Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Strange Travelling of Time.

So here I sit on a moist Wisconsin evening, face into a nice grass of wine, thinking about some of the interesting things that have passed my way through what is now a rather long life. Somehow I got off on thoughts about covered wagons of the type used by early settlers moving into the west, the west we used to live in. In a way, it was along time ago, I would suppose, but in thinking, I recalled Art Miller who moved to Elizabeth Colorado in the early part of the 20th century. I knew Art and that seems in a way strange because that means I knew someone who came west in a covered wagon. This was ours---but it just moved in the yard---or was used for a camp for a few hippies.

Yes, it was 1970 and that was some 45 years ago, but I still find it strange that I would know someone who so many years ago was a part of that history. He came on the Smoky Hill Trail that came into Colorado from what I suspect was the Oregon Trail to the north. He told me the trails were still being used in the twenties which was hard to grasp. But in truth, in 1970,  that was only 45 years earlier, the same amount of time that has now passed since knowing Art. History is so recent it is almost impossible to comprehend.

In Art's early time there was no airplanes, no autos, no phone, no sound systems, just horses and wagons, telegraph. I knew this guy and I knew George McClellan who was born even earlier. He was a man who remembered a gun fight in front of the salon in Elizabeth where the local superintendent blasted some other bar room occupant over a disagreement. We drank beers in the same bar but had no gun fights, even though on one evening during the rodeo, I did get out my lever gun and scared the shit out of some drunken cowboy---that is a story in itself.

How can it be that we have come so far in so little time. I know that I am getting up there but to realize I knew folks who saw the wild west is almost hard to fathom. Still, I do remember in my early childhood reading how the last Civil War veteran had died---a drummer boy. Then, there was the death of the last slave. That was in my life time.

I talked many times with Art and George and they told of those times. We sat on the bench in front of our shop on Main Street, the same bench that sits in my backyard today here in Wisconsin. The street in Elizabeth was still dirt and some 200 ft wide to allow the cattle to be driven to the rail head behind our shop. What a memory. How can it be so close? Throw in a little wine and the brain has a way of remembering things once told. I guess I like that.

But here we are so many years removed. Tonight old songs of the west are adding to the memories and sitting on the bench, maybe with our covered wagon out front, bringing back Art's stories. Damn, it has happened fast. I can still see the dust of the streets in Elizabeth kicking up much as they did in George's time. We too had horses running through the town. I would seem age has an advantage of having memories from other times. I will rest well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Tough Trip through Paradise

A Tough Trip Through Paradise. (The Community Spirit Column of the month)

Many years ago, a book came out with the title, A Tough Trip Through Paradise. It was written by Andrew Garcia and described his adventures as a mountain man in the late 1800’s. He knew what he was seeing, the glories of it all , the untouched frontiers and the lives of the Native Americans.  But, it was a tough go. We recently learned a paradise trip is still no “walk in the park”.

In mid-August, we headed to Madeline Island in Lake Superior with a group of friends intent on basking in paradise while sipping an appropriate beverage, maybe catching an evening fish, or going for a late afternoon sun-lit walk. Like all adventures, measures were taken to accommodate all of our pleasures and needs, luxurious tents, sleek boats, holiday clothing and a wild assortment of garden goods.

The first evening, the rains came and dampened our enthusiasm, but only a wee touch, although each drop of warm rain aroused a few mosquitoes. Not a festive soul was deterred. The morning brought the sun and a crispness that can only be found from newly washed leaves and trees, a settling of the dust and a cleansing of the air we breathed. Yes, it was paradise.

Glenn, the sailor in the crowd, brought along his catamaran of some 21 feet, a craft of significant sail, a boat he planned on sailing for the better part of a week. With the help of friends, it was fully rigged and stood elegant on the beach some four miles from our campsite. Once the two-hulled sailboat was ship shape, Jim and I manned the two-person skin covered kayak and headed toward the distant campsite around a couple of rocky points and across some cold open water.

There was no hurry as the weather was pleasant and the breeze stood at a comfortable three knots. Good fortune put us in the lee of the island and the mild, late-summer wind, was pushing us homeward. We knew Glenn was trailing us as he still had to get the craft in the water and then catch a fair breeze to make the easy journey. It was a morning paradise on the crystal clear water as the gulls chatted away and the distant loons greeted us.

Within minutes the breeze picked up and in looking back, we could see Glenn had caught the eye of the new zephyr and was headed out to bigger water to speed to his waiting wife and friends. All was well and good,  and I am sure he was aglow with the spray of Gitchigoomie releasing his wild spirit.

The breeze continued to increase as Jim and I bounced and pitched in our small craft. Maybe it changed direction from north to northeast and a bit of the lee was lost. The ride, while still pleasant, was accompanied by splashes of water coming in over the deck of our kayak. We knew Glenn was in heaven out there, all alone, pitched over a touch and gliding in great style.

In due time, we pulled up to see how he was doing and if he was actually catching us or if he had decided to head off to upper Michigan to learn to talk correctly. We couldn’t see him. The sail was nowhere in the open expanse as if he had either run far ahead or had been sunk by a U-Boat.  We pulled up hard to get a better view and finally found a speck on the horizon but it was not a sail. An individual appeared to be walking on the water. Not expecting to see a holy event, we realized it was Glenn standing on his boat but the sail was missing.

Shiver me timbers, he had lost his mast and was adrift on the high seas. The wind was still picking up. Without hesitation we headed in his direction thinking we would have to save him---whatever that meant. But one half mile later we were making little ground into the wind and we were taking on some water. In a moment of frustration, we decide it would be better to head for land and call the Coast Guard but halfway through the turn we saw a large sail about  three quarters of a mile out heading in his general direction.

With the last of our effort, we headed toward the sailboat to give them the message that our colorful sailor was adrift. With pointing paddles we let them know there was an issue. They sped on approaching the floundering craft but for some reason continued on. About then we noticed Glenn had some how managed to lift the boom up and catch some wind so that he was once again headed toward dry land.

After a long few moments, a large motor craft that we assumed was our gallant Coast Guard, came out from a distant port. They circled the disabled craft but Glenn, in all his glory, waved them off and signaled he is fine while looking like Captain Ahab standing on a white whale. We held back to find that he was now gaining on us and headed toward our waiting crew. As he approached us on the high seas, we saw the smile of a noble sea captain in charge. The mast had been shot away but he was standing tall.

Once ashore, the narrative was passed around and the struggles of the seas were related to all that would listen. The loss of a single cinch pin had disrupted the glorious water crossing. What it comes down to was that traveling through paradise is not always an easy ride. It can be a tough trip.

That night we also learned Glenn had been misled on the nature of his camping tent---someone had packed two rain flies.  The thought of him being in anyone else’s tent was sure to stretch the meaning of paradise. Oh, I had an extra tent, a small one just big enough for two. Moments later we learned our beloved blow up giant, very comfortable air mattress, was dead, flat to the ground, cushionless. Every joint I own hurts, so this was not a pretty picture---but there were a few extra smaller sleeping mats around and the day was saved---with some pain.

Oh, this trip through paradise can be tough---but it is still paradise. Glenn is still all smiles to this day---plus he has another story to tell.