For Auld Lang Syne

An end-of-year tradition at Dispatches from a Northern Town: Scots poet Robert Burns’ For Old Lang Syne.

Written in 1788 by Burns (1759-1796) in Scots language, the poem was set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk song in 1799. The song has been a NewYear’s Eve standard, bidding us to remembering not only the past year but the many joys and melancholies of all our lives

For Auld Lang Syne
(Burns’ original poem)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For Auld Lang Syne
(The English language version most often sung)

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the hills,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


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Shotgun stock repair

AFTER MOPING AROUND for a day because I had clumsily fallen while bird hunting and damaged the buttstock of my favorite shotgun, I decided not to commit suicide but instead have the gun repaired. This Browning BSS 20 gauge Sporter has accompanied me on hundreds of hunts in its 40 years of service and I decided the gun deserved to be repaired and again taken afield in the few years of bird hunting that remain to me.

I was heartsick when I fell and broke chips out of the buttstock of my favorite birdgun, my BSS 20 gauge Sporter.

Knowing that stock work on old double guns (this BSS was manufactured in 1981) would be expensive, I was prepared to bite the bullet – or technically, the shotshell – and pay what it cost to restore the side-by-side back to working condition. Little did I know that the price of restoration would exceed the price of a new shotgun.

In my state of innocence about repairing double guns, I contacted the gunsmithing firm that had completely reconditioned this gun about 20 years ago. I sent photos of the damaged buttstock and requested an estimate. The company had done excellent work, literally restoring the BSS to new condition. I had great confidence in their work and was expecting they would work similar magic with the damaged BSS, probably for $500. Silly me.

The company quickly responded to my email with a terse message: “We no longer service double barrel shotguns.”

What? The gunsmiths who bill themselves as “Browning Specialists” no longer service double guns? Browning’s specialty is the manufacture of double guns. But there it was: strike one. I would have to search elsewhere for a gunsmith that would and could repair this stock.

I searched the web and sent out several requests. Many went unanswered, and others had a reply similar to the first response: “We do not repair the stocks of side-by-side double guns.”

The chip broken from the oppsite side was worse, and I could not find the missing chip.

On the advice of one of the Over The Hill Gang, I contacted a company that produces virtually any type of stock for any firearm. The shop was quick to respond. They would not repair the BSS buttstock, they said, but they would make a replacement stock. For $1,295. Plus additional charges for checkering it to match the forearm pattern.

Add more cost to refinish the stock, and the forearm if I so desired. standard Plus shipping costs. The wait list for this work would be about four-five months, I was told.


The last I checked, this same BSS 20 gauge Sporter, which was manufactured in Japan from 1971-87, could be purchased for $2,500 in mint condition. The BSS in my gun safe is by no stretch of the imagination in mint condition. The stock has been shortened to fit me, and it is much used. Very much used. I’m guessing this gun would sell for $1,800 tops.

Which would be close to the price this stocking firm is charging for a new buttstock. This was not, as they say, financially advantageous for me. But it did fire my indignation and my resolve to fix the BSS myself. I had previously done this sort of repair on a double gun (albeit a comparatively simple and blocky Savage-Stevens-Fox BSE in 12 gauge), and I was willing to again test my tyro gunsmith woodworking skills. Especially in the face of a $1,500-plus repair cost.

Even if my repair efforts were unsuccessful, I would be no worse off than before. If I had to retire the BSS and hunt with it no more, cloister it in a dark corner of my gun safe, and let it molder until my estate sale, so be it.

Of course I am being too harsh with the stocking firms that will no longer work on side-by-side double guns. When a buttstock on this type of gun splits, cracks, or chips, it is likely to re-split, re-crack, or re-chip again after it has been repaired, even though using the best shaping, pegging, gluing, and refitting skills of a gunsmith who is an accomplished woodworker.

“Do Not Repair – Replace!” has become the slogan of most American workover shops. Considering that stock restoration requires several hours of a craftsman’s time – at more than $75 per hour – and the result is sometimes uncertain, the wise decision is to replace the stock.

But $1,500-plus for replacement? On a gun that I purchased brand new for $600? No, I will try to repair it myself.

