Crazy Urban Coot

Eventually this moment had to come, this decision had to be made, this new direction in life had to be taken. For 37 years we have loved living on our farm, caring for this land, grooming a small island of life in a toxic sea of industrial agriculture, healing its wounds, regenerating its landscape, shaping it to become a refuge for wild things. But the span of a human lifetime is brief, and we are nearing the end of our time on this place.

We are selling our farm in the North Country, fortunately to people who have the same values and land ethic that we do, and we will be moving to a city in the course of the next year. Our chapter in the story of this 150-year-old parcel of farmland is coming to a close. Compared to the 12 or 13 millennia that prehistoric peoples have lived in this stunningly beautiful limestone bluff and river valley land, the small Driftless Plains area of the North Country that was bypassed by the four great glaciations (Nebraskan, Kansan, Illinoisian, and Wisconsin), our time here has been only a blink of an eye. But in human terms, it has been an investment of half our lives. We will miss this place so much.

Like the athlete (or writer) who sees his skills diminishing, I know it is better to leave the game one year too early than one year too late. It is a blessing and a grace to know when one is past his peak and has taken his first steps on that inevitable downward path. My ability to take care of this land is slipping away, and this place deserves better than that. On the upside (although it is a chore that does not truly contribute to our conservation and preservation efforts), I will not miss snow-blowing a quarter-mile of steep driveway when winter storms come howling, nor will I wax nostalgic about cutting up “widow-maker” trees that have been toppled by high winds onto pasture fences.

We are looking forward to new adventures that we will discover in a town environment. Hopefully, the transition will not be too awkward an experience. The house we are having built is bordered by open land to the north and west that will calm us with countryside vistas each morning, and the mid-sized city to which we are moving has lots of green spaces, parks, and hiking and biking trails.

Yes, I will be forced to evolve from the rural Crazy Old Coot persona I have cultivated over the previous 30-plus years, but maybe I can reform my character to become a Crazy Urban Coot. A stocking cap, mirror-lensed sunglasses, and a walking stick would be a good start. So would bib overalls.

This move will also be a dividing line that separates my outdoor adventures in the wild from my more tame activities in domesticated surroundings. Although, since I know so little about urban environments, some of my new activities could be more wild than I predict. At the very least, I will have to adjust to the concept of a No Smoking area when I light a cigar.

My blog essays, stories, and poems will almost certainly reflect this change. I doubt that neighbors will approve of my sighting-in a newly scoped .22 rifle in the alleyway south of our new house, or taking some practice shots with my crossbow, so hiking and biking and observing the curious wildlife species at the local tavern may replace my former pastimes. I have already begun writing the manuscript for my next novel. The plot and characters could wander off in unexpected directions before long.

An aside. This anticipated change in my literary subjects and style is the reason I suggest that readers of my outdoor sports essays and stories should buy my two most recent books:
Coot Dogs – An Anthology of Dog Stories by a Crazy Old Coot
Coot Shoots – A Crazy Old Coot’s Anthology of Hunting and Shooting Essays and Stories

These books might be called “The Best of Coot” collections. Arguably, readers who buy those two anthologies could forego acquiring the previous seven: Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, Coot Stews, A Limit of Coot, North Country Tales, A View from the North Country, and A Slow Walk through the North Country. You would, however, miss the enjoyment of reading my three novels: Hunting Birds, Ivory and Gold, and The Executioner’s Face.

All my currently published books are available at Amazon’s Jerry Johnson Author Page. My request is that you purchase all 12 of the books I have written because my transition to the urban coot life could be more expensive than anticipated. For example, I may have to buy an electrically powered lawn mower and also border my yard with an “invisible fence” to limit Abbey’s wanderings.

As the fall and winter months progress, my intent is to keep readers informed about our move. At present, the story is monotonously mundane. Do we want slider windows or double-hung windows installed in the new house? That sort of thing.

