passingwindagain

the wind and i just come and go

Category: Uncategorized

“Hey Dad, I’m Home!”

 

frank head shot

A PRODIGAL SPANIEL’S ELEVEN DAYS IN SOUTH DAKOTA

 John William Lindsay

© 2003

Most of our hunting dogs spend the majority of their time doing things other than hunting or training.  Real hunting opportunities are limited to the short fall season.  Even then, time is limited and we must make the most of the opportunities for our canine friends as well as ourselves.  Losing a dog in an  area away from our home base is a harrowing experience.  The effect on other family members, the time and money invested – it all contributes to an emotional bond that is tested when a dog goes lost. Having someone else lose your dog will cure you of the thought of loaning your dog out! In the end, it is not fair to the person or to the dog.

 

Our experience has a successful conclusion – it is a success story that we think needs to be told.  Almost twelve years ago, I went looking for a dog to replace our aging Cocker Spaniel as a hunter and companion.  I have a family, (at that time with young children), so a versatile dog was important.  We were accustomed to the quirky ways of our Cocker, so we looked at the Spaniel breeds and settled on a Field Bred English Springer Spaniel.  That original Springer is now gone, but we have had several over the years, and a few years ago purchased a black and white female.  She won our hearts immediately, and I knew the breeder was holding back a liver and white male of the same litter, in the hope someone would purchase him as a field trial candidate.  Now an active trialer, we were enjoying our Sadie so much, we agreed to purchase the male.  His sister had won our hearts, but Frank took over body and soul.

 

Our life has taken some twists and turns in the past few years. Hunting opportunities have been scarce, and I have reduced my training and trial schedule substantially to accommodate some changes in my business and career obligations.

 

Frank, now three, has turned into a great companion and an outstanding hunter.  He has been entered in a couple of field trials, with out any particular distinction, but he is young and still immature. I’ve hunted over some truly great dogs in the past, but as a hunter, Frank is right up there. With a self inflicted moratorium on Field Trials and out of state hunting trips, when a trusted friend, experienced hunter and business associate announced that he was going to South Dakota in November for a few days of hunting on his own land there, (without a dog) I seized upon an idea.  Wild South Dakota pheasants would be great for Frank. We spent several days with my training companions, and Jim (there are two Jims in this story) even took Frank to his home for a few days to make sure the two were compatible.  There seemed to be an instant bond, and with Jim’s experience as an outdoorsman and owner of hunting dogs in the past, I felt there was no problem in allowing Frank to make the trip.

 

The evening of the second day on the ground in South Dakota, I received a phone call from a very disturbed friend.  Frank was missing in action.  I was calm – my wife said surprisingly so.  He said he would do what he could to find the dog.  I was sure that it would be only a brief period and Frank would show up.

 

On the fourth day, my friends returned from South Dakota – minus Frank. An advertisement in a paper that would not be delivered until he had been lost almost a week appeared to be our only hope.  I was almost resigned to never seeing my dog again.  Everyone felt terrible: Jim, my business associate, was uncomfortable, (note: There are two “Jim”s in this story, the first is a business associate and trusted friend, the other is my lifelong friend and brother-in-law, Jim Ordway.) My family was angry with me, and I was over 500 miles away from my dog – if he survived..  The morning of the fifth day, I called Jim and got some information on the neighbors and the exact location of the property.

 

As I sat and looked at my notes, I decided we needed to upgrade the newspaper advertisement, and called the paper about it.  The folks seemed reasonable enough, and we worked out a size and location in the paper that most folks would notice.  I emailed a photo and some copy to the paper, and they said they would take it from there.  Still, I was not satisfied that I was doing everything possible to recover my dog.  As I looked at the newspaper ad copy – I realized that it could also be used as a flier, so I printed a few with a map of the area on the back, and the exact location where the dog was last seen.

I wrestled with the idea of taking off for South Dakota, but realized that I might be better off right where I was.  One stroke of luck is that I have a cousin who lives 80 miles east of where the dog was last seen.  Roy is a semi-retired schoolteacher with multiple outside business interests that keep him and his family busy year round.  He was ready to drop everything and be my ears and eyes on the ground in the area. Still, I felt we could do more.  As I spoke to more and more people, I realized a few things:

  • If you are interested in recovering your dog, friends, relatives and even strangers will come to your aid, but if you don’t care, they won’t care.
  • You have far more resources than you realize, you just have to leave your mind open to the opportunities and let the ideas flow.
  • Make notes from every one you talk to, because you never know when a resource will fit in, or a scrap of information will become important.
  • Know your dog.  Try to get inside his head and figure out what he is likely to do: will he be fearful? Will he be dangerous? Is he a lover or a fighter?  Is he a homer? – will he just start for home regardless of the distance?

 

As an active field trialer and occasional judge of Spaniel performance events, I have developed a network of friends and acquaintances all over the country. After only infrequent trial appearances this year and last, someone referred to me as one of the “old timers” returning to the line. Yes, the dog was in South Dakota, but with the pace of our world, I figured maybe those good folks, “dog people” as we call each other, would know someone…etc.  My first real step was to send out an e-mail to “dog people”.  The second was to create a modest website where folks could monitor our progress, and I could post photos of Frank.  One problem – I had few photos of Frank, and no good ones.  We went with what we had, but one piece of advice is take good pictures of your dog before something goes wrong.  My “home” club, the Southern Wisconsin Sporting Spaniel Club, agreed to post the information to the club website.  We were now five days into this experience, and Frank had still not been heard from.  A retired DNR warden as well as a wildlife biologist reduced my fears of danger from predators such as coyotes, and so I went forward without any doubt in my mind that Frank would come home.  I tried to visualize him trotting up the drive at our home, tired and thin, but ok.

