Nibbled to Death by Ducks

October 25th, 2014 8 Comments

Nevada 2


I assume you’re familiar with the old truism: Just when you begin to think things can’t possibly get worse, they do. It’s is also—especially—applicable to the morons who collectively make up what we laughingly refer to as the United States government. Here is the latest, and were it not for Ron Spomer (, a very knowledgeable and truly gifted outdoor writer and photographer, this would have been buried by the avalanche of ebola and ISIS (International Society of Islamic Swine) and all the other horrors that occur daily throughout the world:

The Forest Service, a division of the Department of Agriculture, is tasked with managing approximately 193-million acres of national forest and national grassland. Just to make sure you understand, this is NOT, I repeat, NOT government land. This is your land. You, and your ancestors before you, have paid the taxes to set this land aside for public use, which means use by you and me, the owners of this land. You, and I, and your neighbors, pay the taxes that pay the costs of preserving our land. You, and I, and your neighbors, pay the taxes that pay the salaries of the bureaucrats who supposedly manage our land. It is yours. It is mine. It is ours. It is most emphatically NOT the government’s.

But now the Forest Service wants you to have to petition them for the right to photograph or film any activities that you might wish to enjoy in your wilderness areas. Want to film your fishing trip? You will have to apply for a special permit. Want to take a photograph of yourself with a deer you took? Apply for a permit. And it’s not as if you must apply for a permit that must be given out. You must apply for the permit, and the Forest Service may—at their discretion—grant it. If you want to photograph a hunt, it almost certainly will not be granted, because the Forest Service has a dubious record of supporting hunting, even though it was hunters who originally fought to have this land preserved.

The basis for this new over-extension and abuse of governmental authority is a law that states that no one is supposed to make money off the use of public lands. The law’s intent was to keep individuals and corporations from destroying our land while making a profit from it, i.e., slapping up a housing development, say. It was not intended to prevent a camper from writing about and photographing his wilderness experience for sale to a magazine so he can earn the money that will be taxed to pay the salaries of the idiots who come up with this crap. On his blog, Ron Spomer cites a news agency that was quoted a $1500 price tag for the permit to film within a wilderness area. I don’t know about you, but that price tag would effectively keep me out.

Apart from the governmental overreach and abuse, treating the tax-paying citizen like a serf, there is another issue here. Your first amendment right to free speech is also at risk here. The moment the government says, “You must petition us to exercise your right to free speech,” it ain’t a right any more. And it won’t stop there; when has the government ever rescinded a law for being a violation of constitutional right, save when forced to by the Supreme Court?

Until December 3rd, 2014 you can make your voice heard by commenting on this site: The comment bar is at the top. Please comment and comment often. Be polite, but let the fools know exactly how you feel about this. Tell your senator and congressman too. Tell the world how our government is nibbling away at our constitutional rights.


Alien Laws

October 23rd, 2014 5 Comments

liberty kissing justice


A new law has been passed and signed here in California. In a distorted example of synchronicity, a very parallel law has been signed into being in Great Britain, and no matter which side of the pond you live on, or which side of the “gun control” debate you take comfort in, you should be very, very afraid.

California’s law allows a mental health professional, or a law enforcement officer, or a family member, or (possibly; there is some ambiguous information out there) even someone sharing a residence with you—a roommate, if you will—to get a “gun violence restraining order” against you. On a single individual’s statement, you will be adjudicated a danger to yourself or others and any firearms you own will be confiscated until you can prove you are fit to own them.

In Great Britain, the new law allows the police to search the home of any gun owner (and in Great Britain all firearms must be registered) at any time, without any prior notification or justification.

Let’s assume you fear and hate firearms, and that you would like to live in a world where such things did not exist in any hands except those of law enforcement and the military, so let’s assume you would like to see the second amendment eradicated. How do you feel about the fourth amendment? Just to remind you, that’s the one that reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If you like that amendment and feel protected by it, too bad Honeychild; you can kiss it goodbye both in Great Britain and in California.

