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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Narrowing the focus

Abbey near Minnesota’s Canadian border, witnessing “the continuing presence” of the natural world.

ON THE DRIVE to the North Shore of Lake Superior for a few days of ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting I came to the realization that the pallet of colors with which I tint my life is becoming more and more limited. This should distress me, I suppose, since no longer can I consider dipping the brush into daubs of garish paints and slapping onto the canvas a bight smear of hang gliding in the Rockies, running the bulls in Pamplona, schussing down icy ski slopes in the Alps, or even surfing the towering waves of Oahu. But strangely, the opposite is true. Narrowing the focus of my life grants me far more satisfaction than would broadening its scope.

This may be because, as the pundit claims, “The so-called wisdom we achieve in our mature years directly corresponds to our loss of energy and abilities.” Perhaps, but mature wisdom also corresponds to our delight and gratification in the lifelong pursuit of hunting and fishing: the depth of our knowledge and understanding, the level of our proficiency and expertise, the intensity of our incessant passion, and our appreciation for the nuances of its arts and sciences. A more narrow focus, yes, but a focus with a much deeper and an abiding devotion.

The great mystery, the conundrum that I have tried and failed to unravel, is the force that keeps us blood sports types so profoundly captivated through the years, the decades, a lifetime. For want of a better descriptor, I call this force “witnessing the continuing presence,” the ongoing, unending manifestations of the natural world, the incessant, unpredictable happenings. These can be ordinary or exotic, bizarre or mundane, exciting or monotonous, dramatic or insipid, extraordinary or commonplace, painful or pleasurable, foul or fair. But we witness always the interplay of the relentless drive and striving for life in the wild places of the Earth. A force so powerful that we are overawed, humbled, enthralled, and entranced.

For me, nothing can emulate days spent in these wild places. Manmade entertainments and amusements are mere flashfire obsessions. Cars, boats, snowmobiles, ATVs, dirt bikes – all the other dozens of flings with devices and pastimes that blast a spurt of adrenaline into the brain – these are the mechanical-amphetamines of our age, all producing a diminishing thrill with each consumption, all with increasingly predictable highs, all eventually disappointing in their ability to amaze and astonish (or even amuse) the primordial animal we harbor inside us. A false wild. I see it every day: the sports car up for sale, the speed boat on blocks in the yard, the jet skis, snowmobiles, ATVs and dirt bikes stashed away and rusting in the shed. All failures.

Even more distressing is the increasing addiction of hunters and fishers to these mechanical-amphetamines: rangefinders, semi-automatic rifles with scopes the size of beer bottles (or even night vision scopes), amplified sound systems for varmint calls, trail cameras, fish finders, and sonars to name but a few. Instead of learning and developing proficiencies in the blood sports, people purchase these devices to acquire instant skills they have not invested the necessary time and energy and devotion to master.

Example one: on a Western bird hunt, I encountered a coyote hunter who was irked because he had left his remote-controlled, battery-powered, CD recorded varmint caller at his home 100 miles away. I asked if he wanted to borrow my mouth call. “Nah,” he said. “Those things are no good, and I don’t know how to use one anyway.”

Example two: overheard in a north woods diner during deer season: “I couldn’t see him real good through all that brush, but I could see he had horns so I opened up on him with my AR.”

I want to blame this erosion of the concept of fair chase on the separation of ever-greater numbers of hunters from the land and its wildlife – urbanization, if you will – but the collapse of hunter ethic can be attributed to many more caustic influences: “hunting” programs on television and DVDs that promote the use of mechanical-amphetamines in the slaughter of game animals, outdoor magazines that glorify the killing of trophies, hunting preserves and lodges and guides that guarantee bag limits of captive or pen-raised game, the film industry’s portrayal of some animals as “good” and some as “evil.” This combination of factors, and many more misguided ideas about the blood sports, has created a generation of outdoorsmen who are arrogantly ignorant slobs.

Because I see so many of these slobs riding around in behemoth pickup trucks and land-rover type vehicles decked out with insignias of collegiate and professional sports teams, especially football teams, I surmise there is connection between their concept of hunting ethic and athletic games, made more evident by their language – blasting a deer, hammering a pheasant – as though game animals were an opponent to defeat, humiliate, and destroy. But then the worship of athletic teams and games has always been beyond my comprehension, even though it seems to have been ingrained in the human psyche since the beginning of civilization, a madness that dates back before the Bread and Circuses era of Rome’s gladiators.

