I watched the presentation of colors today at President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s inauguration. I listened as Lady Gaga sang an incredible version of the Star-Spangled Banner. I noted the flags from our history that dated back to our very beginnings. I looked out on the 200,000 flags flying on the National Mall and the flags flying in the breeze on virtually every building.
And while I am not by nature a flag waver, I was proud, prouder than I have ever been of the flag.
Two weeks ago, my vision was totally different. I watched as an American Flag was used to beat a policeman whose only crime was protecting our Nation’s Capital from a band of thugs whose goal was an assault on our very democracy. I watched as they claimed they were patriots, wrapped themselves in flags, waved them from the ramparts, and carried them as they ran through the capitol corridors breaking windows, spray painting walls, and threatening the lives of Republican Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
That vision has now been wiped out of my mind.
May we now move forward to solve the very real problems this nation faces— from the raging pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans to the racism that continues to haunt our lives, from the environmental degradation that has led to global warming to severe economic depression that has destroyed thousands of businesses and thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, from denying citizens the right to vote to governing with mistruths and conspiracy theories.
And finally, may we return to our role as a positive, responsible partner in addressing the problems of the broader world.
Oregonians are known for flocking to the coast when winter storms rile up the Pacific Ocean and send huge waves crashing ashore. Local media can be depended on to report the when and where. Peggy and I escaped to one of the best locations on the coast a few weeks ago, Cape Arago near Coos Bay. Both of us were kept busy with our cameras.
On Tuesday’s Blog-a-Book: The next chapter in the Sierra Trek. Sixteen miles without water and a Trekker is lost… or goes awol. And a humongous rattlesnake presents a unique challenge.
On Thursday’s Travel Blog: We visit the very strange but beautiful Sunset Bay.
It’s time to make New Year’s resolutions! Assuming Covid-19 is brought under control, Peggy and I highly recommend that you resolve to spend time in the Southwestern US and visit the National Parks. Here are a few final photos that Peggy and I took this past year and included in our family calendars.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES. –Curt and Peggy
NEXT: Blog a Book Tuesday. Orvis comes to the rescue and forever earns my gratitude. We have an 18-mile day with only one water stop. A Trekker loses himself. One of our 11 year olds kicks dirt on a timber rattlesnake bigger than he is. Charlie saves me from being hung.
It’s the season. Peggy and I wish you the very best this holiday. Given how crazy this year has been, we decided a little humor is in order. So I reached back into the past. Several years ago, I developed a series of cards for special occasions. Meet the Corral Chorale Choir:
Christmas Eve Post: National Parks of the Southwest
“Why?” G, a blogging friend from Florida, asked when I posted my plans to spend the summer backpacking down the PCT. Why would I subject myself to ice cold baths and human-snacking insects? Why would I want to spend 7-9 hours a day hiking over difficult terrain in 100-degree weather while dodging fires, breathing smoke, and carrying a 30 to 35-pound pack? Why would I subject my body to the common ailments of through-hikers: exhaustion, near-starvation, freezing nights, blistered feet, trashed toenails, sprained ankles, shin splints, twisted knees, cranky hips, sore shoulders, bug bites, sun burn and poison oak, not to mention possible encounters with large furry animals sporting big teeth.
My guess is that G thought 75-year-old men should limit their exercise program to hiking up and down the stairs on a cruise ship or possibly hiking from the TV to the bathroom during a football commercial. Puttering in a garden is also okay; as is fishing off the end of a pier. Going for short hikes is to be encouraged. It helps keep you healthy. But backpacking several hundred miles through rugged wilderness— much of it by yourself? That’s crazy.
Perhaps. But I had been backpacking since 1969, when the PCT was a barely-hatched one-year old, or since 1954 if you counted Boy Scouts. I had started exploring the jungle-like graveyard next to our home at five, and completed my first solo, mile-long hike in the wee hours of the morning when I was seven. While other boys my age had spent their summers playing sports and hoping to dazzle coaches, parents and friends, I had wandered farther and farther afield with nothing but my dogs for company. High school and college had seen a hiatus as studies, work and girls took precedence. But I returned to my wandering ways as a Peace Corps Volunteer, exploring the jungles surrounding my home in West Africa and carrying a compass so I could map them out. And avoid getting lost.