 

Day Five was Wednesday, and I looked over my available resources, and given my rather thin financial resources now, I scrounged every envelope and office supply I could. Before it was all over, I would have exhausted the cartridge on my laser printer, run out of envelopes, exhausted the cartridge on my photocopier, and run my meter out of postage.  I looked at my map of the area, and found the land divided roughly on sectional lines by gravel roads, not unlike most rural areas west of the Mississippi.  The hunting ground was just east of the county line, and about six miles south.  I decided on a grid that would take me east from the county lines of the two counties that were included on that grid, and to proceed east in my search.  I wanted to call everyone in the area, and went on the internet to one of the residential phone books found there, and saw a tab called “REVERSE ADDRESS LOOKUP”  I put in an address of a man that keeps an eye on the property: his name,  exact address and phone number came up on the screen.  I went back and took out the number, just leaving the road name.  Five names came up, all on the same road with the same zip code.

 

I was in business. Phone calls were out; fliers were in, sent by first class mail and assured by our postal clerks that a day or two would take a first class letter to South Dakota. Street by street, east and west, north and south, I accumulated names of residents and pasted them into a word processing document.  A paved state highway 12 miles east of where the dog was lost divides the area, so I decided on a 12 X 12 mile area between Hy 281 and the western county line as my “search area.”  All of this was based on the assumption that one of two things would happen: either he would stay in the area, or he would go east, towards home.  (Downwind).

 

I prepared a letter, and converted the list of names, addresses and phone numbers into a data file in my spreadsheet program.  If you are not computer literate, get someone who is to help you.  I did all of these in four or five hours, and you can get someone to help you stuff envelopes.  The first part of the list was about 255 names.  I merged the names into the cover letter I was sending with the flyer, and used window envelopes.  I had some business envelopes with an obsolete return address.  My wife suggested that people would throw it away assuming it was junk mail.  We created a sticker out of address labels printed in red; it said “LOST DOG INFORMATION”.  We used these stickers to paste over the return address, and to seal the envelopes.  People seemed to pay far more attention to the letter because of the stickers.

 

On Wednesday evening, half of the first batch of 255 envelopes went into the U.S. Mail.  That morning, I had looked up addresses of businesses in the area, and came up with 61.  I guessed that they were all employers, so I sent them a flyer too, asking them to post it wherever they could in their places of business.  I faxed copies to the post offices, phone companies and other utilities that I thought, might have service people, crews and delivery people out on the roads in the area.  I followed every fax with a phone call to confirm and make sure something would be done with the information. We notified the State Patrol and faxed them a flier.  Our helpful vet told us Frank’s picture was in every coffee shop and wayside from Sioux Falls to Pierre.  We called and faxed police, veterinary clinics, and even churches – all of whom were great in co-operating.  I thought of the idea of sending packets to the schools, hoping they would send the fliers home with children, but passed on that in favor of direct mail.  I had included the toll free number of my office on the fliers – anything to make it easier for someone to give us an update on Frank’s whereabouts and condition.  Still, we heard nothing.

 

We continued to take names and addresses off the Internet and add them to our database.  We mailed the letters with the westernmost addresses first and continued east as we had them completed.  We decided on Thursday to add another 12-mile square area east of Highway 281 to our search area – it was back to the computer to pull down even more names and addresses.

 

It was on Thursday, the sixth day on the roam for Frankie, that we seemed to get the first reactions, that gave us hope that what we were doing was working.  A friend of a friend, who lives in Mitchell South Dakota, called and asked if she could help.  I immediately erased the message and lost the phone number, but shortly after, she e-mailed me.  Another “friend of a friend” e-mailed me and said he was leaving for South Dakota and would be hunting in the area.  He offered to recruit his relatives to hunt for Frank on the ground in the meantime.  The owner of the newspaper in the nearby small town made up copies of the advertisement and with her nephew, started distributing them locally and in neighboring towns, looking for Frank everywhere she went.

 

The newspaper was delivered on Thursday, and on Friday morning, I received a call from Jim’s wife, she had had a call in response to the Lost and Found ad Jim had placed. The City of Mount Vernon had a dog that fit Frank’s description.  She sounded excited, and of course, I was too! I called the man and described Frank to him.  He said he was not a hunter, but my description fit, and we both felt we had the right dog.  He seemed to respond to his name, and I asked one last question: “Does he have a big dark head, kind of like a bowling ball?”  He laughed – “He sure does!”  I was elated.  After hanging up the phone, I redialed, calling my cousin Roy who would be just getting out of classes for the day.  He said he had to make one stop and would be on his way over to Mount Vernon to get him, and would bring him to Elgin, MN on the Thanksgiving holiday, where I would pick him up at their daughter and son-in-law’s home.  One more call was necessary.  I had to change the “LOST DOG” ad to a big “THANK YOU” ad.  I called Gayle at the newspaper.