When I took a face-plant pratfall while afield and landed atop the BSS, the result was two chips of wood broken from the buttstock where it meets the face of the receiver near the trigger plate. The chips were not huge, and the stock was fortunately not split, but the damage was far greater than the typical field dents and scratches that a birdgun acquires over the years. The stock would clearly have to be repaired.

Fortunately, I found one of the walnut chips. Unfortunately, I could not find the other. Needless to say, I was distraught and cursed myself as a clumsy lout.

This slice of walnut used to repair one of the gaps in the buttstock was about two inches in length. Required a few hours of work to cut and file and sand it to fit.

The BSS lay on my workbench for a few days, and when I had worked up courage to attempt it, my repair plan was begun. I removed the barrels and forearm, took off the butt plate, and inserted a long-bladed screwdriver to unscrew the draw bolt that fastens the buttstock to the receiver. No go. The draw bolt was frozen tight.

Clamping the stock and receiver in the vice and applying maximum torque to remove the bolt seemed to me a bad idea. The likely outcome was additional damage to the thin walnut where it met the receiver’s face and where the top and bottom tangs are recessed into the stock. I decided to repair the damage without removing the buttstock.

Mixing a couple generous globs of epoxy glue, I coated the chip that I had found, pressed it into the corresponding gap in the buttstock and clamped it for the 10 minutes the epoxy instructions said it would take to glue to bond. That was the easy part.

Setting the stock on the workbench, I measured the dimensions of the gap for which I had no corresponding chip. Then I went out to find a suitable piece of walnut to shape for the replacement piece. Since I have about three cords of walnut stacked in the wood shed, some of it four years old, it was just a matter of matching the wood color as closely as possible.

From a 12-inch piece of firewood I split off a two-inch sliver using a chisel. The gap in the buttstock was, of course, a with-the-grain split and as such an irregular shape. I used a small file and an exacto knife set to make the gap more regular with flat faces and a square end rather then a tapering splinter. I eyed the small split of walnut that would be used for repair, made my best guess, and went to work with the exacto knife blades, file, sandpaper of several grades, and an emory board nail file.

This shape a bit, try it to fit, shape a bit, try it to fit, shape a bit, try it to fit took three hours. And immeasurable patience. Which I do not ordinarily possess.

Not professional-looking, but professional gunstock repair is impossible to find.

Eventually I had a replacement chip that fit the gap pretty darn close. The front right corner was a 64th of an inch too low, but I was not about to start all over. I repeated the procedure with the epoxy glue, clamped the chip, prayed, and set aside the buttstock for the night.

Next morning I removed the clamp and began work with 150-grade sandpaper to smooth the chip so that it would be contiguous with the line of the buttstock’s “wrist” or grip. That part of the project seemed to go well, except that I scratched the metal of the receiver when the sandpaper wore its way through the protective layer of masking tape. Damn! Well, if that’s the worst thing to go wrong it’s a minor matter.

The “found” chip side of the trigger plate also required some sanding because it had rough edges. When the shaping was completed, I applied a thin coat of epoxy over the top of the chips on both side of the trigger plate. That was probably a mistake; the glue hardened to an uneven surface that I had to sand off.

I opted to treat both chips and the sanding-scarred surfaces of the wrist with linseed oil. I have no idea how that will work, but it has served well for many minor stock repairs, resulting in a nice glow after many applications.

After allowing two hours for everything to harden and dry, I reattached the barrels and forearm to the BSS and with much dread and anxiety opened it, closed it, and dry-fired it with snap caps a few times, each time cocking the gun to see if the press of the cocking levers against the action and wood might dislodge my repairs. Everything seemed to hold.


These repairs do not look professional, but then there is no longer any professional repair available. Not sure when I will have the courage to test fire this double gun with live ammunition. Maybe never. But I feel I have done right by the old BSS to restore its looks, however roughly, and its workings. At least I will not have to gaze upon it in shame and disgrace each time I look into the gun safe.

And it might go for a good price at my estate sale.


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Troubles come in threes

An old folk adage cautions us that troubles come in threes. If an annoyance or mishap besets us, we can expect two more of the same type in short order.