Also, if you should happen to be fond of the American judicial system’s “presumption of innocence,” that too you can kiss goodbye, at least here in merry old California, because under the new law, you now have to prove you are not a danger to yourself or anyone else before your firearms will be returned to you.

And just in case you really are naïve enough to believe that California’s new law will save even a single life, I would point out that even legitimately crazy people can be very cunning and lie about their actions or intentions—the man who shot me did—so it could come down to a he-said-she-said where the only winner will be the best liar. Not exactly the kind of legal system our Founding Fathers had in mind.

For a moment forget about guns and your hatred or fear of them, and think only about laws. Think about the following exchange from A Man For All Seasons, between Sir Thomas More, his wife, and his would-be son-in-law, William Roper, arguing about whether one of More’s most dangerous and subtle enemies should be arrested, something More has the right to do. The man in question leaves, and More’s wife says bitterly: While you talk, he’s gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of the law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Taking Sir Thomas More’s analogy of laws as protective trees, when laws are passed that undermine or negate fundamental rights, they may be considered as evil and insidious alien species. The two laws that have been passed in these two countries count as invasive alien species, and they will infect and destroy many of our good native laws, and not only those laws pertaining to guns. When that happens, no one, gun owner or rabid anti-gunner, absolutely no one will benefit.


Another Test Post with Adorable Puppies

October 21st, 2014 8 Comments

Playing with my computer, trying to fix posting problems. By way of apology, I will include a photo of ridiculously adorable puppies in a bucket. (The one with the dot on her head is ours.)

Puppies in a bucket (Small)


Wet Dogs Redux

October 19th, 2014 6 Comments

I received some comments and emails from people who tried unsuccessfully to read the “Wet Dogs” post. Let me explain: I have been having technological problems posting to my website, so I enlisted the aid of my resident computer/IT/internet/social media/brave-new-world expert, and the only way I could show him what was going on was to post something. He assured me there was a way to simulate a post without it going out into the ethers. I had my doubts, and it turned out I was sort of partially right. I picked a photograph (of wet dogs) a friend had sent me, wrote a quick post, hit the publish button, and as soon as the expert had witnessed the problem (indescribable and–worse–something he had never even seen before) I tried to delete said experimental post. You all witnessed the result: some of it went out. Never trust the internet.

However, since it is a great photograph, I will now post it here:

Wet dogs

I will now post this, run into the same (expletive deleted) problem, and muddle my way through to a correction, and pray that my expert can figure out a solution.


More Shameless Self-Promotion

October 17th, 2014 12 Comments



One of the more interesting things about this rapidly evolving internet age is the corresponding evolution of the English language. With almost every email I get from my agent, for example, I learn something new. (In the interests of honesty, let me say that in the preceding sentence I am using the word “learn” in its loosest and most casual sense.) Here is what she wrote me yesterday:

Here is the splash page link and the promo code for the Kobo sale that begins tomorrow, but keep in mind the link and code cannot be posted or shared before the sale begins tomorrow morning. Code: SAVE50.

Okay. What the hell is a “splash page?” Then she goes on with the following:

And here is the link right to AMERICAN RIFF if you want to share that with the code on your Facebook, Twitter, etc.: Please do spread the word about the sale on your Facebook, Twitter, etc. after the sale begins tomorrow! Remember friends/fans can buy the book on then download the free Kobo app for their phone, tablet, etc., if they don’t have a Kobo e-reader.

In this sentence, the only word that leaped out at me was “etc.,” as in, “Please do spread the word about the sale on your Facebook, Twitter, etc…” What etc.? What else is there? I do know there is–or at least I think there is– some web site devoted to sharing photographs only, but I don’t know what it’s called, let alone how to use it, and what would I do if I did? Take a photograph of myself (excuse me; I meant to say a “selfie”) with news about the Kobo sale tattooed on my chest?