 

“This sounds like a story!!”  Gayle was enthusiastic about the fact that he was safe.  I think she had some doubts, but said she knew the gentleman in Mount Vernon and would get the story.  I don’t know why, but when I hung up the phone, something didn’t seem right.  One, the man who was caring for the dog said he wasn’t a hunter.  Two, he said the dog had no collar and no tags.  I use nylon collars with plastic snap buckles, but I want them to break if a dog would get tangled or hung up, and three, it just seemed too easy – and the dog was 37 miles from where Frank and Jim had been separated.  The assurance of an hour earlier faded a little, but I left the office for a doctor’s appointment, and then went home.  I had visited my wife’s school to tell her the good news, and everyone in my office went home assuming Frank had been located.

frank sdmail

I got home and listened to the messages on our answering machine.  My heart sank.  There was a message from Gayle – the dog that she had gone over to see, was not Frank.  Her pictures did not match the dog in Mount Vernon.  I was heartsick.  Roy was on the way to Mount Vernon.  I had to call and turn him around.

 

On Saturday morning, the phone at my home began to ring.  First was a woman who lives near the property.  She and her husband would drive around every afternoon until Frank was found.  I took her number and address.  Her call was the first that we knew the fliers were beginning to hit the mailboxes in the area.  On Saturday morning, we mailed over 300 more fliers to the area east of Highway 281.  Others called, a stray dog here, a possible sighting there, I began to locate the people who called on the map.  It seemed like he was staying in the area, and he had been seen east of the property.  So far he was following my plan.  On Sunday,  I mumbled my way into the story at the convenience store where I go for the Sunday Paper and coffee.  The clerk said she would pray for Frank’s safe return.  That morning, there were several more calls, one from a lady who said she was too old to drive, didn’t know how to use a toll free number, but offered to pray for Frank’s return.  I was moved.  It was a reminder that all of us need to do what we can.  Prayer was a good idea, I thought.  I got many e-mails offering suggestions of tactics and prayers, as well as help.  A retired police officer offered to go out and look for Frank.  I readily accepted his offer.  I got many reports of a man in a pickup slowly cruising the area, asking about the dog.  A man I didn’t even know.

 

On Sunday, I decided to widen the area of faxes I had sent to sheriff’s departments and highway departments, and got all of the fax numbers off of the State of South Dakota website.  To my surprise, my new, cheap long distance service was having problems getting calls into South Dakota.  I called my local carrier, who had just begun offering long distance in our area, and requested a change.  They told me it would take 3-5 days.  I told the operator my problem and she gave me a toll-free number to call, where I could validate the purchase and get a rush put on the changeover.  By 7 p.m. that night, I was again able to get calls out to South Dakota, and the fax machine ran until after midnight.

 

Monday was the ninth day of Frank’s absence, and I admitted to some frustration, but went to work, arriving at my office about 8:15.  I asked the receptionist if there were any calls on the office voice mail regarding the dog.  She said “no, but a man called this morning saying that he had seen a dog, and it was hanging around his neighbors abandoned barn….but I told him you had found your dog.”  My heart sank.  “It wasn’t Frank.”  Lee felt terrible.  We had no way of finding out who had called us, and the phone company said it would take a number of days unless it was an extreme emergency.  They didn’t consider a lost dog to be in that category.  I was sick. I decided that I would wait a little while and then call Gayle at the South Dakota Mail and see if she had heard anything.

 

Sitting in the office of my partner, Lee buzzed in “A phone call for John”  I jumped… I get phone calls all of the time, but maybe this was it…

 

“Is it on the 800 number?”   She said it wasn’t.

 

“Put the call in my office…and I walked back to my office expecting to handle a routine Monday morning insurance question.

 

“My name is Billie, and my son works for Rodney Faulhaber.  I got your flier in the mail this morning,.  My son and Rodney were hunting on our land yesterday and saw a dog over there, but they couldn’t catch him.  He was wearing a collar and tags, but they couldn’t get close to him.” the words all rolled out at once. Frank was spooked, I thought. “I talked to Rodney this morning and he said you had already found your dog, but my son said to call you back because this dog in the picture is the one they saw.”

 

I told her she was absolutely correct, that the dog on Friday was a false alarm and we were still looking for Frank.  She said, “Well he’s hanging around our barn over on 240th and 388th.”  388th is the street designation for State Highway 281.  He was 12 miles directly east of where he started.  I laughed to myself.  The goof found a place to hole up, and he is probably going hunting every day, and living the life of Riley (also his sire’s name) – he was in pheasant heaven.  But I was afraid too…he is a big baby, not car smart or street smart, and, contrary to his normal demeanor, he was avoiding direct human contact.  I thought about how hard I had tried (without success) to get some extra weight off of him.  That would help him now.  The biggest thing is that he was ALIVE!!

 

I called the Faulhaber’s and a very small, but businesslike voice answered the phone.  Her daddy wasn’t home, but she would get her  mommy.  She turned out to be a real cutie…5 years old, blue eyed and blond.  A future Norse Goddess to be sure. Theresa came on the line.  Yes, she had seen the dog, he seems to be fine, but he won’t come near her, tags and collar, etc..  She said she would like to try and feed him.  I agreed, weighing the risks between refueling him for another push to the east, or hoping he would hang around looking for more handouts.  It did not occur to me that water might be the better bait at this time.  He ate dog food Monday afternoon,  probably for the first time in a week.

 

An hour later, the phone rang again.  It was Gayle from the newspaper.  She had been out to the Madsen farm, and when she got there Frank was trying to cross 281 – this was a bad sign.  He had waited for a truck to cross, and went with it across the busy state highway.  What I didn’t need now was for this dog to get hit by a vehicle.  Gayle said she had tried baiting him with hot dogs, but he was hanging out with some horses in a pasture – opposite the Madsen property.