Cheryl Strayed’s journey on the PCT in Wild and Bill Bryson’s hike along the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods had inspired me to think about undertaking my own long-distant trek. They were admittedly a tad younger when they started their adventures— at 26 and 45 their combined age was less than mine— but I had tons more of experience. I had celebrated my 60th birthday by backpacking 360-miles from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney. Certainly, I could do twice that to celebrate my 75th.
I’d chuckled when I read Bryson’s chapter on a bear he may or may not have seen in the night, and how he had gone scrambling for his pocket knife. Scary yes— big creatures that think of you as a menu item usually are, especially on a dark night— but I have had dozens of encounters with bears. Once, I woke up at four in the morning with one standing on top of me, sniffing my breath. Now, that’s scary! Another time I was stalked by a grizzly in Alaska. And then there was the time I had a discussion with one of the great brown bears of Katmai over why he shouldn’t eat me. A ranger had told me that if I encountered a bear out on the trail, I should “speak to it in a calm voice and back away.” But what do you say to a thousand pounds of bulging muscles with four-inch long claws? Read on.
Unlike Strayed, I knew that seemingly insignificant ounces add up to bone crushing pounds when carried on your back. I’d led hundred-mile backpack trips for 30 years in California and Alaska. Preparing first-time trekkers to go was one of the most important things I did. Now, picture backpacking over 1,100 miles with zero preparation, which Strayed did. While I had greatly admired her fortitude in hiking on the PCT through California and Oregon, I’d cringed at her lack of readiness. But I readily admit that it made a good story and served as an inspiration for thousands of women, and probably men as well.
By now, I am sure that you realize that I love backpacking. I love it for what it does for my mind and my body. It’s amazing how fast the worries of the world fade away when you are hiking up a mountain. And it’s fun to see what a week of backpacking does for your body. But what I like most is that backpacking gets me out into the woods. Time slows down. There is great beauty, and peace, and healing, and maybe even a touch of salvation. As John Muir noted, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
This book concludes with my trip down the PCT at 75. I’d started with a goal of backpacking at least 500 miles and possibly as many as a thousand. Between giving my lungs fire-free breaks and providing more time for rest and recovery between trail sections, I split the difference, not bad for seven decades. And I was lucky to have total support from my wife, Peggy. Not only did she join me for three sections of the trip, she was waiting for me at the end of the other sections with a warm smile, a tight hug, and a cold beer. And she had camped out for the week by herself so she would be there to greet me and provide other backup if needed. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
The PCT trip is just a small part of my backpacking story, however. One can have a lot of adventures in 50 years of wandering in the wilderness and I plan to incorporate several into this tale, including the bear stories mentioned above. I also want to talk about the beginning, how I fell in love with the woods and outdoors as a young boy. That always gets a bit iffy in terms of memory. But getting kicked out of the first grade at five for a year was an important factor in that it encouraged me to explore the jungle-like graveyard next to our home. Choosing to sleep outside in the summer, even if it meant sleeping on the ground, was another. Such things tend to stick in your head. At least they do mine.
While my emphasis will focus on the adventures, I also wish to encourage my readers to think of the wilderness as one of our most precious heritages, taking us back to our very beginnings as humans. When we lose our connection with the outdoors, we lose a bit of our humanity. We owe it to ourselves to reconnect or maintain our connection, even if it is simply going for a walk in the town park and listening to the birds sing. And we owe it to our children, grandchildren, and future generations to protect the world’s remaining wilderness areas.
So, let’s get started as I tackle the insane task of leading a group of 61 people aged 11 to 70 on a 9 day, 100-mile backpack trip across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The event kicked off my part-time career of leading long-distance backpacking treks and guaranteed that backpacking would always be a part of my life.
That I survived the experience and had any kind of a career at all was close to a miracle…
NEXT POST: On Thursday, Peggy and I continue our exploration of America’s backroads as we follow “The Loneliest Road in America,” Highway 50 through Nevada and into Utah.
