Thursday, July 31, 2014

Arriving in Tidewater Virginia

It was a Sunday morning. Knowing it should be the last leg of our trip, we got a more relaxed start. Sunday is traditionally pancake day in our family. Doing Sunday morning pancakes is usually my role, but today we went to a Cracker Barrel down the hill from where we had slept in WalMart’s parking lot. It was 9:30 before we got on the road.

The Ram and RV in John's driveway.
We arrived in Chesapeake, VA, in the afternoon. Finding my brother’s (John) house, we got the RV set up in his driveway. That would be our home for 6-8 weeks as we helped him through his surgeries and recovery. The total trip had been l,786.5 miles. Once we had the RV settled, the birds and squirrels moved into the garage, and got Buddy, my 14-ft. Hornbeck canoe, under cover, we had the afternoon to relax and visit with John.

One revelation had me concerned. Before the trip, I had ordered six books from our library at home. They had been ordered, but failed to show before our departure. I was not happy about the prospect of 6-8 weeks with nothing to read. Fortunately, there was a library just three miles away, so first thing Monday morning, Jean and I were off to the library.

The library was beautiful. It could be the focal point of any prideful town or community. It had pleasing paint and d├ęcor, carpeting, meeting rooms, automatic doors, circle drive, computer-driven catalog and checkout system. There was nothing the library lacked---except books. There were plenty of novels, yes, but the non-fiction section was really weak. Half or more of every shelf was empty. Books were stood on edge, their covers and pages splayed out to fill space. I guess it’s another consequence of the e-book craze.

Another consequence of our decaying society and weak parental involvement was the uniformed policeman that patrolled outside and through the library. I couldn’t avoid asking him why a policeman was needed in a library. He explained that the students from the nearby middle school used to use the library as a hangout when parents failed to pick them up after school. Having kids spending long hours in a library would have sounded like a good idea in my day, but they resorted to horseplay, dealing drugs, getting in fights, damaging the facilities, setting the shrubs outside on fire, etc. I shook my head and lamented the state of our culture, and said, “The next thing you know, they’ll be having armed policemen standing guard in church.” “Oh, they’re way ahead of you,” he responded. “There were so many problems cropping up that a number of churches have officers on duty for every service.”

Back to my reading dilemma, I resorted to the logical standby. Surely, there cannot be a library anywhere in America that doesn’t have something by or about Mark Twain. There were indeed two books, and I grabbed both.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Through the Atchafalaya

Andy says about a thousand people have seen his video, and for good reason.  It's 36 minutes long, with a great message at the end.  Enjoy!

Victims of Greed-2

Jean first brushed them with mayonnaise, which softens and bonds with the oil, greatly shortening the cleaning process. They were stood in a pool of soapy water as they were slowly rinsed with handfuls of wash water. The cleaning was then continued with Jean washing them with Dawn dish detergent and I shuttled buckets of warm water. Each owl went through sixteen washes and rinses. To rinse them, they would even allow us to submerge them under water clear up to their faces with total trust and lack of resistance or struggling.

It looks bedraggled, but just because it's wet.  The white
feathers in the wings and tail are now visible.  Its condition
was to greatly improve.
The amount of crude oil removed from them was both amazing and sadly disturbing. With most of the oil removed, we began to see that they had sustained multiple scrape injuries each to their beaks, faces, legs, and wings. These undoubtedly were sustained while beating at the rim of the tank in an effort to pull themselves over the edge to escape.  Once the cleaning was done, they were put in a large bird cage with a heat lamp to keep them warm while they dried.

Jean tried a number of foods to induce them to eat and start moving the oil they had ingested through their systems---beef cubes and steak cutlets sliced in thin ribbons, chopped-up chicken legs, and chicken livers and gizzards. The first owl never responded to any enticement, and lasted until noon the next day, the 24th. It’s body was given back to the game warden to hold as evidence in the criminal investigation.

By evening of the 25th, it had stopped eating, and by midday of
the 26th, it had to brace itself in the corner to keep on its feet.
We were heartened by the second owl. It began to walk, stand erect, even perching on a section of tree limb placed in the cage, and began to eat well and drink large amounts of water and chicken juice. It would take strips of meat from tongs at first, and then ate from a saucer left in the cage during the night. We nearly celebrated when it began to void its intestines, feeling that such a good sign surely meant that it was clearing its system and doing well. By the evening of the second day, the 25th, however, it stopped eating in the evening. We weren’t immediately alarmed, thinking it would eat during the night as it had the night before.

During the morning of the 26th, it seemed sluggish and hadn’t eaten. It took no more food, but it did take water, during the day. We checked on it frequently during the day. I looked in on it at 5:30 to see it slouching in the bottom of the cage. It looked at me and staggered, beginning to fall, but caught itself and stayed on its feet. It went into the corner of the cage and put its head in the corner, leaning there to stay on its feet as its wings began to droop more and more. Minutes later, it turned and looked at me for several seconds, drool hanging uncontrollably from its mouth, and rolled over onto its side. Its breathing was rapid and shallow, and then lapsed into shallow panting, and by a little after 6 pm, it also was gone. The amount of organ damage and poisoning had obviously been too much for it to overcome, and in death it voided a substantial pool of black oily liquid.