However, to give myself an attaboy (would that be an attaboy selfie?) I am making progess. I mean to say, I’m on Facebook. That means I’m a hip and happening dude. And now you have the news about the Kobo promo, which is its own new language right there.


True at Last Light

October 13th, 2014 11 Comments


As soon as the Packers built up a solid, safe lead over the Vikings, I took Pete the Boxer out for a last ramble around the place, to stroll down the road a bit, close the gate, make sure our little corner of the world was safe and secure for the night. It was that magic moment of last glow, a dark night held briefly at bay by a dying sun, and across the valley, high up on one of the mountains to the south I could see the lights of an ATV, first in one area and then another moving light several miles away in a separate area. Those lights, momentarily appearing, then vanishing almost like shooting stars or satellites, gave me great pleasure to see, because I used to be one of those lights a long time ago.

There are no houses on that mountain, nor even roads; just rough two-tracks used by occasional cowboys, Forest Service and BLM employees, and—in season—hunters.

I used to hunt that mountain many years ago. Much of it is private ranch land, but at the top, and over on the far side, are several parcels of landlocked public land, a section or two of BLM here, another section there, that sort of thing. If you have permission to pass through the private property, there is surprisingly good hunting on those various chunks of public land, and back in those long ago days my friend Dave had permission from one of the largest landowners to drive through.

My friend was a dentist, and the landowner was his patient, so perhaps Dave had threatened him with a root canal without painkiller, but for whatever reason, Dave had full run of the place, and he and I would ride up the precarious two-tracks in the pre-dawn dark, and then ride back down again in the same last faint glow of day.

There were—and still are, in spite of the mountain lions’ best efforts—many deer up there, but the remoteness and steepness of the terrain makes the hunter, or at least this hunter, very, very selective. The sheer amount of labor involved after the shot is enough to make you think about just how badly you really need or want that venison.

The first year Dave and I hunted up there, he shot a very nice buck on a broad ledge just below the top on the far side. It was mid-morning, in an ideal spot, only four or five hundred yards from where we had parked the ATVs several hours earlier, and an easy drive down to where the deer was. It was perfect. And so was Dave’s shot.

Unfortunately, if there is one thing you learn in half a century of hunting, it’s that nothing, man or beast, reacts predictably when shot. This buck was dead the instant the bullet hit it, but it jumped forward, stumbled, took two steps, and went down. Unfortunately, those two steps had taken it right to the edge of the slope, so when it went down, it went down and kept on going down and down and down completely out of sight, perhaps a thousand feet ultimately, while Dave and I stood there with our mouths open and our hearts sinking.

We were both young and tough, but no matter how tough you like to think you are, these mountains can be very humbling. When we finally got down to the buck, it was apparent there was no way we could possibly get him up that slope intact, minus a helicopter, so we did a complete butchering job right on the spot, loins, chops, hams, backstraps, everything, boning the meat out on the grass. I had the better pack, so I took all the meat, while Dave took the rack, and we started back up. The slope was so steep that every time I slipped, instead of putting my hand down to catch myself, I would simply reach straight out in front of my face.

I forget now how long it actually took us to get back up, but I know it was dark by the time we got off that mountain. And probably, somewhere down in the valley, a man walking his dog saw our lights and smiled to think someone was having a great adventure up there. Dave sold his practice to his son-in-law and moved north years ago, and I don’t have an ATV, nor do I have permission to pass through the private land there, but I remember that time fondly, and it made me smile the other evening to see the hunters up there, and to wish them well.


A Disastrous, Glorious Day

October 2nd, 2014 17 Comments



Sometimes you get the feeling that somebody, make that Somebody, is having a great joke at your expense.