It is more than a little frightening to observe how hundreds of thousands of besotted fans of collegiate and professional sports teams pack themselves into crowded stadiums and voluntarily engage in mass hysteria for a rush of surrogate excitement. They have no actual involvement in these games, and their only reward is an empty bottle and a deserted playfield the very next day. But I console myself with the compensation that it keeps them out of the wild places where they would be an even greater menace to those of us who witness the continuing presence that spiritually nourishes us in a way that no imaginary connection with something as ephemeral as a sports team possibly can.

There is an abiding truth in the idea that the beauty of the things we most love and revere has powers that comfort a troubled mind, repair a weary body, and restore a crippled spirit. I am content to narrow the focus of my life on these beautiful things and allow their continuing presence to carry me toward healing.


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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September hunting truck ablutions redux

I admit that I invest the old Ford F-150 with anthropomorphic personae

COME SEPTEMBER, my annual ritual is preparing my pickup truck for the bird hunting seasons that will open later in the month and extend into January. I have done this for 50 years now, and it always excites me with the promise of the autumn ahead.

Part of this ritual is practical: cleaning out accumulated junk and clutter from behind the seats, on the dashboard, in the glove compartment, jammed into the door pockets, and tucked behind the sun visors. But part of it is symbolic and sacramental: a rite of some pagan religion, if you will, that marks the autumnal equinox and begins the progression of the next five cycles of the Moon – full to dark to full again – that define the part of the year during which I am preternaturally aware and connected to the wild of nature.

I call these ceremonial observances my Autumn Ablutions, a wiccan practice of cleansing oneself or a sacred object as an act of respect and adoration. The history of these nature-worshipping ablutions, purification by washing, dates back to the mid-16th century, and who am I to deny the spiritual power of a ritual established 400 years ago by cultures much more in communion with the Earth and the Universe than we are today? I am not sure about the mystical forces embodied in a Ford F-150 pickup, but I depend on it for nearly all my fall excursions afield and so I am will to invest the old truck with anthropomorphic personae.

At the end of a summer of farm work and wood cutting my pickup’s box is a jumble of wood chips, tangles of barbed wire, a few steel fence posts, several rusted or broken tools, a chain, a frayed length of rope, a few empty beer cans, and whole lot of dog hair. The window glass is smeared and the body’s filthy interior and mud-spattered exterior look as though I have finished dead last in some cross-country race across northern Uzbekistan.

Then comes September and the F-150’s transformation during a day of ablutions. A week or two before our first bird hunt – this year to north-central Minnesota in pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock – I am seized by a cleaning mania that is clearly a pagan rite of a cleansing of the soul and the mind, symbolically washing the pickup in preparation for the sacred days of hunting. Or, perhaps, I am ashamed for my hunting buddies to see how poorly I treat my truck in the off season.

The F-150 will never appear factory-new again, but I do my best to make it look its best. I plug in the shopvac, fill a bucket with soapy water, and take in hand the sponges, scrub brushes, and terrycloth rags needed. With a bag full of wax and polish cans, vinyl cleaner bottles, and Windex spray containers, I have at it. Because a year’s worth of dirt, grease, and grime has to be removed the ablutions demand five or six hours of my time. I start by throwing everything out of the cab that’s not fastened down, using a garden hose to spray it out (being careful not to flood any electrical circuits), then scrubbing the topper-covered box with soapy water before moving on the wash the outside.

The exterior is drudgery. Spray it, sponge it with soapy water, spray it again, wipe it down, then apply Turtle Wax. I’ve learned to wax only about 10 square feet of surface at a time; once the thin coating of wax hardens, wiping it off is a pain, especially when standing on a four-step ladder. But the results are amazing. The old truck really shines.

The finale is hefting the two-level shelf unit into the truck box.

By the time I mop out all the puddles with towels, I’ve had more than enough fun. The finale is hefting the two-level shelf unit into the truck box, sliding the tool drawer into it, and setting the dog’s travel crate atop it. Ablutions completed.

My October 9 week of bird hunting in Minnesota is rushing up. This will probably be the last year for the old F-150, built in 2006 and groaning a bit in its 16th year. A new Ford Ranger pickup is supposed to be coming in December, depending on the factory’s success in getting computer chips for its more advanced technology. My F-150 does not have that problem; even the windows are operated with crank handles.