This is it. The beginning of my book on backpacking and how I fell in love with the wilderness. I intend to blog it, one story at a time. My hope is that you will join me. There are many, many adventures: most are fun, some scary, and all challenging. If you been following me for a while, you will recognize several of the stories. I have every intention of mining my blog. I’ll keep the stories short, something you can read in a few minutes. So sit back, relax, and enjoy. Here we go...
INTRODUCTION: Part 1
On Bathing in the Woods
Getting naked is as essential to bathing in the woods as it is to bathing at home. The definition of clean, however, changes. Speed becomes critical when your bathwater comes from an ice-cold stream. A hundred mosquitoes viewing your bare body as a large neon sign blinking “Eat Here” hurries the process even more. You can almost hear the clarion call go out: “Major target located in northeast quadrant. Proceed at once to location. No invitation is necessary. BYOB. (Bring Your Own Beaks.)” A few swipes with a wet cloth and you’re done. So what if you still smell.
“Wipe your clothes with pine needles,” Popcorn! suggested. “Then you will smell like a pine tree.” It was a morsel of through-hiker wisdom. Popcorn! was heading north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in her quest to hike the 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada while I was heading south from Mt. Ashland, seeing how far I could push my 75-year-old body over the summer. She had caught up with me near the top of Red Mountain between Interstate 5 and Burney Falls in Northern California. I had just huffed up the mountain in hundred-degree heat toward the end of a long day and had to persuade my feet to move. “Okay left foot, it’s your turn.” I was taking a break while eating my late lunch of two fig bars and a handful of nuts while contemplating a nap. Old people do that.
Popcorn! had stopped to chat for a few minutes and introduced her trail-name with an exclamation point. She was a young woman with a wide smile and straight, shiny teeth that looked like they belonged in a dentist’s ad. Earbuds dangled down from her Osprey backpack shoulder strap. Tunes helped her hike the 20-30 miles per day required to finish the trail. I’d asked about swimming possibilities in Peavine Creek, where I planned to camp for the night. I was meeting my wife Peggy at Burney Falls the next day and wanted to be cleaner than trail-normal. Popcorn! had told me that the creek was shallow and covered with brush. Even getting water to drink was a challenge. That’s where the pine needle discussion had come in.
As she had prepared to hike on, I’d asked if I could take her photo for my blog: wandering-through-time-and-place.com. “Of course,” she responded, “as long as you put the exclamation point at the end of my name.” You quickly learn that through-hikers are a cast of characters and trail names are special. I’m Wanderer. After she left, I reached up and plucked a bundle of needles from the young Ponderosa pine I was using as a pillow and applied the sniff test. They had a rich piney smell. Not bad, I thought to myself, but I’d prefer red fir needles. Then I would smell like a Christmas Tree. I idly wondered if Peggy would view me as a present. Maybe, if I wrapped a ribbon around my body. I had some red parachute cord along…
Given the challenge of bathing in the woods, I was a surprised a few weeks later when Peggy declared, “That was a good bath!” as we made our way back to camp after washing off next to James Creek in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon. I had jumped north in my journey, trying to get away from the endless smoke and fires of California, and found a trail section that Peggy could hike with me. We had carried our small, folding buckets across a meadow to the meandering stream so we could fill them with water and avoid getting soap in the creek. I’d also carried a ground cloth to throw down on the grass.
The good news about the bath was that there were no mosquitoes. It was too late in the season. The bad news, as we expected, was cold water. But there was more. First, we were out in a meadow exposed to the world. Anybody hiking down the trail would see a pair of old folks as naked as the day they were born. Thrilling, I’m sure, but all the more reason to be hasty. Second, there were cute little green frogs hiding in the grass. There was a real danger of squishing one under our bare feet. And who wants to squish a cute green frog between her toes— or even an ugly one?
Finally, there were the spiders, hundreds of them. I’ve never seen such a concentration. I spotted them scurrying away from under our tarp when I tossed it down on the grass. Apparently the instant eclipse had upset their world view. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley encountering the mass of hungry spiders in the Chamber of Secrets leapt into my mind. Fortunately, these guys were small and seemed more interested in running away than toward us. Peggy didn’t spot them and I chose not to tell her. She’s not particularly fond of bugs with eight legs. Any spider that has the audacity to crawl into our home in Southern Oregon is guaranteed a short lifespan. “If they wanted to live, they’d stay outside,” she declares airily. Even though the meadow spiders were obeying her rule, I pictured her stomping across the grass committing arachnicide.