I hope this Rule of Three is valid because I have had my trio of misfortunes this December and should be quit for the month as we enter the home stretch of this Christmas season. In quick order, my torments have been a pickup truck topper, three ground blinds, and a birdgun. Strangely (or maybe fittingly), all three have disrupted my hunting seasons and vexed me greatly.

Bent hatch cover and gap in the door frame. The “white spot” is not damage to the topper, it is glare from an overhead light.

First the topper. Having taken delivery of a new Ford Ranger the first week of December, I was eager to have a fiberglass topper installed to make this truck into the complete hunter’s package. Birddogs, bird guns, boots, jackets, vests, hats and other various gear of the trade should not be exposed to the weather in an open box, or piled haphazardly in the cab’s cargo storage space or on the backseat.

 Many years ago I built a compartmented shelf unit that slides into a pickup truck’s box to assure “There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place.” Some rude members of the Over the Hill Gang have remarked on my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I prefer to think of it as strict attention to detail that has often benefited us all. Having a spray can of WD40 and a 25-foot length of electrical extension cord in the truck’s tool box, for example.

Hence the need for a topper.

But the installation by Truckin’ America in Rochester, Minnesota did not go well. For starters, I do not think that attaching a fiberglass shell pre-fabricated to the Ford Ranger’s dimension and specifications should require three hours. But I could live with that; painstaking attention to workmanship can be a virtue. What I could not lived with was the finished product.

The topper’s lift-hatch door was warped and bent and failed to seal against the frame by a good half inch. The front window had a similar but smaller gap all around its frame. Drawing on 40 years of experience with toppers on pickups, I knew that dusty roads and driving rains can penetrate and foul all the gear the shell is intended to protect.

To his credit, the Truckin’ America manager realized his crew’s installation was shoddy and immediately said he would order a new hatch and window and have them both properly fitted. This work is scheduled for the last week in December. In the meantime, I am dealing with the incursion of dirt and rain. Failing to remember that the shell was leaky, I drove it through the automatic carwash last week. Big mistake.

Okay, that’s not the worst of miseries, definitely a First World problem of too much white middle class privilege. An annoyance that can be cured by a 150-mile drive to-and-from the shop and a wasted day. Assuming the repair is correctly done.

Do not be a petty OCD jerk, I told myself. And in a couple days I was my normal cheerful and optimistic self. (For the record, I am not a cheerful and optimistic person. I am a curmudgeon.) Seeking a peaceful state of mind, I repeated my personal mantra a couple hundred times (Stuff Happens – Get Used To It) and accepted my misfortune.

That grudging acceptance of fate was three days before the Winds of Doom swept across the upper Midwest. You probably read about it in the news. Heck, even the New York Times published an article about those wind storms, and the Times seldom gives a hoot about us out here in the Midwest.

All through the night the wind howled in a mad rage, a constant 40 miles-per-hour blast with intermittent 60 miles-per-hour gusts. The windows shook in their casings, the shingles on the roof flapped and clattered, and smoke from the woodstove was forced back down the chimney to cloud the kitchen.

The wind direction shifted through the points of the compass: roaring across our farm from the southeast, the west, swinging around to due north. We were certain these circling swirls of wind were the prelude to a tornado, but in the pitch dark of night we never spotted a funnel cloud. This storm could not properly be called a derechco, those storms with straight line winds that blow with hurricane force, because it seemed to whirl around us from everywhere.

The day’s high temperature, by the way, was 69 degrees, the warmest December day ever recorded in this county’s 129 years of weather data. To those who deny climate change and its potential to cause severe storms that devastate our lives and property, I can only say: FOOLS!

Come sunrise, the winds dropped to a “gentle” 20 to 25-miles-per-hour, and we ventured out to assess the damage. A few dozen trees had been blown down or were snapped off at mid-trunk, and thousands of branches were scattered everywhere, ranging from several as big around as my leg to others the circumference of my wrist. But Aeolus, that Greek god of the winds, must have taken pity on us: there was no major damage to the house or garage or outbuildings.

My ground blinds for deer hunting, however, were not spared.

The most sturdily built ground blind looked like a crashed World War I biplane. The Red Baron of the Wind Storm shot it to pieces.