This October, I will have one more season to perch in a tree stand awaiting opportunity to harvest a whitetail doe for the coming year’s supply of venison. That will be a good final inning, a chance to look out over the river valleys that border our farm and lock those images in the vault of my memory. Hopefully, I will avoid most of the calamities of previous years’ bow hunts and end the game with a walk-off RBI.

That reminds me: I should be able to buy season tickets for the Northwoods League baseball team that plays in our new hometown. Maybe there will be a Smoking Section for those Old Coots who remember the days when the scent of cigars and Grain Belt beer wafted through the grandstand on a summer evening.

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Crystals and gargoyles

Our memories are dreams, crystals mounted in sets of elegantly crafted
gold and silver that we take from velvet-lined folds in our minds,
always warm and shining in our hands, bright treasures that we touch
to our lips, our nose, our eyes, our ears, our heart to swell our senses,
prizes that we fondle while we delicately recraft the swirls of the
precious metals that hold them in place. We clean and polish them,
carefully replace them in their niches, each a little brighter and more
beautiful than before, unfading, patiently awaiting the next showing.

Or else our memories are rough-cut stone sculptures of gargoyles,
glued to misshapen driftwood jutting shards of shattered glass,
garbage dumped into a splintered plywood box. We pull them out
and hold them at arm’s length: fevered, putrid, dripping blood and pus
and vomit. We strike them with a peened hammer or a hatchet,
trying to chip away their monstrous mien, only to create monsters
more horrid. Their stench clings to us as they clatter back into the
dark box, vile, ugly, unaltered, patiently awaiting the next showing.

We pity and revile the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless,
the mentally ill. Maybe they are better dreamers. More vivid dreams.
Dreams that do not end with waking. Dreams of crystal smashed
by dreams of rough-cut stone. Treasures devoured by monsters.
Patiently waiting, always there, in the darkest folds of our minds.

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Taking heart: A return from my hiatus

Eight and one-half years. After eight and one-half years I felt it was the right time to take hiatus from writing essays, short stories, and poems to post on my Dispatches from a Northern Town blog site.

The writing break stretched on and on. One month, two, three, four… My thoughts were cloudy. Maybe this was not a temporary pause. Maybe this was the end of something.

The energy level in my mental battery was dropping. The well of creativity and imagination was running dry. Physical strength and stamina were fading away. I was depressed by the madness that has seized nations and cultures, hastening civilization to the brink of disaster. Over the course of the next year, we plan to move off the farm and build a new home in the city. Late life’s changes. Always hard.

One July day, in what might have been my inadvertent attempt to write finis to this tangle of distresses, I had a heart attack.

(Henceforth, this essay is written in the “stream of consciousness” style, a story telling technique that worked well for James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Jack Kerouac, but may not for a writer trained as a journalist: me.)

Odd thoughts when at life’s potential ending. Please let no one call me a ‘journalist’ at my memorial service. I was a newspaperman – a reporter and columnist. Not one of those despicable fast-and-free-with-the facts pseudo ‘journalists’ who came blathering onto the stage when broadcast news and the internet drove out the real news reporters.

Myocardial infarction, coronary thrombosis, cardiac arrest, coronary artery blockage. Medical terms for the heart attacks that end the lives of most of my male relatives. Collapsing on a sunny and pleasant summer day while chain-sawing trees and tree limbs blown down by a violent wind storm that had swept through our North Country town the night before. Helping friends. A good final chapter. Except for the painful part, it was a nice morning to die. Regrets: there were several things left undone, that I was responsible for, that I should have completed before my exit.

A too-late realization. My mental and physical powers were not diminishing because I was growing old. They were declining because my heart could not supply my brain and body with sufficient blood circulation. Sing out: “There’s a joke here somewhere, and it’s on me.” *

Good fortune. I fell four city blocks from the local medical clinic’s emergency room ambulance service and about two hours from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The local ambulance service has excellent emergency medical technicians. Mayo has dozens of highly skilled cardiac specialists. My chances of survival were quite high, not that I was eager to place a bet on the odds, however favorable.