Last Saturday was the first day of deer season in my part of California and I decided to go out on my own. In the past, with rare exceptions, I have always hunted with friends, but I haven’t hunted at all since the accident (Fistfuls of Balloons,,  under my “Categories” section; I really need to move it over to “Other Writings,” but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that.) and I haven’t hunted alone in many years.

Some very good friends have a large landlocked chunk of land on the top of a mountain just a few miles north of my home. Their land is up around seven thousand feet, sandwiched between very large private ranches and a small, mountain community, and it is extremely steep and rugged, cut with draws and arroyos, so it acts as a sort of conduit for game animals. Deer consider that area their own private playground, and various elk herds drink too much and get all wild and lusty back there. The deer and the elk also attract large numbers of bear and mountain lion, so all in all in it’s a dandy place for wildlife watching, which is the real goal of hunting, or my hunting, at least. My friend and his wife are out of town, but they gave me the combination to the gate and told me to have fun.

Since fun, in hunting terms, means seeing lots of animals, I put aside the week before opening day to do my scouting. The idea was to go up there with my camera, get some photographs, track the movement patterns of the deer, and spend some time in blessed solitude away from my computer.

But God has a peculiar sense of humor and He decided to play with me. Various editors suddenly needed changes or proofreading; a small writing assignment came up that I couldn’t turn down; we had a pet emergency of the feline variety; and I got called up for jury duty. All of these things were taken care of in due course, but they all took up time I had intended to devote to scouting. The jury duty took up the most time, because it took the judge forever to get to work his way through all the questions that might make a perspective jury member ineligible, and then he actually skipped over question number eight (essentially, “Have you or a close family member ever been a victim of violent crime?”) and had to be reminded of it much later on when one of the lawyers finally noticed the omission. Then the judge had to go back to it and poll the jury on that question alone, so by the time I was finally dismissed (defense lawyers don’t want violent crime survivors on their juries) an entire day had been wasted in the kind of civic duty I normally would be happy to do at any other time of the year.

The result was no scouting, but not to worry. No problem. I know that land fairly well; the weather, which had been unseasonably hot, was slated to change on opening day, and that meant any scouting I had done would have been rendered meaningless anyway because the deer would change their patterns and habits in response to the weather. So, I told myself, no worries; just head out super early opening morning, and get in before the sun comes up, and all will be well.

And so it would have been, should have been, only…

I loaded the truck up the night before with everything needed for a round-the-world-on-foot expedition, along with some extra stuff just in case. I set the alarm for a most uncivilized hour, and when it went off, I raced through my breakfast and skipped out with high expectations for my Date with Destiny.

I made it as far as my own gate before I realized I had a slight problem, as in I had a flat tire. Back to the house. Check out the tire by security lights and flashlight. Determine said tire is actually just low, but it doesn’t need to be changed. Down to the barn for the compressor. Lug compressor up to the house. Get the extension cord. Hook up compressor and put on the right appliance. Fill all the tires to the required pressure levels. Put the compressor back. Put the extension cord back. Finally start my drive up the mountain by morning’s first light, the same light by which I had hoped to be cautiously hiking down one of the two-tracks on the far side of my friend’s property.

The weather change had been radical, about a thirty-degree drop in temperature with heavy cloud cover, which translated to heavy fog on top of the mountain, and high winds, but winds that came from all directions at once. It was possible, in the space of less than a minute, to feel the wind in my face, on the back of neck, in my left ear, in my right ear, coming straight down on top of my hat, and coming straight up the slope trying to lift said hat off my head. Yet, despite all that, there were deer everywhere, mostly does, a few small bucks. Because of the fog and brush I didn’t get any photographs, but it was wonderful just to see them drifting in and out of cloud and brush, the same color as both of those, monochromatic, sleek and beautiful:

When Daniel Boone goes by at night the phantom deer arise,

And all lost, wild America is burning in their eyes.

The elk had all moved off to some other part of the mountain, but judging by the tracks and droppings they had been there in multitudes. There was bear scat less than a hundred yards from my friends’ house, and a pile of either small mountain lion or very large bobcat scat right in the middle of one of the trails just a few hundred yards farther down the slope.

