Monday, February 28, 2005

Running a Mickey Mouse Trap Line

My brother and I grew up in an old farmhouse that needless to say wasn't very air tight and as a result contained a healthy population of mice. My mom in a fit of frustration at seeing a mouse run by with company expected to arrive any minute offered my brother and I a one-dollar bounty on any mouse that we captured dead. Alive wasn't an option. My brother and I were quickly spurred into action by this lucrative sum of money and we gather up all the old traps we could find. We lined them up, flipped a coin and proceeded to pick our traps much like one would in choosing up sides for a game of baseball. After raiding the refrigerator for cheese, we baited our traps and set them through out the house in what we felt were likely spots for a mouse to run. We were not disappointed.

For more weeks than I can count, we would excitedly wake up and run through the house checking our "mouse trap line" for recent kills. We would show our mother the body, dispose of it to the outdoor cats, re-bait and we were back in business. Soon we were flush with cash and being enterprising young lads, we invested some of our profits in more traps, which brought in more wealth. We even started experimenting with different types of traps and which baits to see what worked better. (Cheese can get carried off without disturbing the trap much easier than peanut butter.) Eventually we decimated the population of mice and the successful killing of a mouse became a rare event much to my mother's happiness.

Roark Bluff

Roark Bluff

The first time that I ever went to the Buffalo River National Park, I was probably around ten years old. We drove in late in the evening to a campground called Steel Creek for a nearby creek that runs into the Buffalo River. Camp was set up and soon we were all in our tents fast asleep. Morning rolled around, the fall frost was thick on the grass when I woke up, unzipped the tent and stepped out. The imposing cliffs of Roark Bluff illuminated in the morning light, greeted me warmly even if being still in the shadow of the mountain I couldn't feel it. I fell in love with that bluff.

For many years after that first encounter, we would always camp there during our trips but my parents bought some land with a small cabin on a nearby mountain top where we would spend our nights in the years to come. I still drive down there and hike down there every now and then for a visit. In fact, my new bride and I hiked there one day during our honeymoon and spent an entire afternoon lounging by the pools soaking up the sun. I have taken numerous photographs and even made several paintings of those bluffs but none of them have turned out quite as good as the photo posted above.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Did You Fart?

I regularly check out a forum for Filipino/Western relationships since I fall into that category. Call it a support group for both sides to figure out and understand the other side or to just to talk to people who have something in common. Today, someone wrote a post about skunks. There aren't any skunks in the Philippines and therefore, when a Filipina first encounters a dead one on the road here in the U.S. they do what comes naturally, they blame their husband for farting! My wife was no different the first time she smelled a skunk while we were driving down the road. But the post also brought back other skunk memories, which I thought I would blog here.

In my very early teens, my parents, brother and I, along with the family dog Ted, drove to my aunt and uncle's house forty miles away on a sunny Saturday afternoon to go for a walk in the park and to hunt for some morel mushrooms. We spent the afternoon walking and hunting and were making our way back to the cars when Ted scared up a skunk and proceeded to chase it. He stopped but only after receiving a direct shot of skunk spray from just two feet away. My aunt and uncle had driven their car and of course didn't want Ted in it nor could they keep him at their house because they lived in the city and Ted was used to roaming at his will on our farm. We on the other hand had a forty-mile drive to get back home in a small compact car. This was a really big dilemma. I'm sure passing motorists were both amused and baffled when they saw that small blue car rolling down the highway with four people hanging their heads out the windows and a large reddish brown dog sitting in the middle foaming at the mouth and snorting!

Another time and several years older, I was driving home one evening (in the same small blue car) when I hit a skunk running across the highway. The odor was sickening and even after several miles, it still persisted and continued to do so the rest of the way home. The next morning as I passed by the garage on the way to the shop, I couldn't help but notice the skunk fumes emanating from the garage. I power washed the car and it still stunk just as bad the next day. Finally I thought to shine a flashlight underneath the car where to my horror, I saw a black tail with one white stripe hanging down the side of the muffler. Evidently, the force of the hit had flipped the then dead skunk up and wedged it between the car and the muffler where the heat continued to cook it the rest of the way home. I donned a mask, gloves and even coveralls but still couldn't stop from gagging as I pried the dead skunk loose and disposed of the carcass. I think I even burned all the clothes. It was awhile before that odor wore away.