Comfortingly, I discovered during my ambulance transfers to the local ER and then to Mayo that I had no fear of death. I did have a fleeting fear of dying because departing this mortal coil via heart attack is quite painful. And messy for those you leave behind.

Once admitted to Mayo-Saint Marys hospital, the film (drama or comedy?) proceeded at a head-spinning pace: EKG, blood tests, check of vital functions, diagnosis, medications, recommended procedures, explanations of projected outcomes, suggestions for follow-up examinations and treatments. Too fast for me to comprehend, but the character I was called upon to play was not a major role. There was little for me to do.

I have a morbid dread of dying in a hospital bed with a dozen tubes and wires attached to my body. More than once I thought: “Maybe it would have been better to have died beneath the open sky with work clothes and boots on.” But doctors and nurses assured me that I was not going to die. I soon acquiesced to the full array of tubes, wires, ports, needles and electrodes – and had much of my body hair shaved. A compliant patient trundled into the smooth functioning machinery of modern medicine. This must be how astronauts feel when they turn over all the necessary functions and decisions to mission control: a best choice, but one that creates a sense of emotional and mental weightlessness. “Major Tom to Ground Control – Far above the world/ Planet Earth is blue/ And there’s nothing I can do.” **

One day after my collapse a stent was surgically inserted in the circumflex artery of my heart. This was done with an angioplasty procedure. A catheter inserted into my wrist snaked its way through arteries in my arm and chest into my heart. Once there, dyes and fluoroscopes and ultrasound sensors perform some rituals of medical magic to discover arterial blockages, widen them by inflating a tiny balloon attached to the catheter, and insert a wire mesh coil – the stent – that prevents the blockage from reclosing.

“You’ll be sedated and you’ll have a local anesthetic that numbs your wrist, but you can watch the procedure on the screen over the operating table,” the pre-op nurse told me. No. No, thank you. I want to be sedated to the maximum permissible level. I have no desire to watch a personalized NOVA television program about angioplasties. Especially if something goes wrong. I willfully drifted away, and all I remember about the procedure is that the nurse administering and monitoring the sedation had beautiful deep blue eyes.

Two days after the stent was implanted came a reawakening. I had been cloistered in a small, airless room within my body, and now the windows had been opened to a fresh northwest breeze. I walked out the door. No more breathlessness, cramping in my chest, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, onset of weariness, muddled mind, or aching arms and shoulders. The summer grass of the hilltop hayfield was incredibly green. An eagle soaring along the river valley was sharply in focus.

Eos has not shone her light of grace upon me, nor was I rejuvenated in springtime as was Persephone, but a new season of life is beginning. Looking back, I had become resigned to my inexorable fate, reconciled to my fast-approaching doom, insentiently accepting the infirmities that were chipping away my body and mind. Today, looking out across a new landscape, I realized I had things to do, places to go, people to see.

I am quite ready for a new adventure.

*From the song ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ written and performed by Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949)
**From the song ‘Space Oddity,’ written and performed by David Bowie (1947-2016)

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Latest book

My latest book, Coot Shoots – A Crazy Old Coot’s Anthology of Hunting and Shooting Stories and Essays, was published June 1.

Coot Shoots – latest of the six books in the “Old Coot” series.

Available in paperback and kindle editions at:
http://www.amazon.com/Coot-Shoots-Anthology-Hunting-Shooting/dp/B0B31X62DZ/

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Hotwires, insulators, and sheep

Connect the yellow dots: extension insulators on steel fenceposts that will support a hotwire 20 inches above ground level. Will this fencing prevent sheep from escaping the Ewe Pasture? I will find out. As you can see, Abbey is unimpressed.

Strange weather the past few days. The skies wouldn’t quite rain, and won’t quite stop raining. There are weeks when you concede that working in the mud is the only option.