Gayle’s suggestion hung in the air between Wisconsin and South Dakota, and finally she just said it: “John, I don’t think we’re going to catch this dog anytime soon if you’re not here.”  She was right.  I looked at my watch, and it was ten minutes to two.  My closest “dog friend” who would be the logical co-pilot for this expedition was on his way east, to the annual English Springer Spaniel Amateur National Field Trial.  In his absence, I turned to an old and trusted friend, who would be a more than adequate substitute, my brother-in-law and lifelong best friend, Jim Ordway.  He answered the phone, and his first question was about Frank.  My response was simple, “How do you feel about a road trip?”

FRANK sdMAIL W JIM

“What time do you want to leave?”

“How about three?”

“I’ll be at your house at three”  (I live four miles closer to South Dakota)  then he added a footnote: “I’ll drive”  His new Tahoe would virtually eliminate the risk of a breakdown, which is not out of the question for my 8 year old 225,000 mile veteran.  At 3:30 I was still gathering gear, but we stuffed it all in the truck along with two more dogs, one of whom is Frank’s sister,  and headed out for South Dakota, cell phones in hand.  The first call was to Roy Lindsay: “Roy, we’re heading in your direction, we know where he is, and we just have to catch him…can you bunk us for the night?”

Again, the relief of the expected answer “No Problem, what time will we see you?”

“Not until 11 or 11:30 – that ok?”

“No problem!”  Unknown to me, it was his wife Kathy’s birthday, and we were invading her house.frank roys family

 

We arrived at about 11:15, and chatted about the dog and family matters (we both had pregnant daughters at the time)  We talked about how we had hoped our paths would cross in Elgin, MN on the holiday, with their travels there for the holiday weekend, and our hoped for trip to Chaska, MN to see our yet unborn granddaughter.  It did not seem to be shaping up that way.  They were tired, we were tired, and Jim and I hit the hay.  After a restless night, I was up at five and out to let the dogs out and give them water and food.  I slammed the tailgate, and the screen door closed about the same time.  Jim appeared with his duffle, ready to drive.  We had about seventy-five miles to go to get to Franks hangout, and I wanted to get there at first light. Rodney had said it was 7 or 7:30.

We were on the road again, grabbing a biscuit here, coffee there, and a sweet roll.  Along with our granola bars and fruit, we survived.  We went directly to the barn, and there was no sign of Frank.  The dog food Rodney had left for him the evening before was untouched.  There were two buildings on this property, and Theresa said he was hanging out in the front building, a corrugated steel pole building of about 1200 square feet.  To the rear was a traditional, but smaller barn of about 2000 square feet with a loft.  I stuck my head in the steel building and could see why Theresa thought that was his new “home”: the rafters were full of pigeons – dozens of them.  It would make Frank crazy.  (Feral pigeons are our primary training birds)  I doubted that he was sleeping in this building, and he certainly hadn’t been there the night before.

We went down the road to the Faulhaber farm and met Bill Metzger and Rodney Faulhaber.  They were the men who had seen Frank the day before.  With a good look at better photos, they agreed that it was, indeed, Frank.  We were restless to get going, and I left the Faulhaber farm in good spirits.  These were good folks.  They had discounted my theories of theft or abduction, and encouraged us – as well as offering to give us a hand if we didn’t find him right away.  We then drove out to Jim’s property to get our bearings.  We decided to use 240th Street and SH 281 as the axis of our grid.  On a yellow legal pad, I scratched out a map and began to make notations.  Road by road, section by section, we searched for Frank, driving over to the property every couple of hours to see if he had returned.  No luck.

We covered an area three miles above 240th and six miles east of the western county line, as far as SH 281.  We were both discouraged, and fatigue had begun to set in.  The snow had been too deep on one road, so we had backed out rather than try to get through the drifted snow.  On the return pass, I had miscalculated, and sent us down the same road, in the opposite direction, and now uphill. We didn’t recognize it right away,  but the tire tracks we saw ahead were our own.  Jim asked me what I thought, I said “Give ‘er”  About 100 yards into the snow covered road the Tahoe hung up in deep snow.  We realized “our” mistake, and recognized that we had given up on this road earlier, when we had gravity on our side.  We would have gravity with us now, too, but we were going backward.  The most obvious weapon in this battle would be the one known as “Big John”  That would be me.  With our vast experience in getting ourselves out of messes like this over the years, patience took center stage.

After about ten minutes of cajoling the Tahoe off of it’s snowy perch, the truck broke free, and we were on our way again.  We got out to the main road, and we looked at each other, and we were thinking the same thing – we needed to cover some fresh ground.  We decided to go six miles south and work our way north, but on the east side of Highway 281.  It was now after one p.m., and I was starting to think about an important meeting I had the next day at 1 p.m. -at home.  It wasn’t a business meeting that could be delayed or postponed,  I had to be there.  It was good to be on paved road, going more than 15 mph.  As we approached the intersection of SH 281 and our baseline, 240th Street, Jim yelled out, and I thought we were about to be hit by a semi or something.  He is a big guy with a big voice, and he was as excited as I was oblivious.  “There he is!!!”  Seeing it in print, doesn’t adequately describe his exclamation. When I realized he was saying he saw the dog, I didn’t believe him.  We have been known to get a little crazy, and I really believed this was a sick joke.  This was a white dog in a snow-covered pasture with clumps of brown grass.  How he had spotted Frank, I will never know.