Another time, Ted chased a skunk into the same garage where they battled it out. The skunk ended up escaping but all the dogs, the cats, and both cars smelled like skunk for about a month afterwards.

And yet another time a skunk decided to raise a family in one of our storage buildings. She escaped through a hole when she saw me but a half dozen babies were left behind. Not being sure if the young ones could spray their scent or not, I decided to not take any chances. I lashed a kid's plastic sand shovel onto the end of a sixteen foot section of PVC pipe and with the end, set a five gallon bucket near my prey. Then from sixteen feet away, I scooped up the babies one at a time and dumped them into the waiting bucket. After I got them all in, I carried the bucket (from sixteen feet away) into the fields behind the house and dumped them out. By that time they were really starting to stink so I got the heck out of there and immediately went back and plugged the hole that they had been using for the entrance to the building.

Since Ted died almost ten years ago, (he never did learn to leave them alone) I haven't had any more close encounters with skunks outside of driving by dead ones on the roads. I do hope that I finally convinced my wife that the one time out of ten when I am actually innocent of farting in the car, it was the skunk's fault.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Big Bluff Fog

Sitting in the alcove on the Goat Trail running across Big Bluff, I felt that the fog was thick enough to support my weight should I decide to step off and walk on air. The river three hundred feet far below, was silently being stifled by the thick fog and the multi-colored bluffs stood quietly by it's side. Everything was silent; in fact the silence was almost stifling. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, feeling the moisture laden air flowing liquid-like down my throat and filling up my lungs. A long exhale purged it out leaving behind a faint hint of pine from the trees below. I have been coming to Big Bluff for almost twenty years and this was the first time I had been here in a fog. Absolute beauty.

The Goat Trail is a portion of an almost sheer five hundred feet bluff, where water etched out softer rock millions of years ago and left behind a concave scrape much like an ice cream scoop in a new container of ice cream, only vertical. It is possible to walk clear across this trail 300 feet above the water but at times, it narrows down to just a few feet giving me an immense sense of vertigo. A third of the way across is a deeper recess or alcove with a clear view of the river upstream, downstream and of Bee Bluff directly across the valley. It is here that another one of my magical places exists where I feel the bond between me and the world around me gets infinitely stronger. I have been there in the sun, fog, rain and snow, and each time I leave for the three-mile hike back up the mountain it is with much regret.

An Island To Oneself

Who hasn't romanticized about living on a deserted tropical island? I have thought about this notion for more years than I can count and have spent hours at a time dreaming about how I would spend all my spare time. Mostly in my dreams I spend hours in a shaded hammock reading from an endless supply of books, building some crafty thing out of bamboo and palm leaves, or writing some literary masterpiece.

Then one day I stumbled across a book entitled, "An Island to Oneself" written by Tom Neale who did exactly what I had been dreaming about. He spent a total of five years by himself on a deserted tropical island. An excerpt from the book says it all:

"I was fifty when I went to live alone on Suvarov, after thirty years of roaming the Pacific, and in this story I will try to describe my feelings, try to put into words what was, for me, the most remarkable and worthwhile experience of my whole life. I chose to live in the Pacific Islands because life there moves at the sort f pace which you feel God must have had in mind originally when He made the sun to keep us warm and provided the fruits of the earth for the taking..."

Unfortunately, upon completion of the book, my desires to live on a deserted island left me or at least were modified. You don't fully realize how much time needs to go into just surviving until you hear it straight from a horse's mouth. In this case, Tom Neale was my horse and I learned that if I wanted to do something like that I would want some sort of support. I would want regular food drops as well as a way to call in the cavalry if I were to need medical treatment.