I know I’m going to have a hard time saying good-bye to this old gray truck. Together, we’ve been through a lot of adventures – and misadventures. But don’t look too far ahead, I tell myself. This season could very well be my final one, not the truck’s!

Today, we’re both cleaned up and ready to go. Wish me a great autumn.


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

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In the Catbird Seat

These days, Abbey rides in the Catbird Seat. The seat in my Ford F-150 pickup is a split bench with its center section over the driveshaft hump, a seat that could only be comfortable for a seven-year-old child with short legs and exceptionally small feet. But it seems to be perfect for Abbey, or so she insists.

Abbey raised her nose and sniffed, “It’s my rightful place.”

Abbey, a French spaniel bird dog, hunted for most of her life with her partner, another francaise named Sasha, who was seven years her senior. In those days, both dogs rode in the box of the pickup in travel crates under a topper. But those days are not these days.

When Sasha reached her thirteenth birthday her bird hunting years came to an end and Abbey became my only dog afield. I’m not sure when Abbey made the transition from the travel crate to the cab of the pickup; probably at the end of a three-pheasant day when she made a couple spectacular retrieves and was allowed to climb onto the seat beside me and share a summer sausage sandwich.

However, the precedent was established, since that day she has leapt into the cab whenever I open the door and would be grievously offended to travel in any other accommodation. She is the little princess, and she knows it.

She rides alert and attentive, searching for the best bird coverts and staring at me in amazement when I fail to stop and let her hunt each one. The exception is on our hours-long drives to far away hunting grounds when she somehow reads my body language or facial expressions or tone of voice and deduces that we are setting forth on a lengthy trip. Then, after a half-hour or so, she curls up on the passenger seat and goes to sleep.

A few years ago during one of our pre-hunt conversations I told her, “You know you’re in the Catbird Seat, don’t you?” She raised her nose and sniffed, “It’s my rightful place.”

I first heard the phase “in the Catbird Seat” more than 50 years years ago when sports announcer Red Barber, The Ol’Redhead, called the play-by-play radio broadcasts of major league baseball games during his four-decade career with the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Yankees. “The bases are loaded,” Red would announce, “the count is three balls and one strike, and the Yankees’ home run leader Mickey Mantle is sitting in the Catbird Seat.”

Red was a country boy from Columbus, Mississippi, and it took me a while to understand that his Southern homespun argot meant that someone in the privileged Catbird Seat had the world by the tail and was going to twist it to their advantage. The formal definition:

The “Catbird Seat” is an American idiomatic phrase used to describe an enviable position, having the upper hand or great advantage in a situation. The phrase derives from the catbird’s habit of making mocking calls from a favored perch.

There is an issue with Abbey’s preference for the Catbird Seat; sometimes my beautiful blonde wife rides with us in the pickup, and Abbey resents any encroachment on her center seat or on her curl-up-and-sleep passenger seat. In her francaise style, she is insolent, disrespectful, downright rude.

We recently made a 700-mile trip with the Ford F-150 to north-central Minnesota to take possession a Scamp camping trailer. The sharing of seating arrangements did not go well.

“When you buy your next pickup,” my BBW said, “it will be a crew cab, and this dog will ride in the back seat.”

Okay, if you insist, I will order a new pickup. But when it’s just Abbey in the cab with me, my bet is that she’ll still be riding in the Catbird Seat.


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

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A name for the escape pod

A reader asks: “What did you name the new Scamp camping trailer?”

Although I am not in the habit of naming my vehicles, I may make an exception with the Scamp.

I am calling it Ramblin’ Prose.

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Ramblin’, Scampin’ Coot

The drive to Backus, Minnesota was long and tiring, more than 350 miles. But that is where Scamp trailers are manufactured, and we chose to take possession of our new Scamp at the factory rather than have it delivered. This camping trailer adventure is a whole new experience for us, and we wanted the full tutorial from the professional staff at Scamp before we hooked up the trailer and towed it onto the highway.

Learning to love to the nomad life.