He pulled over to the shoulder, backed up and turned east on 240th.  Finally, I saw Frank.  My glasses and the moisture on the truck window gave him an aura-like outline.  I felt like I was dreaming.  We had talked earlier about what the strategy would be when (not if) we found him.  Although I am an experienced dog handler, this would rank right up there with one other dog recovery situation a couple of years earlier in Colorado.  The difference was that this was my dog, my Frankie-boy.

FRANK HORSE PASTURE

The Schmidt family horse pasture – Frank’s home away from home.

 

I slid out of the truck seat and closed the door quietly, standing at the front fender for a few moments.  I removed my hat and slowly waved it over my head.  “Frankie-boy!! It’s dad, it’s time to go home – c’mon buddy!!”  I was resisting the excitement with everything I had.  He was rock still in the pasture, surrounded at a distance by his six horse friends.  I had to cross a ditch to get up to the fence, and I was afraid the quick movement would spook him.  I gripped my whistle tightly in my teeth and hopped across the ditch.  As I landed, I saw Frank’s quarters drop and his head roll to the south.  I blew the hup whistle

and there was a faint hint of recognition.  His head rolled back toward me, but he still did not make eye contact.

This is probably not the ideal place to explain it, but Spaniels are trained for American field trials in the English style: that means a sharp toot on the whistle means “HUP!” or “sit down where you are and don’t move till I tell you to…”.  A trill on the whistle (tooooot tooooot, tooooot) means come in, and a quick double burst means that the dog should change direction.  There are also hand signals, but the only ones pertinent here are the upraised open palm which reinforces the “HUP!” command, and the drop of the hand from that position, which corresponds to the “come” command. These are English whistles, like we used to carve from a willow shoot, long and narrow, not like the referee whistle or police whistle most people would recognize.

 

I blew the “Hup!” whistle again, and Frank dropped to a sitting position, head high, and square to me, just as if I had stopped him there during a hunting experience or a field trial.  I slowly dropped my hand and blew the “come-in” whistle – just  a trill of low sounds on the whistle.  Normally, upon release, he would just pin his ears back and come in, but he had not acknowledged that this was the boss just yet.  He had seen a lot of people in the last four days, and he still wasn’t sure.  He took three or four slow strides toward me, and then started to drop his hips and roll his head, as if he was going to go south.  The horses began to gather around, as if responding to the whistle.  I blew the “HUP!” whistle again, and put my hand up.

 

The fence was basket weave on the bottom with two strings of barbed wire at the top.  I knelt down in the snow and extended my hand,  blowing the “come-in”  whistle again.  He started toward me and then strayed north toward the fence.  Slowly he came up the fence line, his belly about an inch off of the ground, his hair sticking through the basket weave fabric.  He came within about a foot of my outstretched hand, and his tail started to wag.  He inched closer,  and started to lick my fingers.  He probably thought that was pretty good: dogs like sweaty palms.  I stuck my left hand through the fence, and he started to alternate, licking the fingers of both hands.  I slowly withdrew my right hand from the fence, while still wiggling the fingers of my left trying to keep his attention focused on my hand.  With my right hand, I reached over the barbed wire, and finally grasped the fabric of the now-famous green collar with the brass ID tag. Holding on for dear life, I got to my feet, reached over with my left arm under his belly and lifted him over.

He was about five pounds lighter, and probably a thousand pheasants wiser now.  With both of my arms around him he laid his head on my shoulder and began to lick my face.  I had to go back over the ditch, now carrying a 45 pound dog.  He was trembling.  At first I thought it was me, but it was Frank.  He was quivering, almost shuddering, but at the same time, he was content to be in my arms.  I took a step backwards, and, having lost my bearings in the excitement, slipped into the ditch, my often damaged 50 something knees buckling under the load.  I was up to my chest in snow, hanging on for dear life to a dog that had been missing for nine days,  and I couldn’t get my feet under me because of the stiffness of my hunting boots.  The more I tried, the more snow went down my pants.  I looked up and after all of the strain and frustration,  all my pal Jimmy could do was stand there on the road and laugh.  Finally gathering himself, he asked if I would like him to take the dog.  I told him I would appreciate that.  After all the miles and experiences of an almost forty year friendship, we could still maintain some manner of decorum.

With the dog safely in his arms, I climbed out of the ditch and brushed myself off.  We quickly found our way to the rear of the Tahoe, and put Frank safely in his crate.  The door now closed,  I extended my hand in thanks to my old friend.  He grabbed it, and threw his free arm around me.  A sense of relief flowed over me in that hug, and a sense that after a long and frustrating couple of years,  I had engineered a successful outcome.  I would sort out the life-lessons later, I had my boy safely in the truck.  I wondered about what the passers by on SH 281 would think about two big guys hugging in the middle of a dirt road.  I walked to the passenger side of the truck, alongside the fence.  Six horses stood as if hitched to a rail, and in their mute stare was the question: “Hey Frank – where you going?”

Epilogue

We were like frogs that week.  In the pond of miracles, we were jumping from one lily pad to another.  Home less than 24 hours,  my wife and I received a call from our oldest daughter, expecting her second child: “Mom, I have back pains..”

When she hung up the phone, she said, “Is your bag still packed?”  I said that it was.  The next morning, we were on the road for Minnesota, and in the truck,  Frank and the others were safely aboard.

Zoe Grace Cutler, born November 27, 2003 FRANK ZOE GRACE

Waconia, Minnesota

The phone call came at 12:25 on Thanksgiving day: “Dad, It’s Paul, Kelly had the baby and everything is fine…”  His voice trails off after that, life was full of miracles.

 

It’s all in a name, isn’t it?