NEXT POSTS: Thursday— The loneliest road in America. Highway 50 as it makes its way across the desolate Nevada Desert. Next Tuesday— my book introduction continues as I answer the question why I decided to take on the challenge of hiking down the PCT at 75, much of it by myself.
I’m sitting in my writing chair, listening to John Coltrane, and watching a flock of Western tanagers invade our birdbath. It isn’t that they want a bath; they’re thirsty. And the birdbath is the local watering hole. Just about everyone who is anyone in the animal kingdom around here drinks out of it.
Change is in the air. Birds of feather are flocking together. Fall colors are lighting up our property and the surrounding countryside. And the bucks are amorous. Not so much the does. Yet. They leap out of the way whenever a buck sneaks up behind them. The does still remember what happened last year. All those promises about sticking around and helping raise the kids. Right. And even if they don’t remember, they think that the bucks should work for what they want, prove their worthiness, and wait until the mood strikes. “Foreplay, sweetie. Foreplay.”
Politically, who knows what the heck is happening. But things will resolve themselves, for better or for worse— depending on which side of America’s Great Political Divide you find yourself. The presidential race is being decided as I type this.
All this change going on has inspired me to modify my blog. With over 10 years and 1000 posts behind me, it’s time. I started Wandering through Time and Place as a creative way to promote books. But I got caught up in blogging for its own sake. It’s fun; it’s addictive. And I really like the people I’ve met along the way. It has also provided an opportunity to play with photography and go on adventures. What’s not to love about that? No regrets.
But it certainly hasn’t helped the book-writing process. In fact, between all the things involved in living from day to day, going on adventures, and knocking out posts, there hasn’t been a lot of time for my original goal. Plus, there’s another thing.
Early on, I defined my blog in the travel/adventure category. It fit with what I wanted to accomplish. Unfortunately, in “being true to my blog,” I cut out an important part of who I am. Between my experiences at Berkeley in the 60s, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, and working as an environmental and public health advocate for most of my professional life, I developed clear ideas about the direction of the nation and the world. For the most part, I have kept them out of the blog. It’s been really hard. Sometimes I slip.
So, here’s what I am going to do.
I am currently working on two books: A revision of The Bush Devil Ate Sam (my Peace Corps memoir) and A Bear Is Standing on Me (a memoir on my 50 years of wilderness adventures). Like I did with my original Peace Corps book, I am going to blog them, one Tuesday at a time, alternating between the Bush Devil and the Bear. This will provide some much-needed focus for me, while hopefully providing you with a bit of entertainment. I’ll keep Thursdays for my travel blog.
Occasionally, I will do an opinion piece about current affairs and the future. These will always be on Sundays. This way you will know what to expect and can avoid them if you so desire. Or, join the discussion. No trolls, however. On the recent post I did on the Phoenix/Talent fire and global warming, one person commented more or less, “You don’t know what the S**T you are talking about. So shut the F**k up.” Not nice. I hit the delete button— with pleasure. Intelligent, rational discussion will always be welcome.
And now for some fall colors seen in our ‘neck of the woods’ this week. I’ll start with views around our property. The colors really are glorious. I feel like I am in Vermont.
Our 30 mile drive into Jacksonville and Medford has also been spectacular. It’s worth the trip for the fall colors alone. Count me in as a leaf-peeper. The photo at the top of this post demonstrates why. Here are some more photos from along the way.
NEXT POSTS: On Tuesday… Kick off for blogging “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me. On Thursday… The Loneliest Road in America: Highway 50 across Nevada.
Every couple of years I update Bone’s travel history because he continues to wander the world. This time, I’ve added his 750 mile trek down the Pacific Crest Trail. As you read this post, he is preparing for another 7,000 mile journey in Quivera the RV to some of the remote corners of the contiguous United States in honor of Peggy’s 70th Birthday. He’ll be wearing his face mask and reporting along the way!