Since reading the book, the reality show "Survivor" has become popular and no doubt has renewed dreams among many, of living alone on some tropical island. Although they show some of the hardships, they still make it look easy compared to the real thing. To those of you who have similar thoughts or dreams, I highly recommend you read this book. You won't regret it.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Bridge Over River Fox

On a small gravel back road between two villages, stands a bridge over the Fox River. It is one of those old iron trussed bridges with only two rows of planks, one for each wheel, allowing one car to cross at a time. The road curves before and after it so the bridge among the trees on either riverbank seems isolated from the rest of the world. For me it is a special place with almost magical properties and a place that I sometimes go to just get away from everything for a while.

My first memories of the bridge were as a youth going to the farm on the east side that my parent’s sharecropped. My grandpa had actually fallen through the bridge driving his combine across long before I was born and I always remembered that fact whenever I crossed. Another early memory is of standing on the bridge as the flooded Fox River pulled and gurgled at the braces only a foot below my feet. I could feel the bridge quivering from the energy exerted on it by the river and remember being terrified and in awe at the same time. But after a few short years, my parents ceased to share crop the farm and I didn't go out that way anymore.

Years later when I was in college, I remembered that bridge and on a couple different occasions would swing down that road even though it was out of my way. Days probably go by without anyone crossing the bridge so the road was always deserted. I would park my car in the middle of the bridge, turn off the engine and listen to the water flowing lazily below. Sometimes I would get out and watch the river's progress through the leaf-filtered sunlight that dappled its surface. But once again the bridge faded from my active memory and more years would go by.

During the years of dating my now wife from across an ocean, I often looked for ways to communicate without necessarily using words. My wife was into painting and so I decided to give it a try only to find that I was fairly good at it and enjoyed it. I would paint her small pictures and mail them to her a dozen or so at time for her to hang on her walls. Soon I was looking for inspirations to paint and the Fox River Bridge came racing back into my consciousness. My very next trip home, I brought along my camera and took several pictures of the now ivy covered bridge. But for one reason or another, I just never got around to painting it.

Shortly after my wife moved to the United States, I was driving her around Van Buren county showing her all it's beauty that my eyes can see and I decided to include that bridge in our tour. To my dismay, as we were approaching the old bridge, "Road Closed" signs began to appear and when we got to the corner the road was blocked off. The trees still hid the bridge from my sight and for a brief few seconds I thought that it had collapsed and was gone. But we walked the rest of the way and it was still stalwartly standing on both banks of the Fox River holding the same council that it has for many many years.

I don't know why that bridge attracts me so, but it holds the same mystical appeal as an ivy covered castle in the hills of Wales. It exudes a sense of history and a long ago importance but slowly that song it sings with the river is fading in the breeze. I imagine that when it falls into the river in the final stanza of their song, it will not be replaced by another drab concrete bridge that have replaced other bridges throughout the county in recent memories or at least I hope it won't. Instead I would rather allow the echoes to gently fade the way of the song, gently with time.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle

Some ten years ago, I had the opportunity to canoe down one hundred and fifty miles of the wild and scenic portion of the upper Missouri River in Montana. By chance, the water was high at the time so I mainly used my paddle just to keep from hitting the banks or other obstacles while I drifted. To pass the time I read passages from the journals of Lewis and Clark as I happened upon their campsites, geography features, etc. One particular interesting geological feature was the Eye of the Needle.

I camped on the far side of the river from the Eye the evening before and in the morning I ferried across to the other side. After a short hike up a canyon and out onto the ledge, I stood before the Eye which is a natural arch caused by hundreds of thousands of years of wind erosion. The erosion has left behind two stacks of rocks that leaned toward the middle and precariously touched each other at the top forming the arch. The whole thing looked as if it might topple over at the slightest breath and yet it had been like that for the last two hundred years since first being spotted by white men.