 

014b71e5aeb2cdf816105e455eb47283a45092719c

The little window dressing on my truck gives the name of my business, “Art in Wood”, the website address, and my phone number.   Seemed simple enough.  Just maybe the biggest customer/patron I haven’t met yet will go to my website, or call me, or better yet, approach me.  It’s a small business.  Really small.  I’ve worn out several careers, and finally get to walk across my driveway to work, and fool around with wood in my shop finally built for the purpose.  It’s like I planned it that way, which I did.  Wood is amazingly versatile and every tree has a story to tell – some bigger than others.

jones saw

This tale is about how we chose our words, and the fact that we need to keep in mind that what we think about a word or a sentence may strike someone else in a completely different way.  In order to do that, we need to humble ourselves just a little bit.  Get out of the box and turn it over a few times – maybe see what someone else is thinking.

So, it’s a beautiful late summer day, and I stop at the gas station that I frequently patronized in my “last” career because it is unique and there are people there that I like.  Not just any old gas station, but they call themselves a General Store.  Part grocery, part clothing store, coffee stop, clean bathrooms, old pictures, Ice Cream – and a ZOO!  Park my truck, and ease on in for an ice cream cone and some chatter.  When I come out come out a few minutes later, there’s a very tired looking tradesman’s truck, with a very tired, bearded, tradesman half in and half out of the driver’s door.  He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  His eyes follow me and I acknowledge him with my standard “how’s your day goin’?” Blows right past my trite greeting:

“You ART?”

“No, I’m John”

“Well, who’s Art?” He jabs his head at the sign in my truck window.

Laughing now, “No, No, that’s my business, it’s what I do – I make things out of wood and call them art.”

“Ugh” he actually looked disappointed.

He was holding a scrap of wood that looked a lot like a whuppin’ stick about an inch and a quarter thick two inches wide and two feet long.  Dirty, but substantial – looked like something that had been torn out of something.  Used wood always piques my interest.

“You probably know a lot about wood, then.”

“More than most, probably – I read a lot”

“Wondering if you can tell me something about this wood.  Doing an addition for some city folks that want me to match the flooring in the old farm house they just bought.”

Ah, now it fits.  I’m thinking these “city folk” aren’t sure of what they have here with their contractor.  Guys like this always surprise me with what they are able to do, even when they bite off more than what it seems they can chew.

He hands me the wood.  I take out my pocket knife and scrape off some of the crud from what was once a wonderful piece of white oak.  “When was the house built, late 1800’s?” I was immediately taken back to the home of the Koeppler brothers a little more than a stone’s throw away from where we were standing.  Spent a lot of time there as a kid, listening to their stories about the history of the farm and their family.

“Guessin’ so”

One end of the board is fresh sawn clean and square.  The grain is super tight – a telltale message from the early 1800’s for oak grown in the upper Midwest and Lower Canada.

“White oak, see this grain, and how close the growth rings are?  The wider the rings the better the growing season – this one went through tough times didn’t grow much in these years” I’m pointing to the growth rings.  There was a mini – ice age in the 1800’s.  People say that it snowed on the Fourth of July one year.  Winters were super cold and summers cool enough that farmers couldn’t get crops to grow.  Caused an economic depression in the 1830’s”

“How can I match it?” (spare me the history, boy)

“You can’t, but if you take it to a sawyer and tell them what you are trying to do, they can come pretty close.   Saw it so the grain looks closer than it is.  It’s in how they saw the log.  White oak is hard to come by right now, but if you push a little, they’ll do what you want. You want some tight grained white oak that was harvested around here. Then just tell them how you want it cut.  Make sure the moisture content is below 10 per cent.”

He stuck out his grimy hand, enclosed in a grimier leather driver’s glove.  We shook.

“You sure know a lot about wood, Art!”

I gave him my card.  Call me if you don’t find what you need.  I can hook you up.

Looking at the business card he said, “I mean John – thanks a lot for taking the time!”

Lonesome Whistle

Milwaukee_Road_261_prototypeWe grew up on the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific tracks in Oconomowoc.  South Street.  The house was 90 feet from the tracks.  On a summer morning, eating your cereal, you could watch the sash of the southern kitchen window vibrate itself closed when a train went through.  Sometimes, it took a couple of trains, and someone would just push it open again.  We didn’t know about the free windows you could get if you bought ten, (I guess that deal came later).

I always thought kids looked down on those of us who lived “on the tracks” but,they didn’t know what went on between the sidewalk and those four steel rails that curved into oblivion about 3/4 of a mile down the street.   Oh, we knew where they went, but standing on the tracks, looking west, that bend was the question mark, “where could you go?” what was “out there”.  Standing on the tracks? Yes, Virginia, our parents “let” us stand on the tracks.  We were pathfinders, and football players, and outlaws.  We had tallgrass forts and a football field between the telegraph poles with about a ten degree tilt to the north.  When I was small, we still had steam locomotives.  The Milwaukee Road used steam units well into the fifties for local switching (a siding served Carnation Company as well as Oconomowoc Lumber) and although it was a rare occurrence, there still was the occasional Black monster pulling a full freight billowing the charred coal smoke that left a black dust film on our window sills, our cars, and everything else.

One of the neighbor ladies told us daily that the “railroad police” would arrest us and throw us in jail for ten years if we played on the right of way.  But play we did.  When we weren’t emptying the trash, or doing our paper routes – or some such mundane tasks. So, as I sit at my desk, I think about the lonesome sounding whistle, and how much it has been a part of our lives – yes, both Pam and I grew up on the tracks, she in Hartland, I in Oconomowoc.  Seems I was just looking the wrong direction as my eyes followed the cabooses around the Blaine St. curve.