Sometime in the 1900s Bone started his life as part of a horse wandering through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The horse was allegedly eaten by a bear. Bone ended up in a high mountain meadow practicing Zen and being nibbled on by a miscreant rodent.
1977: He was ‘discovered’ by two lost backpackers (Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering) on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail south of Lake Tahoe and launched his career of wandering the world.
1980-81: Bone commenced his first World Tour with Tom. He visited Asia including Japan, Hong Kong, Bombay, Delhi and Katmandu where he trekked to the base of Mt. Everest. He then wandered on to spend spring and summer in Europe stopping off in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland. Getting cold, Bone headed south and hitched a ride in the back of a truck through Algeria, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Sudan, Kenya (where he crossed the Equator), Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. He signed on with Tom as crew of a sailboat in Cape Town and headed north to Mallorca, stopping off on the islands of St. Helena, Ascension, Cape Verde and Madeira. Back in Europe he explored his possible Viking roots in Sweden, Norway and Finland.
1983-86: Bone assumed Cheechako status and moved to Alaska with Curt where he was stalked by a grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula, explored Prince William Sound by kayak, learned to winter camp in 30 degree below zero weather while listening to wolves howl, backpacked in the Brooks Range north of the Arctic Circle, and discussed the finer points of eating salmon with Great Brown Bears in Katmai National Park. He escaped briefly to the warmer climate of Hawaii and participated in the New Orleans Mardi Gras.
1986: He backpacked the Western US for five months with Curt exploring the Grand Canyon, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the Rockies, and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming before returning to his beloved Sierras.
1989: Bone joined Curt on a six month 10,000-mile solo bike tour around North America visiting 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He ended his journey by meeting Peggy in Sacramento.
1990: The International Society of the BONE was formed at Senior Frogs in Mazatlan, Mexico, where Bone spent the afternoon being pickled in a pitcher of margaritas and being kissed by lovely senoritas.
1991-97: Various members of International Society accompanied Bone on numerous adventures. Highlights included a White House Press Conference with Bill Clinton, being blessed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, visiting with Michelangelo’s David, going deep-sea diving in the South Pacific and Caribbean, doing a Jane Austin tour of England, and exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. A group adopted him as a good luck charm and took him back to visit the base of Mt. Everest one year and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro another.
1998-99: Bone embarked on 40,000-mile journey in the van, Xanadu, through the US, Canada and Mexico with Peggy and Curt, visiting over 30 National Parks, driving the Alaska and Baja Highways, checking out Smokey the Bear’s and Calamity Jane’s graves, kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, leaf peeping in Vermont, jetting to the Bahamas, pursuing flying saucers in Roswell, New Mexico, and completing his visits to all 50 states.
2000-02: Bone journeys up the Amazon, returns to Europe, cruises to Belize, Cancun and the Cayman’s, and goes to New Zealand where a misguided customs agent tries to arrest and jail him as animal matter.
2003: Bone undertakes a 360-mile backpack trip in celebration of his discovery and Curt’s 60th birthday. They begin at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe and end by climbing Mt. Whitney. Various friends join them along the way.
2004: Bone visits Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, goes horseback riding with Australians and Bahamians in Montana, and makes his first pilgrimage to Burning Man in Nevada, a very Bone like type of place. He also jets off to Costa Rica.
2005-2007: Bone returns to Burning Man twice and revisits Europe twice including special stopovers in Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium. He also revisits Mexico.