The view through the arch looked upstream framing the river and the bone white bluffs on either side and I sat on the downstream side admiring the view and soaking up the breeze. I could have sat there for hours but the call of the river was stronger and reluctantly I bid it goodbye and hiked down to the canoe. Eight years later I would read that vandals had destroyed it and thrown the pieces in the river some one hundred feet below.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Twin Falls

Twin Falls

Every now and then, I find a place that just connects within myself in such a way that it almost feels magical. It is like plugging yourself into a different world and while you are there, time in the world you come from ceases to move or exist. Recently I have described a bridge and in the past a wooded creek and a chasm named after Elves. I found another one a few years ago along an unassuming little creek in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas named Twin Falls.

The hike to Twin Falls is a brutal one during summer when I went but I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to see it that particular trip and it almost guaranteed me total aloneness. The hardwood forest undergrowth consists mostly of poison ivy and the humidity is so heavy, that even breathing can be exhausting. I had a topographic map of the area but down in the thick undergrowth it is very difficult to determine one’s position so I had supplemented this with a GPS unit that had the topographic map downloaded onto the screen. I set out with my camera slung around my shoulder like a bandolier and a water bottle clipped to it.

After wading the final stream, I walked up a nearby drainage that contained the falls and finally found them at the head of a small but deep pool of emerald green water. The Twin Falls consists of two branches of a river joining together and at this juncture, the last twenty feet of the journey is absolutely vertical over rock ledges only forty or fifty feet apart. The combined creek enjoys its unity only for a few hundred yards before being swallowed up by the larger stream downstream that I just waded across.

At the falls, I sat on the far side of the pool from them on a large rock near a smaller unnamed falls for a while getting Zen-like with my surroundings. One can close your eyes and with little effort feel what it is like to be the water falling and then joining with your sibling stream. The heat was still oppressive but the slight coolness of the falling water dulled the edges of it slightly.

I took a bunch of photos of it from my vantage point and then hiked around the pool and behind the falls, stopping for a while behind each to better appreciate them. From behind one, I hung onto a rock knob and stuck my upper body out to be massaged by the cool water hands as they pounded out the aches of the hike and hopefully washed the poisons off my skin.

Having had my fill, I retired to a shady corner of the rock where I had first sat and ate my lunch while my camera was poised, waiting for a moment of sun on this cloudy day to play across the falls. Each time it would come it would be only for an instant and never right over the falls. I played this game with the sun for several hours before the clouds darkened with an approaching storm and covered the sun for good. I packed up my gear, bid a silent farewell to my newfound friend, and slipped back down the drainage.

Mid-stream, as I was wading back across, the clouds opened up and the rain began to pour. Two hours later when I finally made it back to my car, I was soaked to the bone but happy. I stripped down, sat on the raincoat that I hadn’t worn because of the heat, and drove back to the cabin two more hours by car away. I haven’t been back to the Twin Falls since, but I will.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dark Shadows On a Beautiful Country

It is amazing at how little it takes to actually change the perception of an entire country. Here in America we have a president who doesn't know about or care about other cultures and as a result, we have more countries that are sworn enemies than ever before.

I have a wife who is a Filipina and currently (as has been the case for a couple years) there is a travel advisory warning citizens of the United States to not travel to the Philippines because of the Abu Sayyaf. The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of the Islamist groups fighting to establish an Iranian-style Islamic state in the southern island of Mindanao and is known to kidnap and even kill foreigners. Their active members are thought to be only a couple hundred with a thousand or so supporters. Mostly their actions have been confined to the very southern part of the Philippines but occasionally they have bombed places as far north as Manila. It is these few times, that these few people can influence other countries' views upon their nation.

On my last trip to the Philippines, I found the citizens to be extremely friendly people who would give you the shirt off their back even if it were their only one. In the market places, most vendors would try to take advantage of my ignorance of prices and try to overcharge me for things but I would guess that happens in any country. Even if it didn't, I think they have every right to try to maximize their profits from someone who doesn't take the time to learn their culture. If the both persons believe they are getting a deal, is there anything wrong with that?

