Saturday, October 21, 2017

Death with Dignity

Credit: Google Images
This will be a slight break in our camping/paddling story to handle a bit of current events.  We just came home from having to have a cat put down.  If there is any indication of anger in this post, I’ll confess up front that I’m filled with anger and rage.  I’m pissed. 
When Jean did her wildlife rehab work, not every story had a happy ending.  In fact, most didn’t, since many times by the time we got them, the animals had suffered for prolonged periods from pain, stress, starvation, debilitating to lethal physical injury, dehydration, or any combination of the above.  One owl hung upside-down in an ice storm, and was literally frozen to the barbed wire fence it got tangled in causing a wing injury.  It hung there for two days before a farmer, assuming it was already dead, went to investigate.  In spite of its poor start, this turned out to be one of Jean’s greatest success stories.  Part of her success also belonged to our local vet, who helped at his own expense.  But what happens if no effort or expense can produce a positive outcome?  Such was the case with this kitten.  The reality that nothing more could be done finally made it obvious that a gentle, humane death was needed to avoid further and increasing suffering.  So, we took the kitten to the vet to have her put down by lethal injection. 
I watched the cat as it quietly and comfortably went to sleep.  The only thing it would know of its demise was a small injection under the skin that it would barely feel.  It would slowly drop off into a relaxed sleep.  Not unlike anyone undergoing surgery, it would not know or feel what followed.  It was only after it was incapable of knowing anything about what was happening, while it was asleep, that the fatal injection that would stop its heart was administered.  
What pissed me off was not that this was needed for the cat, and that the cat was entitled to a humane and quiet end to its suffering, but that humans are denied the same peaceful and dignified end.  The policy of euthanasia, or right to die, has become known as ‘death with dignity’ in political circles.  The move to get this personal right legalized has been fiercely fought by conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians on the premise of sanctity of life.  This is the most distorted and hypocritical position possible.  The politicians, especially, deny pre-natal care to the mother and fetus.  Once the child is born, they deny funding for most health care, food for the starving, child care, education, housing and more.  The sanctity of life extends only while the infant is in the womb.  Before or after, for the rest of its life, it is on its own.  But what if it is incurably sick or infirm?  There is no provision for ending its suffering except to put it into a coma and keep it there. 
If you want death with dignity, you have to qualify for it, and in many states where the Republicans and evangelicals hold sway, you also have to fight for it through the courts for months, or maybe years.  To join those who qualify for a humane and dignified death you have to be a mass murderer, serial sociopath of some other type, perhaps someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, who kidnapped and sexually attacked neighborhood young people, then murdered them, cut them up, cooked and ate them for dinner.  Such people, who have caused no end of suffering to their victims, their families, and society at large, are granted the most gentle and humane death granted by the state: lethal injection, the same method used on the kitten. 
A neighbor of ours did not qualify for death with dignity.  He was a responsible worker, husband, father, and not a mass murderer, so he did not qualify for humane consideration.  His only option was to be starved to death.  Liquid was administered to prevent dehydration, but no food or nutrition was permitted.  He lay like that for over three weeks as his body got weaker and weaker, and then his organs slowly failed one by one as they died individually from lack of sustenance until finally his heart joined the list.  Meanwhile, the exorbitant hospital bills sapped the ability of his survivors to provide for their own existence as they sat and daily watched him weaken and fade away as he starved to death.  We have been shown that the brain continues to function through unconsciousness, coma, and even after death for a while, so while the ‘patient’ may not be exhibiting signs of his or her pain and suffering, they are nevertheless experiencing it themselves.  A mass murderer is treated with humane care, while a responsible husband and father is starved to death while his family watches.  There is no sanctity there, and I refuse to believe any God would wish to cause such suffering.  Such a God could be no God at all unless his aim was to sanctify pain and suffering.  We need to stop rewarding the guilty and persecuting the innocent. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Red, Red, Everywhere

L-R: Maggie, me, Lucie, at Big Bend
We had a pair of bright orange and black orioles plucking bugs off the hill behind our campsite; (hopefully spiders), a couple rabbits, and a very diligent hummingbird.  The hummer first came to check out the red crossbeams of my canoe rack.  Then Jean strung a red, white, and blue star-studded bunting under the picnic table canopy, and the hummer returned and seemed to check every red star in its 10-ft. length.  She then ran two strings of red, white, and blue lighted stars, and the third day the poor frustrated bird returned to check out each red star.  Unfortunately for its poor body and soul, in all that clutter of red, not a single blossom or hummingbird feeder.
It was too windy for a campfire, but I got charcoals burning in the grill so the girls could do s’mores after dinner.
I was able to be of service during the day today.  The couple in the site next to us found themselves in a bad way.  John is 84, and they still have a huge fifth-wheel camper that is a bit more than they can handle.  He made a bad turn and either pulled a muscle in his back, or as he surmised from the noise he heard, perhaps injured a rib.  The one thing he knew for certain was he was in a lot of pain and having trouble walking or moving.  They were supposed to be at the campground another five days, but decided they needed to get home.  I got his trailer on his truck and put away the chocks, hoses, power cord, and accessories.  I offered, and came as close as I could, to insisting on driving them and the rig home, since they live only an hour and a half away.  He wouldn’t hear of it, and assistance is only of value as long as it’s accepted.  He said the truck was comfortable enough, and that as soon as he got behind the wheel, he’d be fine.  His wife’s concern was getting him home in time to get him to a doctor.  Once he was all loaded, off they went out the drive.
I thought the horrid weather forecast for the weekend would keep people away.  I’m sure it did to a degree, but here they came nonetheless with screaming kids and loud stereo systems.  Whatever happened to the idea of getting away from everything?  Now they just come and bring everything with them.  The sound of slamming doors was continuous.  Quiet time supposedly starts at l0p.m.  Most of the din was contained by eleven, which is better than some I’ve encountered.  I guess I finally drifted off to the sound of the wind in the cottonwoods at about midnight.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