The task was erecting a hotwire to front the four-strand barbed wire fencing that encloses the four-acre hillside tract we call the Ewe Pasture. Can a hotwire 20 inches above ground level keep escape-artist sheep confined? This summer, I will find out.

Degree of difficulty:
1) installing the plastic insulators and hotwire on the posts – easy, Olympic fencing rating 1.5;
2) mowing the weeds and brome along the fence line’s north side – moderate, Olympic fencing rating 2.0;
3) clearing brush along the fence line’s wooded east and south sides – difficult, Olympic fencing rating 4.8.
4) keeping my birddog Abbey out of the tangles of beggars tick and gooseberry – impossible, Olympic fencing rating 95.7.

Preparing for springtime fencing jobs becomes easier each year. I toss all the fencing supplies and tools into the box of the pickup and venture forth. Yesterday, I only had to return to the shed twice to get something I forgot. That’s a new record.

Fencing tools: fence post driver, shovel, various screw drivers and pliers, wire cutter, brush lopper, bow saw, machete, 20-inch wooden measuring stick, leather gloves and a three-pound hammer. Almost inevitably, there will be an unforeseen use for the hammer. I decided not to take the chainsaw on this drizzly day. Consequently, a thick-trunked buckthorn tree is still standing, but on the other hand so am I.

Fencing supplies: three steel posts (turns out, I needed four), a couple dozen T-post fence clips, three quarter-mile spools of 17-gauge electric fence wire, 150 plastic insulators for steel posts and 25 insulators for wooden posts, two gate connectors, and about 10yards of tangled and rusty old barbed wire. Plus a spare hammer.

The supplies were manufactured in Magill, Oklahoma, Lititz, Pennsylvania, and Chicago, Illinois. Some hunting is necessary to find and purchase stuff not made in China or elsewhere outside the United States, but it can be done.

At the end of the two-day job, I had become proficient at attaching five-inch extension insulators to steel posts and nailing easy-to-break plastic insulators to wooden posts and trees. That’s how it always is with me; I learn the best techniques about an hour before the job is finished. But at some chores I have modest skills; driving steel posts, clipping wire onto them, and mending barbed wire – hey, I got those jobs down pat.

About 3:30 it began to seriously rain. Didn’t quite complete the project. Came home muddy, scratched, and tired with brambles in my beard. Shaved off the beard, then had to clean up Abbey.

Two more days of rain are forecast. The sheep will have to wait a while before they move into their new home. And start escaping.

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April Fools snowfall

April Fools!

The weather gods waited until late on the night of April 1 to play an April Fools prank. We awoke to discover a two to three-inch snowfall across the North Country.

Was this because I removed the snowblower head from the DR power unit and replaced it with the bushhog head? Probably. The weather gods love to punish my hubris by administering a good whack to my head with the nemesis cudgel.

But the last laugh will be mine. Yesterday, using the bushhog for the first time this spring, I got a good start on fencing work. I mowed a “warning track” around the inside of the fence that surrounds the four-acre tract that we call the South Hillside Pasture, recently renamed the Ewe Pasture in honor of its most recent denizens.

I probably caused this April snowstorm by removing the snowblower head from the DR power unit.

The ewes became skilled escape artists last summer, so I mowed the strip along the fence in preparation for erecting a hotwire that will be mounted on insulators on the steel posts that hold the five strands of barbed bordering the perimeter of the pasture. Hopefully, this will be a better solution than the portable electric fencing we previously used with little success. Every few days, the deer knocked down a stretch of the portable fence, inviting the ewes to wander off in search of greener grasses in the hayfield.

Not that I am overly optimistic, but my expectation is that a hotwire running about 20 inches above the ground will touch the nose of any curious sheep, jolt it with a shock, and convince it to stay within the field of play. More likely, I will jolt myself a half dozen times this summer while trying to herd seep back into the Ewe Pasture.