Walking through my inspection tour across the hayfields on the west side of our place, I found the tarp-covered panels of one blind: lumps and tangles of wreckage strewn across the field, a piece here, a piece there, and none salvageable. A second blind had disappeared altogether, apparently hoisted airborne like Mary Poppins in flight beneath her parasol. I may find it someday in the treetops of my neighbors’ woods, but it is possible that it was blown a half mile into the valley where it plunged into the river and set sail for New Orleans.

The final blind was the furthest to the south, was the most sturdily constructed, and was well anchored between 15-foot-tall cedar trees in our shelter belt. It was beaten to a pulp. The gales had tipped it over, crushed it, smashed it to rubble. Its PVC framework was shattered and its wire braces were a tangle that looked like a crashed World War I biplane. I was unable to imagine the force of the winds that caused this carnage but I was thankful I was not in the blind when the storm hit.

Only one of my four blinds survived, and it suffered very little damage. Go figure. My guess is that it was the smallest and presented the lowest-profiled and least-resistant target for the wind. Note to self: construct all future blinds on the pattern of this one.

Well, the worst of this December’s disasters are over, I consoled myself. We have had our share of bad luck.

I was wrong.

Two days ago I escaped from more productive chores to enjoy an afternoon of pheasant hunting. I took my most beloved double gun, a Browning BSS Sporter in 20 gauge with English stock, the gun that has been my favorite for more than 40 years. Of course, that gun became misfortune number three.

Following my French spaniel Abbey at a pace that was too fast for an old man, I tripped over a gopher mound and made a full face-plant pratfall. Right on top of my shotgun.

My beloved BSS Sporter double gun in 20 gauge. When I discovered the damage, I was inconsolable. You clumsy lout!

I heard it crack, and discovered that two chips of wood had been broken out of the buttstock where it meets the face of the receiver. I was inconsolable. Broken hearted. Miserable. How could I be so clumsy? Such a lout!

Returning home, I sent a message to Midwest Gun Works asking them, pleading with them, to repair the damage. I am awaiting MGW’s reply. The firm completely reconditioned this BSS about 20 years ago, and I can only hope their stock makers can fix this.

Troubles come in threes, and I pray that this adage holds true for our December of catastrophes. Yes, I know that pickup topper can be fixed, new ground blinds built, and the BSS stock repaired. But for the moment I feel as though the fabled luck of the Irish (aye, bad luck at every turn of life) has landed upon me like a hod load of bricks.

And, dammit, I should not be plagued with the luck of the Irish. I’m Welsh. The gods of mayhem ought to know that!

I am not venturing out again until Christmas weekend. Bah! Humbug!

But I do wish my readers a happy holiday season and offer my sincere wishes that this first month of the winter has treated all of you better.


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First bird hunt with Mov’alon Rouge

First bird hunt with the new Ford Ranger pickup, nicknamed Mov’alon Rouge. Abbey expresses her displeasure with taking photos rather than getting to the business of pheasant hunting. The first snowstorm of the winter of 2021-22 is descending on the North Country today, so our first bird hunt was more symbolic than real, but Rouge provided good service for the morning and I am liking this pickup. Abbey, however, was ambivalent about riding in the back seat of the crew cab rather than her usual perch in The Catbird Seat. We will have to see how that works out. Looking forward to many years of hunts with Rouge.

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Final bird hunt with Old Gray

All good things must come to an end.

Old Gray, my faithful 2006 Ford F-150 pickup, is the best truck I have ever owned. Saying good-bye to this rig that has taken me on hundreds of hunts both near and far was a sad day.

But what better way to end our time together than a final pheasant hunt on familiar ground?

Next week, Old Gray’s duties will be assumed by a Ford Ranger pickup I have tentatively nicknamed Move-Along Rouge. Rouge will not have the career that Gray has enjoyed; I simply do not have that many years of hunting left in me. But it is time for a change, and Rouge will be better suited to tow our Scamp trailer to the warmth of the Southwest states each winter.

It is time for a change. But I’m going to miss this old Ford F-150. A lot.

Gray wasn’t always old, of course. He was a youngster when he became my truck in 2008. That was the year my ’93 GMC pickup, Rugged Red, was clearly ailing and failing and had reached the stage of its mechanical life when I could no longer depend on it to make another journey to the high plains shortgrass prairies for a sharptail grouse hunt.