An open site across from us on the bank of the lake.

Day 3:  The storms were to pester us all week.  The good thing was that they usually came in late afternoon to evening, and left the days sunny and clear.  It was 9p.m. when I zipped the tent shut, and there was an immediate terrible, and much too close, simultaneous blinding flash and terrible crash of thunder.  That was the opening rangefinder shot, and once my position was bracketed, the fire and rain and wind continued unabated until 4a.m.  The storm’s method of the attack was something I hadn’t seen before.  The wind came in waves as steady and regular as waves hitting a beach.  The wind came in a rushing squall from behind me.  It rolled over the trees on top of the hill, over me and across the adjoining field, down the hill and into the trees to the south of us.  Just then another wave of wind could be heard approaching from the north, through the trees and over the hill, across the field, and so on.  It was a regular march that continued for an hour or more.

The wind also had the tent kind of breathing as it passed me.  It would first come from the west and mash the tent in.  Immediately after that the tent seemed to exhale as it puffed outward as though it had suddenly been fully inflated.  I know this routine will sound familiar to those of you accustomed to living in tornado country, but the tent and I stayed on the hill.

Obviously, since I was lying there noticing all of this, I wasn’t getting any sleep.  I was very pleased and thankful that the tent was staying dry in spite of the constant downpour.  The other thing keeping me awake was the forecast for golf ball-sized hail.  With the car, truck, and RV sitting there, I certainly didn’t relish waking in the morning to find them all sporting a new hammered metal look.  Every new wave of intensity had me laying there cringing in dread.  Of course as soon as you have one thought fixed in your mind, everything changes.  Even though I had resealed all the tent’s seams, a couple stitches began to weep and drip ice water on my left shoulder.  The next drip joined forces with its predecessor so they could then roll down my chest and onto the sleeping bag.  I reached into the pack and pulled out my Cabela’s Guide foulweather jacket and draped it over my upper body to shed the continuing drip, drip, drip.  My thought was then that trying to sleep under a raincoat would be too hot and stuffy to make sleep possible.

With that thought, the wind picked up more and the temperature suddenly dropped.  That seemed to herald the approach of the ice storm, but solved the problem of being too hot.  I waited in anticipation of the hail, but it thankfully didn’t materialize.  With the colder air, I pulled the sleeping bag liner over my legs, checked the time on my phone and saw that it was 4a.m., fluffed my pillow, and dozed off until the birds started singing at 7a.m. in earnest and right over my head.

The packing sack laying on the liner itself.

A word is needed about the Sea-to-Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner.  That’s a long name for something that only measures 3 X 5 inches in its little stuff sack.  I found it at a national sporting goods store on my way to Old Forge, NY, last spring or winter (unable to distinguish between the two).  I about choked on the $70 price tag for the little thing, but Jean insisted I get it, or it would have stayed on the rack.  Made of their insulating, Thermolite, hollow-core moister-wicking polyester fiber, it opens up to a large 36 X 84 inch sack that is supposed to add 25-degrees F (14-deg. C) to the warmth of a sleeping bag.  It is made in a mummy shape, but is so stretchy, that it will envelope you no matter what size or style of sleeping bag you are in.  Besides adding warmth, it can be used instead of the sleeping bag in those intervening temperatures between being in a bag or not.  It also helps to keep the sleeping bag clean.  I did things backwards with this purchase, and read the reviews on it when I returned home.  Yes, it has received great acclaim because of its comfort and warmth, but is pricey.  Since it works well, and can almost disappear in your pack, it’s a nice piece of gear to add, especially if you can find it on sale.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Another Day of Storms

The rig at Big Bend.