You are no doubt asking, “Why the hammer?” Almost every farm chore I do requires the hammer, sooner or later.

The deer will not squirm through between the strands of barbed wire and break the hotwire, right? They will leap over the fence. Right? Well, hope springs eternal in the human breast.

I will update readers on this sheep-fencing solution sometime in June.

But on this April 2 Saturday, I am taking a snow day off from manual labor. I should be cleaning out the Hilltop Garden in preparation for tilling, but snowfall is forecast until noon, and that is reason enough to be lazy and profligate. Reading a book and perchance smoking a cigar. That is ambition enough on this April Fools prank of a day.

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Final day of March

Last storm of winter? An inch of snow and cold winds fell upon us the night of March 30-31.

The cold winds on this final day of March are trying their best to prolong winter, bringing with them a storm that has blanketed the North Country with an inch of snow. This northwest wind has also scoured all traces of humidity from the air, making it as light and lifeless as that uppermost level of the sky ruled by the Greek god Aether.

The cold gusts come down from on high, driving all they touch down to ground level, including me, a bent weed trying to hide from the razor-sharp scythe.

Spring is late. The deciduous trees have not yet dared to bud out with the promise of leaves, so on this bone-chilling walk across our farm with my birddog Abbey I can look down the face of the west bluff into the Trout River Valley. Almost all the ice is gone from this stretch of the Trout where it flows into the Upper Iowa River, fringing the edges of the pools of stagnant backwaters. There has been very little snowfall this winter, and consequently little snow-melt runoff to swell the Trout out of its banks and clean out these muddy puddles.

Just north of our farm is the confluence of the Trout River with the Upper Iowa River. During spring floods, an array of “natural” and “unnatural” flotsam and jetsam is carried downstream by both rivers.

Sitting in the lee of a blown down elm tree I am shielded from the worst of the wind and can watch the river roll along, chocolate brown from the silt and loam eroded from row crop fields along its course. During my half-hour watch there are several soggy clumps of flotsam and jetsam carried along in the river’s slow current. I tend to categorize this debris as “natural” and “unnatural.”

Natural wreckage comprises the trunks and limbs of dead trees, on occasion a drowned and bedraggled calf or winter-killed deer, clots of mud entangled in the tendrils of brambles that still cling to slim hope of life if they can wash ashore and re-root. One time I spied the tattered remains of a bald eagle – or more likely a turkey vulture. Another sighting, I am convinced, was the body of the last runty mastodon in the North Country; it may have been a bloated Brown Swiss dairy cow, but the long matted hair convinced me otherwise. The Mammut species were forest dwellers about 10,000 years ago, and it was always my hope to take one with a bow.

The unnatural river-born junk is mostly farm equipment and supplies, battered wagon boxes, sprayer tanks, rotten tractor and truck tires, discarded hoses and wiring, lots of seed bags, tangles of barbed wire fencing and waterlogged wooden posts – that sort of thing. Rarely, I may catch a glimpse of a partly submerged car fender, a bent-up tree stand or ground blind, tarps, gas cans, doors with broken windows, once an antique school desk – artifacts of an industrial-consumer civilization that some curious anthropologist may unearth in five or six thousand years and wonder, “What the hell is this thing?”

The river carries these ruins and rubble with the stolid patience of a garbage truck in a narrow alley between dumpsters. But instead of the city’s rats, we have raccoons and possums rooting for treasures and gifts.

Its current, sometimes sluggish, sometimes raging, makes me aware that life goes on and on despite hardships and glories, heartbreaks and disappointments, joys and achievements. The river suffers its tribulations and calamities, its delights and its triumphs. And we suffer ours.

In a week or so, spring will arrive and we will put this winter behind us.

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Home again, home again jiggity-jig

Our Southwest travel adventure has ended. We are back in the North Country in late March, the month we can expect alternating thaws and freezes, rain and snow, mud and ice.