The heart-breaking end---hunched, wings drooping, having lost
control of its own body, drool hanging from its beak.  It turned and
gave me a haunting and pleading look for some seconds before
rolling onto its side and expiring.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Victims of Greed

It seems a fair statement that paddlers, as a whole, are led to their passion by a love of nature. Therefore, while this is not a paddling story, it is indeed a story for paddlers. This love for nature will make this a gruesome story. Such gruesomeness is almost always glossed over, deleted supposedly for the benefit of sensitive eyes and hearts. Sensitive or not, this is a truth that must be viewed honestly to be understood.

To avoid politicizing this issue, I won’t divulge who Mark Twain was referring to, but he said, “The dollar their God, how to get it their religion.” This, this sin of greed, and the callous disregard for anything that doesn’t feed their greed, is what created this heinous killing.

It was about 9:30pm, 22 July, when our local game warden came to the door for Jean, since she is an animal rescuer. He brought her two owls that had been found in an oil tank at an oil well pumping site. The open-top tank was supposed to be covered with a net to prevent wildlife from falling into the oil, but it wasn’t. Why the owls went onto the surface of the oil can only be surmised, presumably going after another creature trapped in the crude. There was little we could do in the dark, especially since they were obviously exhausted and scared. One was so weak that we doubted it would survive the night.

Becoming calm, after its first wash it looks into Jean's
face with what looks like complete trust.
In the morning, I awoke in bed alone. Jean had long since been on the internet researching the best methods for dealing with their oil-saturated condition. She visited the town’s veterinarian, who graciously provided eye ointment to protect their eyes from the oil while cleaning them, and two rolls of 4-inch Vetrap to bind their talons to prevent them from injuring and infecting us during the process of cleaning. Jean also purchased four five-gallon buckets, leather welders’ gloves, and a quart of mayonnaise. The vet stressed that even with heavy welders’ gloves, he still had scars from a bout with an owl years before. Nevertheless, once everything was assembled, the operation began.

The sweet face of a creature in need.
As expected, the owls were scared, frantic, and ready to attack anything that came close. Getting them out of the plastic dog kennel they had been scooped into for transport was going to be a challenge. As soon as I started to reach in to remove one of the owls, they both flipped onto their backs with their long, sharp talons waving in the air, ready to set their talons into my hands as soon as I got close enough. I approached the bird a second time with a blanket, which it immediately locked its talons into. With its talons locked closed, we were able to lift it out and wrap it in a towel. We took turns, one holding the owl’s legs, and the other placing a block of foam in its talons and then wrapping the talons with the Vetrap.

The oil pellets (looking like gravel to the left) are from the second
 washing, and the oily water is the fourth rinse after the second wash.
This was our first encounter with owls, so we were anxious for any helpful input. The vet suggested we let the neighbors know what we were doing, because the ear-piercing screams of the owls might sound just like a woman screaming. To avoid having to answer a lot of questions while we were working, I called the police department to let them know what we were about, and that if they received any calls about a damsel in distress, it was just us and our owls.

Lying on a towel in the bottom of the cage, the first owl, unable to
recover, passes away.
The most amazing thing that happened was that I was able to talk the birds down from their panic. While Jean worked on them, I cradled them in a towel and softly talked to them. Each seemed to understand that we were trying to help, and the picture of the one looking into Jean’s face seemed to reflect a feeling of total trust.

Cont'd tomorrow.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Last Man on the Mountain

Jacket photo credit
The Last Man on the Mountain: the Death of an American Adventurer on K2, by Jennifer Jordan, pub. by W. W. Norton & Co., NY, 2010, 280 pp.

Paddlers are an active group that often have broad interests. Besides paddling, they may enjoy cycling, hiking, camping, skiing, sailing, or rock climbing. I think the latter may be the case here. When I went looking for paddling books, I tapped into titles from a broad range of sources. I think this is one of those examples of someone with a list of adventure books, rather than just paddling, so The Last Man on the Mountain was included. It has nothing to do with paddling, so I will be removing it my list of titles, which you can access starting in archives with 20 Feb. 11 and continuing several pages. In the meantime, you may find the story to your liking as well.

It is the story about the death of Dudley Wolfe, the first American to die on K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Dudley’s accident, or murder, occurred in 1939, and three native porters also fell to their deaths, making four the total death toll for the expedition. Dudley Wolfe’s remains were not discovered until 2002, 63-years later. The discovery, made by the author of the book, was possible because an avalanche had brought Wolfe, his tent, and camping gear down the mountain to the glacier near its base. Since his death, 83 others have joined him on the mountain, making K2 the deadliest mountain in the world. The last death occurred exactly a year ago this weekend, on 26-7 July 2013.