I have to admit that when I am in the Philippines, the thoughts of the Abu Sayyaf are ever present in my head. The difference between me and some of my countrymen is that I don't let it stop me from visiting such a beautiful place. I know other like me but I feel that we are still a minority. When I go there, I just take the precaution of being aware of my surroundings and enjoy the trip. The travel advisory was on the last time I went and the next time, I am sure it will still be in place especially after the latest bombings. It's a shame that a few can cast dark shadows on such a beautiful country.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Water Boy Says: "How About the Fence?"

It was the Hoosier era in our school and by that I meant that the movie Hoosiers was still fresh in our impressionable minds. Our school had grades 6th through 12th and as a 8th grader, I was too young to play on the high school basketball team. So I joined as the water boy simply for the perk of traveling with the big kids to distant schools and staying out late on a school night. It was the easiest job that I ever had to do. All I had to do was fill a half dozen water bottles up before the game to pass out during timeouts and half times. Otherwise, I silently sat at the end of the bench keeping stats or standing in the corner of the locker room counting how many cigarettes the assistant coach could smoke in the space of ten minutes while the head coach yelled at the players.

Mostly it was boring but on one particular evening things got really exciting. We were playing the neighboring school district that was much bigger than our school and in an entire different conference and class. Our school played this team once a season for the practice of playing a better team. We always got beaten and most of the time we were beaten badly. This game started out like that and at halftime in the locker room the coach was yelling so loud that the veins were standing out on his forehead. The assistant coach was over by the bathroom stall lighting up his fifth cigarette in about eight minutes. From my position in the corner, I was estimating that he was going to set a record when the door opened and in walked the father of one of the players. He only said a few words before he set to swinging his fists at the coach and chaos ensued for a few minutes as the players all jumped in to part the two. By the time the coach and the parent were separated and the parent escorted out, halftime was up and we were out on the floor warming up. The players were warming their muscles and I was warming the chair.

I don't know if the fight in the locker room had anything to do with it but a spark had been lit among my team. They started playing basketball like I had never seen them and were gradually pulling themselves out of the points hole they had dug in the first half. With five seconds to go, we were in a timeout and only two points behind with possession of the ball. We had all just huddled together when the coach asked the players if they wanted to go for the tie or try for a three-pointer to win the game. Everyone agreed that we had to go for it but we didn't have any plays for making three pointers. The coach told everyone to let him think a second when for some fool reason, I blurted out, "How about the fence?"

Everyone knew in a second that I was referring to the last play of the championship game in the movie Hoosiers in which the team used that particular play to win in a situation just like ours. The coach snorted in contempt but all the players enthusiastically agreed even though they had never practiced anything like it before. So the coach agreed to give it a shot and started laying it all out for the players. The timeout ended, the ball was in-bounded and the play worked just like it did in the movies except it hit the rim a couple of times before dribbling in just as the buzzer sounded.

Pandemonium erupted as the players leapt for joy and the people in the bleachers stood up and just kind of slid onto the floor like spilled water, all the while cheering and jumping with elation. But the one thing that burned deeper into my brain than anything else was the principal who was leading the charge. He was the most strict, straight-laced man you ever knew and here he was running with his arms wide out across the floor. He homed in on the coach and when he reached him, the principle jumped onto the coach wrapping his arms around the coach's neck and his legs around the coach's waist. Still holding on he raised one arm in the air in triumph and gave a blood-curdling yell. That one action, finally spurred me to action and I jumped up on my chair and started waving the towel around over my head while yelling.

It's been almost twenty years since that night as the water boy but it will always remain in my memories. We might have been the smallest school in Iowa but we were Hoosiers and we had won our own personal championship against the big boys. And privately I like to think that it all came down to one water boy who opened his mouth when he shouldn't have to ask, "How about the fence?"