The first night home, two inches of wet, slippery snow fell, winds increased, and the temperature dropped to 24 degrees. But all the snow melted over the next two days, and soon it will be spring.

We arrived just in time for the last snowstorm of the winter, We hope.

Why did we not delay our return until April? Perhaps next year, we will.

We arrived home late in the afternoon, backed the Scamp camping trailer onto its gravel pad, unhooked and disconnected all the links to the pickup, and went into the house to bring it back online: electricity, water, propane: everything was in good working order.

The only misery was the mice that had free run of our old, limestone foundation, log-construction farm house for the seven weeks we were away. If anyone has suggestions for this plague, please offer them. (No cats or rodent poison; those “solutions” are worse than the mice.)

The much-traveled Ranger pickup washed, waxed, and ready for the mud season.

Now, let the vehicle repairs of the trek to New Mexico begin. Camping trailers, we have learned, are not maintenance-free. Neither are pickup trucks. Three or four sand storms, three snow storms, and the bumps and thumps of 3,000-plus miles of travel to have taken their toll. Nothing major (except a microwave oven that came detached from its bracing), but much clean-up and minor tinkering.

Will we venture forth on this winter sojourn to the Southwest again? Yes, yes we will.

We saw a lot, learned a lot, experienced a lot, and had a good time. We’re even planning some summer camping trips.

And we timed our return north to Nebraska’s Platte River Valley so that we could see the sandhill crane migration. I will not even try to describe that amazing experience. You should most definitely travel there in early March to witness it yourself. Five million cranes spend a few days resting and recuperating along the Platte Valley on their migration route north from Mexico and the southwest states to Canada, Alaska, and even Siberia. The two days we were there, an estimated one million cranes were in the rowcrop fields along the valley.

An Old Coot recommendation: donate to the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center near Wood River, Nebraska, https://cranetrust.org/

We’re home, and oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!

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Gardens? What gardens? We’re in Kansas!

One of the greatest exchanges of dialogue in a scene from the motion picture “Casablanca”:

Captain Renault: What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert!
Rick: I was misinformed.

If you spend much time around a huge cattle feedlot, you may lose your enjoyment of beef. (Photo by Patti Johnson)

Our overnight stay in The Garden City RV Campground at the Bosselman Travel Center echoed that scene between the “Casablanca” film’s protagonist Rick Blaine (actor Humphrey Bogart), owner of Rick’s Café, and his adversary Captain Louis Renault (actor Claude Rains), head of the military police force in the colony of French Morocco during Nazi control of Vichy France in World War II.

Convenience store clerk: What brought you to Garden City?
Jerry: We came to Garden City to see the gardens.
Clerk: The gardens? What gardens? We’re in Kansas!
Jerry: We were misinformed.

Badly misinformed.

Garden City is the site of huge feedlots, railroad yards, industrial agriculture businesses, and truck stops. There are no apparent gardens.

The Garden City RV Campground at the Bosselman Travel Center was spacious and clean, with convenient electric, water and sewer connections at each of its concrete pad RV sites. It has about 175 semi-trailer truck parking spaces, 35 sites for RV’s, showers, a laundromat, a game room, lounge, movie theater, pizza restaurant, cinnamon roll shop, free wi-fi. and several other features.

We did not have the opportunity to enjoy most of these amenities because during our entire stay the wind was blowing at 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 50. The wind was beyond the control of the travel center, of course, but our stay was also discomfited by the RV campground’s location.

The owners of the Bosselman Travel Center state they have created the place for drivers who need a convenient, secure and well-equipped truck stop. They have accomplished that objective, but I am not sure I would recommend it as a relaxing place to stay for vacation travelers in a small camping trailer.

The travel center was not the sort of place you could kick back and enjoy the evening.

To the south, the campground was bordered by a four-lane highway overpass. Just across the four-lane was a huge, HUGE, cattle feedlot. The wind was from the south. We decided to forego the pizza dinner and the cinnamon roll breakfast.