The thrust of the book is to show that Dudley Wolfe’s indictment as foolish, sloppy, and inexperienced are exactly the opposite of who he was. Not being alive to defend himself, he was the softest target of all. Anyone trained in leadership will see red flags popping up all over, making the expedition doomed even before it began. By the end, there was a lot of blame to go around, and as blame was being flung about, even Dudley Wolfe was accused of contributory negligence that led to his death. The things he can’t be accused of were being abandoned on the mountain in sub-freezing temperatures without adequate supplies, food, fuel or even matches to start a fire in his cook stove. His cameras and film footage in the tent with him, however, did come down off the mountain and found their way back to the US.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Cumberland Mountain State Park

We were up and on the road out of London, Arkansas, at the first light. The day was a concentrated effort to make miles and stay ahead of the severe storms behind us, and stop before running into those ahead. We drained the last of the light out of the day, and by the time we had the RV set up for the night, between the cloud cover and the woods, it was totally black. This brought us to Cumberland Mountain State Park, on I-40 at X-317, near Crossville, TN. The camp spaces were small and jammed together, but it was home for the night.

The oldest metal bridge in Virginia.
The next morning was April 26, and we awoke to 43 degrees. When the sun came up, however, the day warmed so quickly we had the AC on most of the day. Once we reached Eastern Tennessee, we met I-81, and headed NE for Virginia.

At mile marker 107, I-81, we stopped at the rest area near Elliston, Virginia, and just south of Roanoke. As a paddler, I don’t think we can avoid becoming fascinated with bridges. They represent our best landmarks, and if we’re in a stream deep within the surrounding banks, they are most of what we get to see. Here we saw a bow string arch truss bridge which happens to be the oldest metal bridge in Virginia. It was built in 1878 by the King Iron and Bridge Company in Bedford County, which is just ENE of Roanoke. It was in continuous use until 1971. It was later moved to this rest area, where it serves as the pedestrian crosswalk between the parking lot and the facilities. A stream that serves as home and training ground for a bunch of new Canada Geese still flows beneath the bridge.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lake Dardanelle, AR

After driving 278 miles between home and Lake Carl Blackwell to shuttle squirrels and birds around, we finally got the squirrels repatriated, and were ready to continue east. We really weren’t sorry to leave Blackwell. It’s a beautiful place, but the campground was filled with oil field workers who were up every morning between 5 and 5:30 am, cranking up their huge diesel trucks, and letting them run while gear was thrown in the back of their trucks. They weren’t bad company once we learned to get to bed plenty early, since it was obvious that we weren’t sleeping any later than they were.

Up in a finger of Pine Bay, Lake Dardanelle.
The weather had been threatening tornadoes every night since before leaving home. We had to keep a close eye on the weather, and Michelle, a friend of ours, was keeping a close eye on the weather radar for us. Today, we had tornadoes ahead of us, and more behind us, so we tried to just move at the pace of the weather fronts. By evening, that brought us to Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville, Arkansas, where they were still cleaning up from a tornado that hit the week before.

For just a little sidebar on tornadoes that I picked up from the show Raging Nature, Tornado Alley is the strip of the Great Plains running from Minnesota to Texas. There are roughly 1,000 tornadoes in the United States each year, more than the rest of the world combined, and 95% of those occur in Tornado Alley.

The next day still had us between two huge weather systems, so we went to the park’s Visitor Center to extend our stay an extra day. We were told our space had been reserved for people coming in for a crappie fishing tournament. Since the whole park had been sold out, we had to not only leave our space, but the campground as well. A Corps of Engineers park was only a few miles away at Pine Bay, also on the lake, so we backtracked west a few miles.

The morning mist begins to clear as we sit waiting
to see what the weather is going to do.
It started pouring heavy rain, and we had severe weather advisories all day. We went into Russellville to Wally World (Wal-Mart) for some provisions, and headed for Pine Bay in London, AR. We were blessed there with a perfectly flat and level campsite, so I didn’t have to stand in the pouring rain blocking and leveling. Heavy storms paraded through all evening, but they were broken by short spells of sunshine before the next one moved in.

Michelle called during the evening to warn us that a possible tornado outbreak was expected in our area for the next afternoon, so she suggested we set the alarm early, get on the road, and start making some miles to stay ahead of it. The weather service was equating them with the El Reno, OK, tornadoes of a year ago. Even without the oil field workers, conditions demanded we were “early to bed, and early to rise.”

Jean wondered about the safety of all those fishermen on the lake during a threat of severe weather, possibly tornadoes, but I‘m sure the tournament organizers had all that planned for. Besides, I pointed out that they were fishermen, who like golfers, won’t let hail, rain, tornadoes, earthquakes or the second coming get in the way of a good day’s fishing---or golfing. I went down to meet a couple of the stalwart anglers, who were members of When Michelle called, I told her we had gotten to Russellville and fallen in with a bunch of really crappy people. She was getting all sympathetic over our bad luck, so, for the benefit of her husband, Bob, another avid fisherman, I had to explain that I was talking about crappie with an ‘ie’, the deep-bodied pan-sized sport fish. is promoted as America’s oldest and friendliest crappie fishing community on the internet with 36,148 members. This tournament was just one of many they arrange at various locations to get anglers out on the water. For those in other areas, the fish is also known as a croppie, or kroppie.