Rugged Red was a damned good truck, but looking back, it did not measure up to Old Gray’s many years of hard work, long drives, and trouble-free service. This reliable charcoal gray F-150 never gave me much mechanical trouble, except for an exhaust recycling valve on one Nebraska Sandhills hunt (which was easily replaced by the local Ford dealership in Valentine), and a worn-out universal joint in the steering column (which was repaired in one day by the local Ford dealership in my hometown of Decorah).

The pickup’s 4.6-liter Triton V8 engine did everything I asked of it: towing boats and trailers, off-roading in 4WD, firewood hauling, farm work, pulling other vehicles out of ditches, stretching barbed wire for fencing, and traveling highways and byways for more than 130,000 miles on hunting and camping trips. On Old Gray’s final day, that engine was running as smoothly as it did 14 years ago when I drove it off the Ford sales lot.

Old Gray hauled more than 20 field-dressed deer carcasses from our woodlands and hayfields over the years, but more important from my point of view were the countless upland gamebirds that came home packed in coolers and crates from our days of hunts with dog and shotgun: pheasants, quail, sharptail grouse, prairie chickens, ruffed grouse, woodcock, doves, and one unfortunate snipe.

Gray took me on hunting trips all across Iowa and to North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. He rolled along highways in at least eight other states on holiday and vacation trips, usually carrying a birddog or two. The subtle odor of wet dog was part of Old Gray’s ambience. So were feathers and dog hair. And a trace of cigar smoke.

I wish I could say that my final bird hunt with Gray was a perfect day with a bag limit of three roosters, but December pheasant hunts seldom work out that way. My French spaniel Abbey and I parked Gray on the east side of a 150-acre CRP field that was a thick mass of head-high switch grass and did our best to keep track of one another as we plowed our way through. In the course of two hours of hard hunting, we put up six pheasants, three hens and three roosters. I took shots at two of the roosters and knocked one down.

Abbey could not mark the bird down, but when I led her to the place it had fallen and told her “Hunt dead!” she found the bird’s scent and tracked flawlessly. Unfortunately its trail led to a bulldozed pile of trees and brush, a house-size tangle that had once grown in the field’s waterway. Abbey yipped and barked in frustration as she dug at the six-foot-high jumble of tree trunks and branches, trying to squirm her way down through. I unloaded my gun and tried to help by pulling away snarled limbs, but down in the depths of the pile I could see a much twisted and bent 10-inch corrugated steel culvert.

Abbey stuck her head inside the pipe, and her yips became more frantic as she sought to grab what must have been the just-out-of-reach rooster. I called her off, fearing that she would get her head and shoulders wedged and I would be unable to reach her to pull her out.

“Sometime this kind of stuff happens,” I told her. I may have used a harsher word than “stuff.”

“I could have had him!” Abbey complained. But I’m not risking injury to my wonder dog for a rooster that outsmarted us.

So it was that Gray’s final bird hunt produced no birds, as many of them have over his nearly 14 years of the chasser life. Maybe that was a fitting end, a tacit understanding that “There will be other days ahead.”

And I hope there will be more days of bird hunting ahead for this old truck, even though they will not be with me. Good-bye, Old Gray. I’m going to miss you.


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Eclectic houses of Santa Cruz

The city of Santa Cruz, located on the northwest shore of Monterey Bay, has fascinating residential neighborhoods, homes as eclectic and diverse as California itself, each with its eccentricities. These houses may be somewhat constricted by prohibitions against multi-story structures, but they seem to be unregulated by minimum lot sizes and limits on the number of dwellings that can be erected on those residential lots.

Before you jump to an image of Rio de Janeiro’s mountainside favelas, I hasten to explain that the price tag of a residential lot and its associated house (or houses) in Santa Cruz exceeds $1 million for even a modest two-bedroom, single bath home. It is impossible to mistake any part of this city for a shantytown.

Santa Cruz has had about 250 years to arrive at its present configuration. The site has been part of the European settlement of the New World since 1769 when the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola discovered this section of the Monterey Bay where a river flows into the natural harbor.

He named the river San Lorenzo in honor of Saint Lawrence.