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Perfection In a Hickory Stick

The first seemingly random thing occurred many years at a flea market where I was walking to kill some time. At one stand, I was looking through a collection of pocketknives for a unique one to wear to work when I came across a United States Marine Corp K-bar knife. The handle is bound in leather and the black steel blade only about eight inches in length but the weight felt solid in my grasp. I unsheathed the knife and held it in my hand, the balance perfectly center and giving it a sort of life all it's own. It felt perfect for whatever one might use it for. I rarely hunt and if I do it is only for game birds so I didn't need it for hunting. For farming, the sheath was too bulky hanging from your side and would forever be banging into things, so I didn't really need it for that. What then? I couldn't think of the answer but for ten dollars, who was I to question it?

The second seemingly random thing occurred a couple days later when a local golf course was expanding. A friend of mine who was a biology major needed some owl pellets to study in a class and I was craving some fresh morel mushrooms. I volunteered to help him look for owl pellets if he would look for mushrooms and so we had made an agreement. Coming back from our outing, me with no mushrooms and him with a bag of owl shit, we decided to cut across the golf course expansion and came across a pile of trees that had been cleared for one of the new holes.

When we neared the pile of trees, one in particular seemed to jump out at meet. A young hickory sapling maybe ten feet tall, still green with new spring leaves had been ripped out at the roots and shoved into the pile. The trunk was straight as an arrow and free of any limbs for the first six feet. By chance, I had grabbed my new K-bar knife on my way out the door with my friend and had brought it with me tucked into my pants in the small of my back. I knew what must be done.

I unsheaved the knife and within minutes had freed a five-foot section of that young hickory sapling from the pile, a task that would have taken forever with my pocketknife. Hickory is a hard wood and green hickory even harder and with a dull knife, cutting hickory is impossible. As I stepped out of the pile like a doctor from the operating room, I felt that I had given my patient a new life. I held the stick in my hand and new that like the knife, it was perfectly balanced and just felt right. Back in the dorms, I tucked my new hickory stick into the frame of my loft bed and let it cure. After many months, the result was a perfectly cured and extremely strong walking stick. So strong, I could hook if over two objects and do chin-ups on it.

Flash forward now over a decade later and I still have that walking stick leaning in a corner of my house. I have only used it a couple times and the only reason I can come up with is because it is just too perfect. When you have something of such perfection and beauty, one just can't mar it with mundane things like hiking. So it remains in the corner for the occasional time when I heft it in my hands to feel the perfection of strength and balance combined into one five foot length of hickory.

Friday, February 4, 2005

The Verge: May She Rest In Peace

I have many good memories of Verge even though she has been dead for many, many years. She was as reliable as could be desired and never let us down. She got us through some good times and some bad times without ever complaining about the burden. But eventually she started falling apart and smelled badly so we sold her one day to be dismembered for parts. For you see, Verge was my father's car.

I don't know why my father named the car Verge and I can't recall him even naming any of the other cars since, but because of him, I have always thought of my cars in the feminine sense as well. It's not too much of a stretch for my imagination because just like a woman, if you treat them well, they will love you back and are loyal companions. Despite thinking of my car in the feminine sense, I still haven't named mine but now that these memories have come crashing back, maybe I will.

Verge was an red Ford Pinto and had been my father's car for as long as I could remember. We were a two car family at that time and Verge was the farm car while my mom's car was the 'going to town' car. My recollection of the car can't be told in story form but is just a series of unattached memories. They must have all been filed under Verge in my brain because this morning when I thought of that car, they all came flooding back. So bear with me as I relate some of them to you in no particular order.

One year after a particularly bad ice storm, our gravel road was still a solid sheet of ice a week later. We had received a lot of snow that year so both sides of the road lined with snow drifts coated in an armor of ice. The gravel roads are crowned much like highways so that the water runs off and doesn't stand. As a result, anything standing on the center of the road slid down to the edge where they banged into the ice hardened snow drift. Finally for whatever reason, we all piled in the Verge to make our way off the farm. For the one half mile to the highway (and later on the way back) we slid helplessly side to side banging into the sides of the drifted in road like a pinball in a machine. Sure it put a few dents into the side of the car but we all laughed ourselves sick.