2008 – 2011: Bone commences another exploration of North America. This time he travels in the van, Quivera, along with Curt, Peggy, and Eeyore the Jackass. His journey takes him over 75,000 miles of American Roads. Along the way, he barely escapes the hangman’s noose in Tombstone, Arizona. In May of 2010 he helps Curt initiate his blog, and rafts 280 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
2012-2017: Bone goes into semi-retirement in Southern Oregon. Please note the semi, however. He continues the exploration of the West Coast ranging from Big Sur to Vancouver Island, where he kayaks for a week in search of Killer Whales. He wanders through England and Scotland helping Curt find his roots and spends a week traveling by Canal Boat. Later, he returns to Europe again, traveling through the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Santorini and other Greek Islands, Dubrovnik, Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Barcelona. He returns to Burning Man several times. On one trip, he is married to the lovely Bonetta, who he met while exploring a swamp in Florida. Rumor has it that it was a shotgun wedding. This past year he traveled with Peggy and me on our 10,000 mile trip around North America retracing my bike route. He made a very special trip with fellow blogger Crystal Truelove to visit with Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
2018: Bone joins Curtis in celebrating Curt’s 75th Birthday by backpacking 750 miles in Oregon and California. Highlights include the Rogue River Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness and the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon. In California, Curt and Bone more or less follow the Pacific Crest Trail through the Klamath Mountains, Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains— taking detours whenever the mood strikes, including revisiting where Tom and Curt found him in 1977! Along the way, Bone meets and chats with numerous through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail who are hiking from Mexico to Canada. He also spends a lot of time dodging horrendous forest fires. Peggy joins Curt and Bone for three sections of the journey and provides welcome backup for the rest of the journey.
2019-2020: He joins Curt for a trip down California’s beautiful Highway 395 among the Eastern Sierras and visits the Alabama Hills where cowboy movies of yore were made with the likes of John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and a host of others— voices from the past that have echoed down through time. “Hi-yo Silver away.” Planned trips for 2020 including a journey through the Panama Canal and up the Rhine River have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus, but don’t count Bone out. He is madly planning another trip across the US where he will home-shelter in Quivera the RV.
This is number four in my armchair series on Venice where Peggy and I visited in 2013. Again, I have pulled it from my archived posts to revisit in the time of Covid 19. Enjoy.
I have always felt the best way to learn about a city is to walk its streets. Fortunately, I was traveling in Europe with companions who also loved to walk. For the most part, we skipped the tours. It isn’t that the tours are bad, you can learn a lot from them, but they are regimented and often expensive. There is no wandering off on your own, or taking longer to enjoy a particular site than the tour leader allows.
Venice is a great walking city— if you don’t mind getting lost. Streets have a tendency to take you somewhere you weren’t planning to go and come to abrupt ends. Street signs are rare. What the city does do, however, is post signs that will eventually lead to major monuments. And of course, you are on a relatively small island. How lost can you get? Besides, it isn’t like getting lost in the Alaskan wilderness. I was always very careful not to.
Common sense is important. Wandering down dark, lonely alleys can be risky at times, regardless of where you are. But in restricting your journey to major streets and walkways, you limit your opportunities to have adventures and develop a true sense of the communities you are visiting.
It is important to look around and notice the small as well as the large, the seemingly insignificant as well as what is featured in the guidebooks. Photography helps once you get beyond ‘we were there snap shots’ and allows your mind to feast on the wonderful variety that any area offers. It teaches you to see new things and to seek out what is unique. Following are various locations and objects that Peggy and I found of interest.
It’s that time of the year when chickens lay brightly colored eggs and bunny rabbits hide them for children to find. It’s an Easter tradition that is even more important this year when children (and their parents) can use a little old-fashioned fun. By rights, I should have a chicken, egg, and bunny story to tell. But I don’t. I do, however, have a cat and rooster story. It will have to do. Join me as I travel back in time to when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and Rasputin the Cat and the Cockle Doodle Rooster hatched a plot to wake me up early every morning. (I adapted this story from my book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.”)
Jo Ann, my first wife, and I raised Rasputin from a kitten. He had grown into one fine cat, or sweet meat as my students said. They’d tease me by coming by and pinching him to see how fat he had become. Then they would stand around discussing whether he was ready for the stew pot.
Rasputin’s primary entertainment was stalking dogs. You knew when he was at work because the neighborhood dogs carefully avoided the tall clumps of grass where he liked to hide. He was particularly obnoxious when it was windy. He would hide up-wind and make it more difficult for the dogs to sniff him out. I felt for the poor dog that came too close.
A streak of yellow and a yip of surprise proclaimed his attack. What made his behavior particularly strange was that he came at the dogs on his two hind legs, walking upright. This allowed both front legs to be used as slashing weapons. It was the wise dog that steered clear.
His other form of entertainment was more cat like. He liked the girls. Each night he would ask to go out around 10 and we wouldn’t seen him until the next morning. I was fine with this. Who was I to get in the way of true love? I was less tolerant of his returning around 5:30 and insisting that I let him in. He did this by practicing his operatic meows under our bedroom window.