In 1791, Father Fermin de Lasuen established a mission at the fledgling village of Villa de Branciforte, now known as East Santa Cruz. A comparatively recent European settlement in North America, considering that Boston was founded in 1630, but then early Boston did not have a comparable series of governing institutions or such an influx of people of varied ethnicities.

California was governed in succeeding eras of its history by Spain, Mexico, and as a territory of the United States. Statehood was granted in 1850.

The region’s economy was at different times dependent on fishing, logging, agriculture, tourism, and of late technology.

Those industries depended on workers from Spain, the Philippines, Mexico, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and a multitude of European heritage peoples and former slaves from the post-Civil War United States who flooded into California for the Gold Rush and went broke.

This thumbnail history of Santa Cruz is a quick explanation of why (at least I deduce it is why) the city has evolved such a variety of residential housing. The photos displayed in this blog post are an example. Note these photographs were taken in a three-block area of the section known as Midtown.

Almost all are painted and trimmed in vibrant colors, unlike sections of Omaha or Minneapolis or Cincinnati, where the houses are painted a pallid gray or beige or light blue with pastel trim and equally drab doorways.

The inference is that people who live in these colorless cities lead similarly colorless lives while the people in these colorful Santa Cruz homes lead flamboyant and energetic lives.

That’s easier to do, of course, if there are a couple giant redwood trees in your yard and if there is a white sand ocean beach nearby.

This is one of the reasons I am enamored of the city of Santa Cruz on the northern California shore of the Pacific Ocean.

Other reasons include the wonderfully mild December weather, the smaller town atmosphere (people say “hello” to us on the streets), the variety of shops and business places, the hiking areas (not many beaches and redwood forests in Iowa), and local attractions such as museums and aquariums and the seaside boardwalk.

However, we could not possibly live here because these intriguing houses that are pictured each cost upwards of $1.2 million.

West Coast retirement incomes must be much greater than Midwest retirement incomes.

I suppose we could live in our camping trailer, but then the captivating lifestyle of Santa Cruz would quickly fade.  

We could not afford to live here, but it is a fascinating place to visit. Especially in November-December.


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Monterey Bay

Celebrating my birthday at Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz, California. Blue skies and 68 degrees. A beautiful part of the northern California Pacific Coast. Visiting our newest granddaughter Aurora (and her parents). The retired life is good.
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The instinctive urge to hunt

“T. Rex doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt.”
Dr. Alan Grant (actor Sam Neill)
from the motion picture Jurassic Park

THE PASSION, the instinctive urge to hunt, the genetic memory that connects me to prehistoric humankind, has been slipping away. I admit that I did not have much desire to hunt and kill a deer this fall, although we enjoy the venison and know that it is more healthful than most commercially produced meat.

Nevertheless, I took a nice whitetail doe with the crossbow from a ground blind yesterday evening. Credit the rekindling of my enthusiasm to the fighting bucks. And thank Abbey, my French spaniel that is my best-ever tracking dog, for making it an adventure with a positive ending.

The battling bucks. Friday evening I was sitting in the ground blind at the corner of our shelter belt with no more purpose than to escape the house, watch the stormy weather sky, and see some wildlife. I was daydreaming when a doe jogged over the dome of the hayfield about a hundred yards away and increased her pace as she ducked into the butt end of the shelter belt.

Since the wind was in my favor, I was sure that I was not the cause of her panic and guessed that she was being pursued by a buck in the heat of the rut. Sure enough, a few minutes later a big-bodied eight-pointer swashbuckled over the dome and followed her into the cedar trees.

Mundane stuff, but at this point it gets more interesting.

From the end of the shelter belt emerged a much bigger 10-point buck, gray-coated and with heavy beam antlers, obviously the preferred mate of the doe. He was pushing the smaller buck ahead of him, and with hunched shoulders and swelled neck he was saying. “This doe is mine!”

The smaller buck was definitely fighting out of his weight class. He put up a good battle for several minutes before he backed off and sauntered away over the hill. His body language said, “That doe is ugly and too skinny. You can have her!”

This is only the second time in 40 years of bow hunting that I have seen bucks seriously fight. From my blind I was able to watch them with binoculars. When I paced off the distance later, the battleground was about 40 yards away. I felt my urge to hunt come flowing back.