Our gravel road that we lived on always gets drifted in during winter storms and is one of the last to get plowed. So that often meant that we had to bust our way our or in (depending on where we were when the storm hit) with Verge. Now Ford Pintos are small cars and don't have a lot of mass so in order to compensate, we did it with speed. We would hit the drifts at a high rate of speed that would send us lurching forward in our seats while the snow would fly up in a cloud. With the windshield wipers slapping at full speed, we would pray that it would get the windshield clean in time for a course correction before the next drift. I remember many times coming back from many trips and busting through drifts until we got Verge hopelessly stuck in a bigger drift that she could bust through. It was then gather what you could and walk the rest of the way to the house in the dark. (I don't have any memories of doing this in daylight hours.) The next day we would walk over to our grandfather's house a mile away through the fields, get the tractor and pull Verge in the rest of the way.
Once when my father was driving into my grandfather's farm, he attempted to bust through a drift of snow to impress my brother and I who were riding with him. The snow had been there awhile and had solidified so instead of busting through it, Verge ended up on top of it with all four wheels in the air. Rather than risk dragging the who exhaust system off by pulling her off with a tractor, Verge stayed there for a couple weeks until the snow melted and lowered her gently back to the ground.

Another time my family was going to check on some fields after a particular hard rain and we came to a gate leading to one of the farms where a giant mud puddle had formed. My dad backed up 'in order to get up some speed' and tried ramming his way through the mud puddle. Unfortunately he had too much speed and ended up skipping across the surface of the puddle and hitting the big gate post on one side coming to rest right in the middle. Fortunately, the impact had sprung the hatchback open and my father was able to jump from the hatch to the edge of the puddle and begin the three mile walk back home to get the tractor to pull us out. The hatch never worked after that incident and from there after was sealed shut with a roll of duct tape from the outside.

Once on a trip over to grandfather's place for Thanksgiving, we had forgotten to bring in the stick of butter that we had brought over in Verge. It was a warm day and the sun quickly melted it so by the time we remembered it, there was nothing but a foil wrapper and butter soaked carpet. It smelled like butter for a couple of days but then it started smelling pretty rancid. Though we cleaned and cleaned her carpet many times, that rancid smell would always be there until the day we sold Verge.

My parents bought a farm adjacent to theirs and had terraced some parts of it that were steep to prevent erosion. Some of the terraces were gently rounded on both sides and others were called steep back terraces where the back sides were almost vertical. My father was checking out the progress of the terrace building and was driving over the rounded ones to give my brother and I that sense of vertigo from falling so fast. He evidently got confused once and went off, or should I say off, one of the steep back terraces. Verge hit nose first into the dirt sending a shower of debris towards the front windshield as every loose object in the car held on to it's momentum. I remember sitting there covered in dirt, pens, nuts, bolts, nails, rocks, etc. laughing hysterically at the joy of having jumped the terrace in Verge. The Verge fired right up and other than both front quarter panels being caved in under the front tires survived and drove us back home where we were sworn to secrecy not to tell mom.

Eventually Verge started rusting and one day while my father was going down the road a load screech and a bang emitted from his seat. I remember looking at him from the back seat and noticing that he was now sitting lower and at a odd angle that put his head up close to the window. When we got stopped and inspected her, we could see that the floor had rusted away and that the seat had fallen through and was resting on the exhaust system. At that time we didn't mind because it just added to the character of the car. It was dented in, duct taped together in places and only had one armrest assembly (both of which had fallen off long ago) that we had to pass back and forth to roll up/down the windows because the window crank was attached to it. Oh and did I mention it smelled like rancid butter?