In short, there were both wildlife and signs of wildlife everywhere, and the only sign of what we laughingly refer to as humanity was the sound of the train whistle drifting up from the valley to the north. It was a thoroughly satisfying day.

I hunted my way slowly down the mountain lower and lower, and when it came time to head back, I made several realizations:

First, these mountains hadn’t got any less steep than they were before I had the accident.

Second, I hadn’t gotten any younger since I had the accident.

Third, physical therapy is a poor substitute for actual hiking.

And finally, I really didn’t need eight hundred pounds of emergency gear in my backpack.

I was a pathetic wreck by the time I finally made it all the way back up, but boy it was a great day!


Bird Watching with Alfred Hitchcock

September 25th, 2014 17 Comments



One of the great things about living in a rural area is all the wildlife one can see.

I saw my first condor the other day. Well, “saw” is a relative term; technically, yes, I saw a condor, I think, but it was so far away that the only reason I even bothered to look through the binoculars was that it was being harassed by a raven, and by comparison the raven looked like a sparrow, size-wise. Also, I knew the condors were in the area because my friend Dan Bronson ( told me the condors were in this neck of the woods. Very much in his small corner of this neck of the woods.

For those of you who might live in other countries and not be up to speed on the California condor (gymnogyps californianus) it is the closest thing we have these days to a pterodactyl. It looks like a cross between a pterodactyl, a dyspeptic undertaker, and a B-52 bomber, only nowhere near as pretty as any of those. It is America’s largest bird, with a wingspan that can reach over nine feet, and for many years it teetered on the brink of extinction.

And right now would be a good time to point out that those of you who believe global warming is an unprecedented catastrophe caused by man’s rapacity and greed, a catastrophe that will destroy the world as we know it, you will all be pleased to know that global warming should be a definite asset to the condor. If I have my facts right, the ancestors of the California condor were once both common and widespread from the Pacific to the Atlantic, but their numbers (and physical size) became greatly reduced as a result of the last ice age.

Be that as it may, for the last thirty-five years the condor has been the subject of an intense effort to keep the species viable, and they were only released back into the wild in 1991, so seeing one is a big deal. That is, to see them through binoculars is a big deal. For Dan and his wife Sonja, it would be more accurate to describe it as a big ordeal.

That’s Sonja’s photograph above. That’s Dan and Sonja’s gazebo the condors are sitting on. Each condor weighs about twenty-five pounds. Each condor has a prodigious and powerful beak. Each condor has a (pick one) highly developed sense of humor, or a great deal of curiosity, or a catholic sense of taste. The result is that when they come to call, as they did at Dan and Sonja’s, they leave a trail of destruction, with damaged or missing roof tiles, screens torn out of the frames, and—most inexplicable of all—large quantities of caulking around the door frames missing, apparently ingested, but certainly no longer where Dan would like said caulking to be.

The handyman hasn’t gotten to Dan’s house yet, but it looks as if the damage with run to several hundred dollars at the very least.

And for those of you who think I’m just a tinfoil-hat-wearing-paranoid when I say that the NSA has its cameras in all our underwear, consider the following:

When Dan sent me the photograph, and mentioned the damage that had been done, he also asked me, as a hunter and wildlife lover/enthusiast, if he ought to call US Fish and Wildlife to see what he could do to discourage a return visit. I jokingly left him a phone message saying that I had contacted USFW on his behalf and that they had declared his home a condor refuge and were taking his house under eminent domain, and that he and Sonja would have to move. Dan had barely played his phone messages when USFW did in fact show up at his house, the real thing, not an imitation, but not because of me. It seems the tracking devices they put on the birds are so accurate that it is possible to pinpoint an individual’s location to within a matter of feet. Hence the young man who knocked on Dan and Sonja’s door.