Vowing that I would bag that big-bodied, 10-point, heavy-beamed, gray-coated buck, I abandoned my previous “no desire to kill a deer this season” attitude.

Saturday dawned cloudy and windy, but in the grip of new passion I moved another ground blind from the far northwest corner of the hayfield to the end of the shelter belt where the bucks had fought for the heavyweight championship of the farm. Because of the sudden appearance of a new blind I did not expect them to return the very next evening, but experience has taught me that in four or five days the deer on our farm get accustomed to intrusions and ignore them — especially since the blind had been sitting in the same hayfield six months.

Then Abbey and I went for a long, slow walk around the perimeter of the farm, pretending we were pheasant hunting. I was actually deer trail scouting. She was not fooled and was more than a little annoyed.

Back home, we had a few chores on the to-do list. A widow-maker tree was hanging over the driveway, so I hooked a chain around it and pulled it down with my pickup.  Surviving that (the danger was more apparent than real), I cut up the tree with my chainsaw, loaded it into the pickup, lugged the wood splitter out of the garage, split the wood, carried it all up onto the deck and stacked it. Ah, the comforting security of an additional two weeks’ worth of firewood.

But at age 72 this much work is wearisome. I was running low on energy, so after sweeping out the box of the pickup I took a short nap before an evening hunt.

I sat in the same corner blind, not the newly repositioned one, with no intention to shoot a deer, just to enjoy a peaceful couple of hours in the wild. I watched the gathering snowstorm in the northwest sky. A flock of six crows flew by, doing aerobatics in the wind. Two eagles were soaring over the Trout River valley. I was contentedly nodding off to sleep.

That’s when the doe appeared. I opened my eyes and there she was, grazing on clover 15 yards in front of my blind.  I must have bumped the crossbow against the window frame because she tossed up her head and dashed into the shelterbelt about 10 yards to my left. That put her slightly downwind of me, so I figured the evening’s hunt was over.

Never underestimate the power of scent-killer sprays. A few minutes later the doe emerged, obviously thinking, “The wind is gusting, so that accounts for the bump and rattle from this blind.” She walked right back to the same patch of clover and resumed grazing.

I was not going to shoot this doe, having seen the aforesaid big-bodied, 10-point, heavy-beamed, gray-coated buck. But this was a really big doe. A toothsome chunk of venison, not some leathery, testosterone-laced, five-year-old slab of meat fit only for summer sausage, jerky, and hot sticks.

Centering the crosshairs of the scope low and behind her shoulder, I slipped off the safety and it made a slight click. She flinched, I pulled the trigger, and the bolt hit higher and farther back on her body than I had intended. She dashed out of sight toward the woods to the west, but I was sure it was a killing shot.

Note. When you shoot from a tree stand, the arrow goes down through the deer’s body, allowing the blood to spray along an obvious trail you can track. When you shoot a deer from a ground blind, the exit wound is sometimes higher than the entry wound, resulting in much less blood spoor — or maybe none at all — along the deer’s flight trail.

I waited 20 minutes before I exited the blind and started tracking. The blood-covered bolt was lying in the grass about five or 10 yards from where it had passed through her body, and I expected to find spatters along her escape route. Mixed rain and snow were falling, it was nearly sunset, and there was not a drop of visible blood. Damn.

Time to ask for Abbey’s help.

Walking back to the Clubhouse, I changed out of my camo coveralls, put on an orange stocking cap and a headlamp, boarded Abbey and my beautiful blonde wife into the pickup, and drove to the scene of the crime. It was the dead flat dark of a snowstorm night. At the spot where I had last seen the doe, I let Abbey smell the bloody bolt and said, “Hunt dead!”

She quartered back and forth across the hillside, tracked to the fringe of the woods, followed a trail about 20 yards into the trees and brush, and there in the light of my headlamp lay the deer. Time required: about four minutes.

In the headlights of the pickup, my face is washed out as I prepare to field dress Abbey’s doe. As far as I am concerned, this is a good thing and the best recent photo of me.

“Is this what you were looking for?” Abbey asked.

“Good dog! Wondrous dog! Amazing dog! The greatest tracking dog in all the world!”

This is the fourth or fifth deer Abbey has tracked and found for me. I have great confidence in her ability to pull my chestnuts out of the fire.