All the photo images posted in this blog are strikingly horizontal. It cannot be helped. Everything in western Kansas is horizontal.

To the west ran a railroad spur that appeared to be a sidetrack. The line of oil tanker cars on the track added to both the campground’s visual and olfactory appeal. At least there were no passing trains during our night there –not that we would have heard the noise above the howl of the wind.

To the east was the main truck stop with all its facilities, plus a tire shop. The travel center is a business place after all, and trucking is the business. The RV campground is a sideline, and that is understandable. The coming and going of trucks during our stay was not really noticeable (see previous comment about the railroad and the wind).

To the north we could look out across 2,000 acres of flat and stump-covered cornfield in all its industrial-farming, dust-swirling glory. It was obvious why Dorothy Gale was eager to escape western Kansas and go to Oz.

At the end of a long day’s drive, the travel center seemed to the best choice for a one-night stay, especially since the website photos looked so appealing. And it was an honest ambassador of all that Garden City has going for it.

But we agreed we will find another campground on our next trip through Kansas. Prairie Dog State Park, for example, looked wonderful on our drive-through: a reservoir, the adjacent Norton Wildlife Area, rolling terrain, grasslands, and the nearby town of Norton with its somewhat rundown but still-struggling-along historic downtown district. And no huge cattle feedlot.

Probably several gardens, too.

One cold cowboy. (Photo by Patti Johnson)

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Better keep your hat on a few weeks

Three months without a haircut was too long. Although I am balding (okay, almost bald), my head was beginning to resemble a ridged dome on a high plains prairie covered by little bluestem native grass: tufts and clumps jutting up raggedly in various stages of growth.

The advantage of this look is that it clearly identifies me as a Crazy Old Coot and warns strangers at public campgrounds not to approach me and annoy me with banal conversation. The disadvantage is that I have to show two forms of identification to convenience store clerks who assume I am a homeless derelict that has stolen a couple credit cards.

For at least a month before we began our Southwest Desert Trek on February 1, I had neglected to cut my hair, a fast and simple task since that long-ago day I discovered that running a Wahl pet clipper across my scalp saved me $15 or $20 for each trip to the barbershop. With a half-inch spacer attached to the dog clipper the result is a hairstyle like moss growing on a shiny-topped chunk of misshapen granite. Complemented by a shaggy white beard, I like to think of this as my signature look.

Hemingway had his, I have mine. But at a certain point, one’s signature becomes illegible.

So it was that my Beautiful Blonde Wife tactfully suggested that she should give me a haircut after six weeks on the road. Not that she was embarrassed to be seen with me, she insisted, but neither did she want people to think that she had been abducted by an escapee from a mental institution.

She asked if I had packed the dog clipper. Unfortunately, I had not. But in my shaving kit was an old Norelco electric razor with a beard trimmer. Maybe that would serve. She was willing to give it a try.

As I felt the trimmer sawing across my scalp I suggested that she work from the top of my head down, rather than from my neck up, so that the cut would be tapered in a style that was suitably suave and chic. “Oh!” she said. “I’m just cutting it all off the way you usually do.”

But without the dog clipper’s spacer attachment.

The haircut took longer than expected, but the result was good. Or at least not too bad. Glancing into a mirror I realized I resembled the German aircraft mechanic that had a fistfight with Indiana Jones in “The Lost Ark.” A good look for me.

She offered to trim my beard, too, but I opted to do that myself. The clean-shaven gleam of my exposed head was not an issue, but it is best if I hide as much of my face as possible beneath a beard. After a hot shower at the campground I returned to our Scamp camping trailer feeling quite dapper and debonaire. Smug and self-satisfied, I drank a beer and smoked a cigar

My BBW did not want me to put on airs, I guess. She looked me over and suggested, “Maybe you better keep your hat on for a few weeks.”

Just to avoid sunburn, you understand.

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