Apparently the young man was very polite and helpful; not so helpful that he offered to reimburse the Bronson’s for the damage the birds had done, but helpful in offering suggestions for discouraging the birds’ from lingering, suggestions that included running around and waving your arms and yelling; or running around and banging pots and pans together; or squirting the birds with water. You know, all those things we really long to do and have so much time to do instead of, oh, earning a living.

Condor in flight


I would have liked very much to have witnessed Dan’s efforts to be inhospitable to the condors, but I got the next best thing. I happened to be talking to him on the phone the next day, as he wandered around his yard picking up bits of screening and roof tiles that were no longer on the roof, when the condors returned for another feast of caulking material, and the soliloquy that I heard went something like this:

“Yeah, it was really fantastic to see them, Jameson. It’s why I love living up here in these mountains so much. I mean they’re one of the rarest of all birds, so it’s something most people never get a chance to… Oh, wait. One of them is coming back… No it’s, it’s four of them. No! Five, six, seven, eight. There’re eight of them. One of them is flying right over my head, only a few feet over me. Wow! This is cool! It’s an immature one because it doesn’t have the white underwing markings… Oh, no! Oh, shit! It’s landing on the roof. They’re all landing all the goddamn roof. No! Hey! Get out of here! Go away! Go! I’ve got to get the hose. Sonja! Where’s the power nozzle? Go away! (pant, pant) God damn it! I haven’t got enough pressure. I can’t reach them. Sonja! Get some pots, get the lids and start banging them. Oh, no! Don’t do that! God damn it! Go away! Oh, shit! (pant, pant) I’ve got to get the ladder. I’ll call you back.”

Postscript: I just received an email from Dan, an email that is conspicuously lacking in his normal cheerful and chatty style, an email I can best describe as terse. There are now seventeen condors currently circling his house. Either his caulking tastes really good, or perhaps the birds know something he doesn’t, and he and Sonja ought to check their life insurance policies.



September 19th, 2014 26 Comments

Ancient algebra


ISIS, the International Society of Islamic Swine, has been getting some bad press lately, but a headline caught my eye recently that made me think that maybe these fellows aren’t as bad as they seem. The headline, from various news sources, notably The Times of India (not, I admit, my ordinary news source), states that ISIS has banned math and social studies. I don’t know much about social studies—I can’t recall ever having had a course in social studies during my checkered academic career—but when I was in school, I would happily have signed on the dotted line with any organization that banned math, especially if said organization banned algebra.

Now, I know this doesn’t outweigh beheading people, or slaughtering people wholesale across much of the Middle East, but you must admit it is a good first step at rehabilitating their image. It’s an act of Christian charity—perhaps that’s not the right phrase, under the circumstances, but you know what I mean—that goes to show that ISIS has a softer, gentler side, that their hearts are in the right place, that they’re trying to make amends.

There is a certain irony, perhaps, in an Islamic organization banning algebra, since it was invented by Arabs. I believe both algebra and the concept of fractions had their roots in ancient Babylon, which goes a long way to explaining why Babylon no longer exists. Algebra is the only black mark I know of against the otherwise admirable Persian philosopher and poet, Omar Khayyam (as in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a poem which helped me endure many a painful math class, and gave me solace afterward in detention) who apparently frittered away much of his time writing about algebra when he could have been writing more verse.

I have always subscribed to Irish math myself, where two-plus-two may equal three or five or nothing whatsoever, and I have managed to totter through my six decades without ever once having felt the need to express myself with elementary, abstract, or linear algebra, and I plan to keep that record unblemished for the next six decades. I don’t wish to know the value of x. X hasn’t done anything to me, and I’m perfectly content to let it maintain its air of mystery. We all have our little vanities, and if x wishes to appear aloof and unknowable, let it.

Now we just have to get ISIS to extend its tolerance and understanding to some other areas of life, like just about everything you can think of.