Since no amount of suggesting that he should change his behavior discouraged him, I jumped out of bed one morning and chased him across the yard. This got Jo Ann excited. Our cat was going “to run away and never come back.” She may have also been concerned about the neighbor’s reaction to my charging out of the house naked. That type of thing bothered her. I promised to repent and assured her that the cat would be back in time for dinner. He was.
There were occasions when Rasputin’s tomcatting kept him out beyond his normal 5:30 appearance. I’m convinced that he made a deal with the rooster next door to wake us in his absence. I didn’t make this correlation until the rooster crowed directly under our window one morning at 5:30. Even then I thought it was just a coincidence until the rooster repeated himself the next day.
It wasn’t just the crowing that irritated me; it was the nature of the crow. American and European roosters go cock-a-doodle-do. Even urban children know this because that’s how it is spelled out in books. Liberian roosters go cock-a-doodle— and stop. You are constantly waiting for the other ‘do’ to drop.
“This crowing under our window,” I thought to myself, “has to be nipped in the bud.”
That evening I filled a bucket with water and put it next to my bed. Sure enough, at 5:30 the next morning there he was: “COCK-A-DOODLE!” I jumped up, grabbed my bucket, and threw the water out the window on the unsuspecting fowl. “Squawk!” I heard as one very wet and irritated rooster headed home as fast as his little rooster legs could carry him.
“Chicken,” I yelled out after his departing body. “And that,” I said to Jo Ann, “should be the end of this particular problem.”
I was inspired though. Cats don’t think much of getting wet either. What if I kept a bucket of water next to the bed and dumped it on Rasputin the next time he woke us up at 5:30. Jo couldn’t even blame me for running outside naked. With warm thoughts of having solved two problems with one bucket, I went to bed that night loaded for cat, so to speak.
“COCK-A-DOODLE” roared the rooster outside our window promptly at 5:30.
“Damn,” I thought, “that boy is one slow learner.”
I fell out of bed, grabbed the bucket and dashed for the window. There was no rooster there. I looked up and spotted him about 20 feet away running full tilt. He had slipped up on us, crowed and taken off! My opinion of the rooster took a paradigm leap. Here was one worthy opponent. The question was how to respond.
It took me a couple of days of devious thinking to arrive at a solution. What would happen if I recorded the rooster on a tape recorder and then played it back? I had a small tape recorder that I used for exchanging letters with my dad so I set myself the task of capturing the rooster’s fowl language. Since he had an extensive harem he liked to crow about, it wasn’t long before I had a dozen or so cock-a-doodles on tape. I rewound the recorder, cranked up the volume and set it up next to our front screen door.
The results were hilarious. Within seconds the rooster was on our porch, jumping up and down and screaming ‘cock-a-doodle.’ There was a rooster inside of our house that had invaded his territory and he was going to tear him apart, feather-by-feather. Laughing I picked up the recorder, rewound it, carried to the back screen door, and hit the play button.
“Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle,” I could hear the rooster as he roared around to the back of house to get at his implacable foe. Back and forth I went, front to back, back to front. And around and around the house the rooster went, flinging out his challenges.
Finally, having laughed myself to exhaustion, I took pity on my feathered friend and shut the recorder off. This just about concludes the rooster story, but not quite.
One Friday evening, Jo and I had been celebrating the end of another week of teaching with gin and tonics until the wee hours when we decided to see how the rooster would respond to his nemesis at one o’clock in the morning. Considering our 5:30 am wakeup calls, we felt there was a certain amount of justice in the experiment. I set it up the recorder and played a “Cock-a-doodle.”
“COCK-A-DOODLE?!” was the immediate response. No challenge was to go unanswered. “Cock-a-doodle” we heard as roosters from the Superintendent’s compound checked in. “Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle” we heard in the distance as town roosters rose to the challenge. Soon every rooster in Gbarnga was awake, and probably every resident.
We decided to keep our early morning rooster-arousing episode to ourselves.
Hope you enjoyed the tale. There are several more about Rasputin in the book. A very Happy Easter to each of you from Peggy and me. Be safe and stay healthy!