When the seat had rusted through the floor, we didn't drive Verge long distances any more because of the safety but she still got driven back and forth to my grandfather's house. As a result of the holes now in the floor, a mouse had turned Verge into it's own private mansion, lived up under the dash somewhere and you could occasionally see it scrambling around while driving down the road. One day the rancid butter smell evidently made the mouse crazy because while my dad was driving, it ran our from under the dash, up my leg, up the window and with one last look at us, jumped out while Verge was still doing 55 mph. I've never seen another mouse commit suicide ever again.

Eventually the brakes went out of Verge and she sat behind our garage for a couple of years as the weeds grew up around her. My dad found an ad in the paper one day from someone seeking an engine out of a Ford Pinto and my dad ended up selling the car to him. As part of the deal my dad had to get the car to Pulaski which was a town ten miles away. Amazingly, Verge started right up after two years of being neglected behind the shed and my dad slowly drove her over the back roads to her demise using his foot out the open door as a brake. I never saw Verge again but the memories have remained.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Jumping T-Run

Bill studied the Radio Flyer and the hill sloping in front him leading down to the infamous T-Run. T-Run a.k.a. Toilet Run was rumored by all the kids at Fox Valley High School to contain the overflow from a lot of septic tanks in town. Yes it was a ditch and most of the time it did contain some stagnate, foul smelling liquid but no Bill didn't think it was actually liquefied shit. He actually drove by the city sewer lagoon on the school bus ride home every day after school but he didn't want the townies to know this. So when the bet had come up, he had accepted it but now he wasn't so sure.

One of the townies had brought in their kid sister's Radio Flyer which was covered in rust making the words barely even visible. One of the rear wheels wobbled when pulled and the handle had been bent many times and straightened over the years. A crude ramp of some blocks and a thick piece of scrap plywood had been set up at the bottom of the hill right at the lip of T-Run and of course, it had been set right in front of the largest pool of stagnate water that the townies could find in the 100 feet or so that ran across the southern part of the school property.

Bill was pretty sure he could steer the rusted Radio Flyer and hit the ramp but the ten feet or so across to the other side of T-Run looked a lot bigger now that there was no backing out. If he made it he would have the admiration of every boy in his seventh grade class and perhaps some of the older kids as well, maybe even some girls. If he didn't, he would crash ass over feet into the liquefied primordial soup of T-Run and walk away smelling like...well, shit. But he figured it would be a good laugh for everyone and he would still go into the annals of Fox Valley lore and maybe win the admiration of everyone. It was a no lose situation unless of course he hit hard and broke something or actually killed himself.

He pushed those thoughts from head and sat down in the Radio Flyer with his feet towards the handle and the handle bent back so that he could steer while riding. Bill gave the thumbs up and put a cheesy grin on display even though his stomach was all tied up in knots. He told the fellows to push him for all they were worth because he was going to need the speed. He tensed his back to provide a good pushing surface and nodded his head quickly giving the okay.

The hands pressed on his back sending him accelerating across the short flat up by the tennis court fence and over the crest of the hill. As he picked up speed the hands began disappearing one after another until all were gone. The wagon picked up speed and hit a small mole hill causing it to lurch sideways almost jerking the handle from his hands. Bill over corrected several times almost wiping out but was able to regain control as he entered the steepest part of the hill nearer the bottom and the ramp. Wind whistled by his ears and he was going faster than he had ever gone before. A bad vibration from the wobbly wheel was shaking the wagon but he thought it was going to hold together long enough.

The last few feet came and went as the wagon hit the plywood squarely in the middle with a loud bang and the splintering sound of tearing wood. The former, Bill was pretty sure, was the wobbly wheel letting go. But momentum was his friend and though the back end of the wagon sank and then jumped sideways almost spilling him out, it continued if forward progress off the end of the ramp at alarming speed. The sounds ceased except for a soft escape of air as the ramp fell down into a pile behind him. He soared up into the air with his eyes focused on the grass on the opposite side. The saying was true, it really did look greener.