Country Matters of the Pungent Variety

September 16th, 2014 15 Comments



I slept with the window open last night and some predator, almost certainly an owl, set off a skunk much too close to the house. The smell was enough to wake both my bride and me, and Darleen—burying her head under the covers—proclaimed bitterly that it smelled as if the owl had taken the skunk directly outside the bedroom window, possibly even in the bathroom. I was tempted to laugh at her, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the night on the sofa. My poor little hothouse flower doesn’t know what a skunk smells like when it’s really up close and personal. As, for example, when it sprays you. I do.

While we were still living in Germany, my mother and father had an adventure right out of one of those macabre pre-World War Two books or movies like The Old Dark House, only with a happy ending. My sister and I were away at our respective schools and my parents took a vacation by themselves in England. Somewhere, on some desolate moor or common, on a dark and stormy night, their car died (a Jaguar, natch) and they had to hike across country through a driving rain to the only light they could see. It turned out to be an ominous and forbidding old stone farmhouse, but as soon as the door opened it became considerably less o. and f. The place belonged to a very affable farmer and his wife and five bullmastiffs who all took turns trying to lick my parents to death. The dogs, that is, not the farmer and his wife.

Both my parents loved dogs, but my father in particular thought life without a dog was like a meal without wine or a day without sunshine, and he had a special weakness for the bully-breeds, bulldogs, mastiffs, boxers, and here he was surrounded by five of the bulliest of the bully-breeds. Our beloved old one-eyed boxer had died only a year or so earlier, one of the bullmastiff bitches was pregnant, and the upshot was that long before any mechanic arrived to fix their temperamental car, money had changed hands. Six months later a bullmastiff puppy from the farmer’s “R” litter arrived at the Cologne airport.

Roger, for so the farmer had named him, was an affable, lazy old schmoo. He looked intimidating as hell, but in the normal course of events his attitude was, much like my father’s, “Wherever two or three are gathered together, let’s have a party!” When events became abnormal, however, he became a very different kind of dog. It only happened twice that I know of, but both times he lived up to the bullmastiff’s justly earned reputation as a guardian. For the most part, however, he was just a big old happy-go-lucky slob.


After he retired from the Foreign Service, my father became the director of a small museum out in the country in Virginia, Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights which eventually became the model for our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, so many of which are so flagrantly ignored by today’s administration. One of my chores in those long ago days before security systems and alarms and electronic communication, was to walk Roger around the place late at night, just to make sure everything was safe and secure. Roger and I were ambling down a path not far from the house one very dark night, when suddenly he growled and started to run. Being a Bear of Little Brain, and thinking I was a lot tougher than I really was, I ran after him. I could hear, rather than see, him stop, so I skidded to a stop too, and then I heard a faint hissing sound.

Before I could even process what it might have been, the spray hit me. Hit both of us, actually. The only good thing was that I was so close to the skunk that he only got me from about the waist down. I had to throw away a pair of suede boots and a perfectly good pair of blue jeans. Poor Roger, on the other hand, hand to be repeatedly bathed, and even after all that he had to spend the night on the porch.

They are sweet dogs, bullmastiffs, but not prodigious intellects. One night later that same summer, my parents had long since gone to bed, Roger and I had already done our late-night patrol, and I decided to let him out into the fenced yard for one last leg-lift before I went to sleep. I was brushing my teeth when I heard something outside. It was Roger, engaging in a rematch with a skunk, but unfortunately, this skunk happened to be right by the air-conditioning intake, and a minute later, my father, my mother and I all flew out of the house in our pajamas, my father lighting up the night with a string of profanities that probably still drifts through the woods of Mason’s Neck like phantom fairy lights. It was weeks, and I mean literally weeks, before the smell eventually faded from the house enough that you could walk in there without your eyes watering.

You can see why I’m not terribly sympathetic to Darleen’s grumbling about distant smells drifting down the hill.

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