We married, and lived for a couple of years on Hy. B in Oconomowoc (not near the tracks) then moved to Hartland, where our subdivision homes were within a few hundred feet of the same tracks. From there, we moved to Willowbrook Farm, a handsome, money pit of a “cottage” where, just across the marsh and Hy. JJ, ran the same CM StP & Pacific tracks, and I’m here to tell you that you haven’t heard a train whistle until you’ve laid in bed with the windows open and listen to the wail of the train horn amplified across the heavy air of the thousand acre marsh.  You have to resist the urge to get up and open a door to let the train come through.

We moved again, a temporary spot as we planned, four years without trains, but then to Stone Bank, where, a small farm field away, runs the old Chicago-Northwestern track, now Union Pacific, with its long uphill grade, where you can lay in bed with the windows open and hear the sissy diesel electrics labor up the long grade to the mini-divide, where it is decided whether water runs to Lake Michigan or to the Mississippi, then, having reached the divide, let it roll down hill all the way to bigger cities, where no whistle ordinances and speed limits restrict their fun.

Trains are like dirt under your finger nails – once there, they just never leave you.  To ride on one is still a treat. To watch a hundred car freight is still a wonder (yes, I still try to count cars). Still wondering where they are going, what the are hauling and what the destinations of the AmTrak passengers are.  What do those folks face when they get where they are going?  Reunions?  Mourning?  or just a joyride around America.  That sounds like fun.

 

 

Humble Confidence

Source: Humble Confidence

Humble Confidence

It’s amazing how many different kinds of people there are in the world, even my little world, and it’s even more amazing how many different ways those people react to the way the world responds to their talents, qualities, and demonstrated abilities.  I watch for these things, because there are some things that have made me aware of the differences. I’ve spent some time around some pretty big egos, and it is interesting to observe how people handle the success they have.  Sometimes, there are cases of “how far the mighty have fallen” and how those folks handle it, as well. Why do this as an exercise?  I like to just kick back and observe, pick out what I like, and hopefully apply it in my own life.

Though I’ve never been “mighty” I’ve had some less than successful experiences in my life.  I come from pretty humble beginnings, and that’s allowed me to appreciate what I have been able to achieve – or rather, WE because nothing that has been achieved could have been done without the Mother Superior (known to the rest of the world as Mom, or Pam).  As one of those egos once said of her “Now there’s a lady with a presence”.  It’s that “presence” that interests me most.

I’ve spent alot of time in public service, mostly small potatoes stuff, but met alot of people – smart people who know a lot of good stuff.  Same with my insurance career, working with and for a couple of former Governors of the State of Wisconsin, not to mention the company officers, a few of whom I had a close relationship with for many years, and remain in contact with ten years after my departure from “the company”.  I’ve had some pretty impressive clients, too, and by treating them like regular people, was able to learn a great deal.  So what’s the takeaway?

I want to keep meeting new people and renewing old friendships.  It is so great to reconnect with old friends who – just maybe, you should have been better friends with back in “the day”.  Some – not so much.  I really have a hard time with false humility, self deprecation bores me: People who have a hard time handling compliments for real accomplishments, and try to pretend it’s nothing.  Same with people who accomplish pretty average things and make like it’s a big deal.  I’m looking for some quiet confidence.  Maybe we could call it confident humility.  I want to find people who have set goals for themselves, worked hard to achieve them, and are content to celebrate alone with a fist pump and/or just a big YES! and a grin.  Not to go out looking for praise, but  when it comes, the ability to take it straight up, and just say thank you.   It’s best when the accomplishments are planned and hard won; the praise genuinely unexpected.  Thank you – a couple of my favorite words.

 

People Design Their Lives Around Unverifiable Ideas Masquerading as Absolute Truth

Source: People Design Their Lives Around Unverifiable Ideas Masquerading as Absolute Truth

Simplify

When a freshman undergraduate at Wisconsin State University – Oshkosh, I was required to read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for an American Literature class. The copy that we had to buy also contained Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience”. Since this was the fall of 1968, and it was Oshkosh, where the first semester was truncated by racial demonstrations and administrative and police over-reaction, the assignment was not without its sense of timing. Over the next few years, I would become pretty good at the Civil Disobedience part, but the theme and text of Walden has stayed with me. Not that I managed to simplify my life; I wanted other things too, but the trade offs were always between the simple life, and the “other” life I wanted: home, family and “stuff”.

The last 45 years have been pretty good. Home(s)- check. Family, (special wife, three great daughters and now their families, complete with fine sons-in-law, and 8 grandkids, as well) check. Respect (great job and career, community service) check. And stuff, check, check, check. Nearing permanent retirement, I never imagined I would “quit” working, but now even modest job related headaches have me wondering – “why?” I find myself thinking about the simple life – a chair (the shack at Walden pond had three – one for sitting, one for company and a third for society), a table, a cup, a bowl and a spoon. Perhaps a rug on the floor – that should be enough. Perhaps I could go and buy some artists paints and a few brushes to paint a picture of “my” Walden, whatever form that takes. Of course, I could not buy the chairs and table, I would have to make those, and I would need at least some of my tools.