Backus is a tiny town, a spot on the map, but somehow the town has developed a labor force that has produced a superior camping trailer for 50 years through three generations of family ownership. We learned this when we asked why a 50th decal was affixed to the side of our Scamp, right beside the door. We claim that it also denotes the 50th year of our marriage because we ordered the camper exactly 12 months ago on our 50th anniversary year. A happy coincidence the salesman told us, but not factual. But that’s our story, and we’re stickin’ with it.

More importantly, construction costs and wait times have gone bonkers in the past year, and we were fortunate to order a Scamp when we did. The waiting time for delivery, the salesman told us, is currently two years, and the price has increased $4,000. But the company that produces the Scamp, Eveland’s Inc., honored their original quote on our model of camper and did not increase the price. How cool I that? Backus, Minnesota ethic.

Backus, by the way, seemed an ominous name for the start of our new adventure because it was a stark reminder that at some point during our first day with the Scamp I would be required to “Back-Us” into a trailer space at a campground. My attempts to back up trailers have often ended badly.

We bought the Scamp model built on the 16-foot trailer frame, which offered about the same living space as the RV truck that we rented to go on a month-long vacation to New Mexico two years ago. That trip was during the pre-pandemic days that now seem like a decade ago. We learned a lot on that trip, and that helped us choose the layout of the Scamp.

This camper is perfect for two. Try to pack four people in there and you will no longer be on speaking terms in four or five days. The layout: full size bed in the rear, toilet/shower in the front, dinette table on the port side, kitchenette on the starboard side with two-burner stove, sink, refrigerator, and microwave. The rig includes a 12-gallon freshwater tank, water heater, LP gas furnace, rooftop air-conditioner, ceiling fan, six slider windows (much brighter interior than the gloomy RV we rented), screen door, gray wastewater tank, black wastewater tank, AC electrical power hookup cord, DC batteries to power all the electrical stuff except the microwave, several plug-in connections for accessories, and all the “standard” equipment you would expect for towing the rig and setting it up on a camping site. Storage space is somewhat limited, but we are exploring how to use every square inch, and also how to omit a lot of unnecessary items

Frankly, I’m totally infatuated with this Scamp, and I intend to hook it to our pickup and travel back to the Southwest for a least three months this winter. My beautiful blonde wife says “We’ll see.”

The first order of business is developing a “pre-flight” checklist. Before we depart one campsite for the next we must remember: 1) crank up the rear support jacks, 2) unplug the AC electrical cord from the campsite fuse box, 3) disconnect the hose from the campsite water supply – if necessary, 4) drain the freshwater tank, 5) latch the trailer hitch securely to the truck’s ball hitch, 6) connect the trailer wiring plug, 7) check all trailer and truck running lights, brake lights, and turn signals, 8) secure the safety chains, 9) attach the trailer emergency brake cable to the truck’s tow bar, 10) crank up the front hitch jack, 11) remove the chocks from in front and behind the wheels, 12) close and secure the interior cabinet doors, 13) close the rooftop fan vent, 14) shut off the air-conditioner, 15) shut off the furnace, 16) shut off the water heater, 17) turn off the LP gas tanks, 18) turn off the DC power supply to the trailer’s interior, 19) close the trailer windows and door and deadbolt lock the door, 20) check to assure we have our cell phones, wallets, keys, and the dog, 21) pray we did not forget anything.

The first night of trailer camping at Minnesota’s Crow Wing State Park went smoothly. I did not crash the Scamp into a tree or picnic table when I backed it onto the trailer pad, and although it was not perfectly straight I was quite pleased with myself. We devoted the evening to learning how everything in the Scamp operated. The only confusion was with the refrigerator which is capable of operating on any of three energy sources: AC current from outside, DC current from the batteries, and LP gas from the tanks. How is this possible? We will eventually figure it out. For the present, it freezes ice cubes from the exterior AC source, and that’s good enough for our purposes.

As you can probably tell, I am excited about this new phase of life and am feeling upbeat and positive about the prospects. In fact, although my 15-year-old Ford F-150 has served us well I have placed an order for a new Ford Ranger pickup to tow the Scamp to places far and away and different. This may cause some tight finances in the next few years, but my fallback plan is to sell the farm and all our worldly possessions, pack the Scamp with the necessities, and live forthwith as nomads, answering to no schedules, demands, rules, regulations, or presumptions.

I have not yet mentioned that proposal to my BBW. It may be best to wait until the bitter cold days of December when leaving the North Country seems a reasonable thing to do.


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

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