The snow was falling in wind-driven sheets as I field dressed the doe in the headlights, and then came the challenge of hoisting its carcass onto the tailgate. I love my old Ford F-150, but it has an impossibly high tailgate, especially since my BBW and I are five-foot-six.

“Let’s do this on the count of three,” I suggested, and with the help of her Wonder Woman strength (perhaps motivated by weather conditions) we lifted and wrestled the deer into the box of the pickup.

And that, except for washing off the blood and drinking two beers, is the story of the fighting bucks, the unfortunate doe, the world’s most amazing tracking dog, and the renewal of my passion for the hunt.


To read more stories about life in the North Country, visit the Author Page where my books are listed for sale in paperback and e-book formats.

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God gets drunk every now and then

Last week God got drunk and shouted “To Hell with this world I created! I’m tired of the whole mess and sick of all the whining.”

He sang three songs with dirty lyrics before He fell into a drunken stupor of sleep. He pissed his pants and woke up angry and spiteful.

That’s usually a bad thing for Creation. God’s malicious when He’s hung over and in a snit. And He has no conscience because He’s God.

God gets drunk every now and then and neglects things. You know what I mean: World War II, babies with cancer, people’s pain…

What did you expect from God? We created Him in our own image, typically a big, bearded, muscular dude who looks like grandfather.

Grandfather got drunk maybe once a month, sometimes more often, and if we create a deity based on grandpa, He’s going to do the same.

Why else would God have created grapes and barley? Why would He have built this human race clever enough to assemble a distillery?

War, disease, famine, suffering, depression, loneliness. We insist it’s all part of God’s mysterious plan, but it’s not in the least mysterious.

We don’t want to admit that a cryptic part of His plan is to get drunk every now and then and let everything in Creation fall to pieces.

One of God’s favorite games, when He’s been drinking, is to goad people into hating one another. That’s His idea of good entertainment.

You know the game “My God is better than yours!” With variations: “My country is better than yours!” “My race is better than yours!”

He can’t help Himself. We made him into a God with human foibles. He tips back a few and enjoys war and sucker punches and football.

Theologians tell us there have been more than 4,000 religions since humans first stood upright, picked up a club, and needed a god.

Most of those tribal lays have created a god or assortment of gods who were as weak-willed as humans and took a drink every now and then.

That does not fit the persona of current gods because people tend to emulate their deities, and people who get drunk act in horrible ways.

Our God is kind and good and does not tolerate acting in horrible ways. Nor war, disease, famine, misery, babies with cancer, and people’s pain.

To make sense of it all we need Bacchus handing out the grape and barley brews to our gods who go into an occasional frenzy of madness.

Because if we believe in a grandfatherly God we can blame his hideous behaviors on the misfortune that He gets drunk every now and then.


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November musings

Standing in sunlight on a warm November day I return to my youth of twenty-eight years with the youth’s paint pallet of colorful thoughts and aspirations.

I take a step toward potential adventures, prospects hungered for but as yet unknown, and the decades return in a rush of cold north wind.

Impatiently I wait for the world to conform to my limitations. The world is indifferent. We become ice in the late years of our lives. We yearn to be water.

I followed a long and twisting ski trail through the north woods and found that parts of me had not returned. A few parts I will miss. Most I was glad to be free of.

You take away a piece of every place you have been. You cannot avoid it, and you cannot get rid of it. Sometimes the piece is a scar, sometimes a beauty mark. For me, most often, a scar.

Not wanting to wander as a stranger in a strange land, I am fixed and difficult to move from this place I call home. But in truth, this is also a strange land.

We are strangers here, wherever on Earth we are. There is no place of comfort except in our imagination. We imagine best where we find unconditional love.

Of late, there are few welcoming places in this world because it is so crowded with people who have their knives out.

I thought I heard rain during the night, but in my time of deafness I could not be certain. Come dawn, I saw it was the silent rain of frost. I hear that more clearly.

Midmorning moonrise. We have left garbage on the Moon and want to return to leave more.

At the coffee shop a plain-faced and thin-bodied young woman was, amazingly!, reading one of the novels I had written. I did not speak to her, thinking it must be an apparition.

And, anyway, I wanted to overhear her say as she read me, “Oh my!”


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