I think about my time of relaxation and leisure, as my mind races. Books I have not read, ideas I have not written about, places I have not been. A pond needs a boat. I have always wanted to build one, and a friend just gave me the forms to use in building a boat that I have always dreamed of – it is a simple one, pondworthy and true, a Rangely guide boat – called a “pulling boat” for it’s man powered oars. I see the Mother Superior in the “sport” seat reading her book, with me in the guide seat, rowing – on Moose Lake perhaps, or Golden Lake – or Walden Pond. I will build it. I will need time, and a place to loft it, my friend has a big shed, and if I stay out of his way, maybe I could do it there. And, it will take more of my tools.

I still want simpler, quieter, easier. We’ve worked hard, been through alot, The boat might just be the last big project. It fits the simple life – Jeff says no motor. But a 2 1/2 would be nice, just in case I get tired, or we get caught in the rain. We wouldn’t want the Mother Superior’s book to get wet.

rangely guideboat

rangely guideboat, built by Jeff Trapp, Madison and Manitowish Waters, WI

Look again!

Junior high was pretty intense. Sometimes it all runs together, but alot of lessons were learned in those two years, as well as the year we spent in no man’s land, our freshman year, which was the last year of the old high school, and the year before they split us into two “campuses” north and south – in the same building. Sheer genius. One of those lessons has stayed with me, and surfaced numerous times as an explanation for part of the reason Iyam who Iyam!

One of our junior high teachers found a book that was a collection of essays and short stories. I remember it clearly, if not the title. It was a blue book with clouds on the cover. Honestly, I think it was a little over our heads, but he insisted that we each pick one of the entries and write about what it meant to us. I was close to last, so the picking was slim. My “selection” was an essay by Samuel Scudder (who I had never heard of) about his experience as a student of the great Harvard Paleontologist of the 1800’s, Louis Agassiz (who I had never heard of). The essay was grinding to read, because I just had no interest at the time in rocks and fossils. I read it over and over, trying to find something that related to my life or how I could apply Agassiz’s intensity to my life.

Schiller’s focus was on his observations of a specimen that he thought was thorough and complete. His examination by Agassiz consisted of relating those observations to the great teacher one on one, in an oral test. Agassiz shrugged off his detailed description with the challenge to “look again!” Schiller repeated this process over and over until Agassiz finally accepted his observations.

For some reason, that challenge has always stuck with me. Whether I am looking for an item that most closely fits a function I “need”, a principle or idea that where more clarity is needed, or a product or concept for a customer, I think I have the reputation of being relentless until I find the answer that is “just right”. In my woodworking, my approach has become more and more exacting, whether it is a piece of hardware that gives a client the function needed, one more cycle of finishing that gives a certain glow or protection level. It helps me learn, develop and be better. I am sure Agassiz would look at my results and often tell me to “look again!” but for me, I am satisfied that I must do a little more, and make the extra effort, because “good enough” mostly just isn’t.

A Friend II

Sneaking quietly into the backdoor of my life, my friend throws words at me, sending my thoughts careening off in other directions.  But I listen.  They come from a life of pain, and joy, and hardship, laughter and tears that we can understand. The wisdom comes from hard won victories, and sad losses.  Grounded in a faith and power that few know.   I know my friend, but yet I don’t.  When I think about a person sometimes in my idle time, I try to focus in one word descriptions:

tenacious

fragile

tough

kind

good

resilient

faithful

thought-full

forgiving

focused

loving

patient

impatient

talent

fear

confidence

against the wind . . . all of my life!

against the wind2 I grew up in the “Lake Country” of central Waukesha County, WI.  The area is known for a couple of things: Lakes and houses around the lakes and in the general area that reflect the effect of money.  As in cash, and lots of it.  Armour, Pabst, Valentine, Bush, Eschweiler, and many more  – are part of the history of the area. Country clubs, yacht clubs, there was a lot of recreation that generated a flow of cash.   Sailing regattas that attracted folks from other states.  As kids who lived in the old Merchants Plat addition of Oconomowoc, a neighborhood of 40′ lots with railroad track frontage, our entertainment from this was to go down the street and figure out how many different states we could count license plates from.  To us, they were just the people who made our narrow streets narrower and blocked our driveways on Sunday mornings with their station wagons and trailers.

For me, living a block from Lac La Belle, a 2700 acre gem of a lake that encroaches right into the city of Oconomowoc, it could have been a mile away, except for a couple of things.  I love to fish, and I love boats of all kinds.  Our old steel rowboat, part of my dad’s inheritance from his father was our entre’ to the world of Lac La Belle.  We didn’t use it much, and I think Dad eventually sold it for scrap one time when things were tight.

As a subset of the boats, I was particularly fascinated by sailboats, and the almost obsessive passion that their owners exhibited in getting to the lake, getting the boat in the water and getting after it.  Their basic principle was foreign to me, being a kid with a passion for the internal combustion engine, on the one hand, it seemed to be much ado about nothing, but there was one thing about it that even my trusty Encyclopedia Britannica could get me to understand: sailing against the wind.  In the winter, the crazies came out – the iceboaters.  This complicated things further.  With a 20 mile an hour wind, they could go from one end of the lake to the other in what seemed like less than a minute, hitting speeds of 85 -100 miles an hour.  But they could come back pretty fast too, again, against the wind.

The situation at home dictated that I would never really be accepted in the “inner circle” of Oconomowoc’s sail boaters, water skiers and lake people, so I became something of a contrarian.  Never let it be said that I was not willing to pick up an idea and turn it over and look at the soft underbelly.   I’ve always been willing to look at another opinion, or an idea that someone else may have  or even take the side of the obvious underdog – just because.