wind.  Presently, a hungry skunk backed out of the bag.  Feeling that its newly discovered food source was threatened, it ran at me.  I increased my speed, assuming that it would give up quickly to go back to its food.  I was wrong.  It chased me for a hundred yards, then with a final hiss it abandoned the chase. 

The last major experience with a skunk was the worst.  Our dog started barking at the back sliding glass door early one Saturday morning.  Thinking he simply wanted out, I stumbled from my bed and opened the door.  The dog bolted out toward his doghouse from whence a skunk suddenly emerged.  Realizing what was happening, I called the dog back but not before he grabbed a piece of tail and got a mouthful of spray.  All of this occurred only about ten feet from our door.  Immediately I tried to shut the door before the dog and the spray gained entry, but I failed.  The dog, whining and whimpering, squeezed through along with a healthy dose of skunk spray.  I heard my wife offer a mild, yet loud, curse from the bedroom.  Over the next couple of days, we learned what works at removing the skunk smell and what doesn’t.  (Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda works.  My wife has the exact proportions for the mix should you ever need it.)

While I’ve always carried a healthy caution when it comes to skunks, I knew that one couldn’t kill me.  The first time I ran head first into a moose, I realized I could meet my end quickly.  Again, I was in high school when we met. On a Saturday following a Friday night football game, we decided to drive along a river several miles outside of town to find look for an old laterite or gilsonite mine that we thought we had spotted.  Eventually we reached the end of the road and had to walk the last mile or so along the river and up the side of the canyon.  We made it to the dark spot on the rock outcropping that looked like the entrance to a mine.  It turned out to be just a small recess caused by weather erosion.  My friend, who had twisted his ankle in the game the night before, suggested that we climb directly down to the river through all of the tall water plants and walk along the sandy bottom to the car in order to avoid hurting his ankle more. 

His suggestion made sense.  So, I took the lead pushing my way through the tall plants to make sure he wouldn’t fall into any deep holes or trip and fall.  Finally, with some effort, I made it to the edge of the water.  As I started to step out I saw the large cow moose standing less than twenty yards away.  Her head came up as she heard and smelled me.  I stopped, planning to turn and quietly tell my friend that we had to go another way.  Impatient as always, my good friend put his hand in my back and shoved me.

“What are you waiting for?  Go!”

I landed right in front of the moose, who was now fully alert and fully perturbed.  With adrenaline now rushing through my veins I was hyper aware of everything around me, almost like a super hero, a super hero that was about to die.  I felt the cool water running past my legs, pulling at my jeans.  I felt a breeze rustle the the leaves and branches of the bushes and saw the hair on the side of the moose move with the wind.  Almost imperceptibly I heard my friend, having seen the moose, curse under his breath as he started to back into the bushes.  The dark brown eyes of the adult cow moose stared down into my blue eyes for what seemed like an eternity.  Each breath felt like a gift of life.  I lowered my gaze to the water, acknowledging my weakness, and oh so slowly stepped back into the bushes, expecting to be rushed and stampeded at any second.  Eventually I made it to safety. 

The meeting with the moose, while exciting, wasn’t my most traumatic.  In high school I was blessed to be employed by the county to clean up trash around the garbage dumpsters.  We drove a beautiful, well-used, orange Ford F-150 all around the county to pick up the trash that fell out of the dumpsters or that was simply thrown next to the full dumpsters.  Not an exciting job, but it had its moments and could be quite entertaining.  One hot summer day we stopped by a dumpster not far from Myton.  Someone had dropped a large, heavy fold out couch next to the dumpster.  After picking up the loose pieces of trash we moved onto the couch.  Picking it up we moved to the back of the truck.  I was positioned by the head of the truck bed by the cab.  As we lifted it up high enough to dump it in, something furry fell down my shirt.  At the time my shirt was tucked safely into my pants, held tightly by my nylon braided belt.  Trapped, the creature began to run and scratch at my belly, running in circles and passing my belly button several times, trying desperately to find a way out.

With a yelp, and perhaps a scream, I used all of my strength to throw my end of the couch into the truck bed.  My coworker, unaware of what had happened, immediately began to worry for my sanity as I continued to yell, scream, and slam by body repeatedly into the truck in an attempt to crush the critter.  Finally, in a final act of desperation, I ripped my shirt out from my pants and off over my head.  The small, gray mouse flew away from my body finally free.

Eventually, my heart rate and breathing returned to normal.  I killed the poor mouse.  I’m not proud of that fact, but that’s what happened.

Now, I have a few more stories, some involving snakes, owls, and even wild horses in Mongolia, but since nothing compares to being the survivor of a grizzly bear attack, I’ll think I’ll stop here.  I am a survivor, a survivor of an unexpected and brutal mouse attack and I’m not even a wildlife biologist.