The sun was well up when Mother Nature’s alarm clock (birds in the cedars behind me) woke me up.  Neither Jean, in the RV, or myself had gotten much sleep through the storms.  We took turns taking a nap.  I was then awakened by the sound of a large mower, and then the sound of gravel and sticks hitting the side of the RV.  The operator was running the mover both with the guard or deflector up, and with the discharge directed at the trailers and vehicles.  It was almost like it was deliberate as he would make circles around and around each unit, but always blowing debris toward the campers and trucks.  Thinking of the tent up on the hill, I got up.  Jean said, “If you are concerned about the tent, he has already been up there.”   As I got dressed, I looked out and saw him with a weed whacker.  Considering how careless he’d been already with the mower, I was not about to let him around the tent with a weed whacker.  He continued down the park, but I walked up the hill.  I was not happy with what I found.
Ibi sitting on her PaddleCart.  The Falcon Sail is furled and laying
on the left side of the cockpit coaming, which shows how compact
the furled rig is.

With the deflector up and the mower deck flat on the ground, he had run around and around the tent blowing toward the tent.  He had covered it in a thick blanket of grass, dirt, and debris.  All of that was also blown under the fly and against the mesh of the tent.  Without bothering to look, I knew what the inside and all of my bedding would look like.  I called the Corps of Engineers, and they sent out the manager of contractual services, who in turn called the work crew supervisor to the scene of the crime.  I think this was the first time I’ve ever filed a complaint that could affect someone’s job, but I allow little tolerance for stupidity, incompetence, or wilfull destruction.  They offered to help in any way they could, but the damage had been done.  I mainly wanted someone to see how careless the mower operator had been, and did shortly see him mowing with the deflector down and blowing debris away from the vehicles.  Our neighbor was out also looking around his camper.  It had been struck hard enough by a stone that he feared finding a hole.  All I could do was knock the tent down, drag all my gear and bedding out onto the ground to shake the dirt out, and then set it all up again.

The rig is set up dry before going out just to make sure everything
is run properly and thus avoid any issues on the water.  The owner
can select his own colors from Falcon Sails.  I went with hot pink and
chartreuse for maximum visibility.

The afternoon had heated substantially, so I had left the fly off until the clouds began to tower high and turn dark around 3 o’clock.  By four, another large squall and thunderstorm began to blow through.  I put the fly back on and anchored everything.  The storm blew through quickly, and after a half-hour, the sun was out again.
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Big Bend Storms

North Face 2-man tent on the hill.

When I got zipped into the tent and laid back on the sleeping pad and turned off the lamp, I could see the tent being illuminated slightly by the distant flashes of lightning.  Then I could hear the faint but constant clashes of thunder that rolled on and on.  It was still warm enough that I was pouring sweat.  The tent flaps were open, so as the storm approached, the advancing front’s wind caused the temperature to drop and I began to cool off.  Within a half to three-quarters of an hour, the tent began getting pelted with huge, pregnant drops of rain that sounded almost like small hail.  The flaps were zipped closed.  Within minutes, the full fury of the storm was on me.  The wind was about 40 mph and the rain torrential.  My North Face 2-man tent has been very reliable, but I guess if enough water is applied with the force of a fire hose, something will get through.  I wasn’t really getting wet, as much as just harassed by a driving mist presumably blowing under the fly and through the tent’s mesh. 

The storms were inspiring and lasted a good part of the night.  Each wave of storms lasted about an hour.  There would be a pause, and then the next band would be on me.  Only the initial squall penetrated the tent.  The remaining rains stayed outside where they belonged. 

Later in the night when my bladder woke me, the storms had passed, and the near-full moon illuminated the tent to make any artificial light unnecessary.  It was now cool enough that I had to pull my tee-shirt back on.  It was still too warm for even my summer sleeping bag, but I pulled my sleeping bag liner out of the pack.  With my legs just tucked into it, it was perfect, and I dropped back off to sleep.  (More on the sleeping bag liner later.)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Big Bend Camping

Big Bend Campground, Canton Lake, OK

We had reserved a space at Big Bend Campground, on Canton Lake, OK, for a week to give the granddaughters one last hoorah before starting back to school.  The RV had not been out of the shed all summer between of the extreme heat and Jean being sick much of the time.  Now was our time for a little rest and relaxation. 

We met another senior couple in the next campsite.  It’s always nice when other people are more senior than ourselves.  It makes us feel so much younger.  They were not enjoying a great start to their getaway.  They had arrived at their reserved site before the previous occupants had checked out, so decided to pull into a space on the other side of the drive to wait.  As so often happens, Plan B turned out to be more dangerous than Plan A.  Plan A gets all the preparation and thought, and Plan B, a little shorter on thought and preparation, exposes all the shoals.  He got the trailer into a tree limb that tore a large hole in his rolled awning, doing hundreds of dollars of damage.  

The girls like to sleep late, and I like to get up early, so Jean invariably takes on the role of juggling sleeping arrangements to accommodate the grandkids.  I tend to get frustrated by these continual reinventions of the wheel, so I finally said, “You girls just keep the trailer for yourselves, and I’ll pitch my tent and use it.  That way you can handle sleeping times and locations to suit yourselves.”  I selected the grassy knoll behind and above our campsite.  I was set to sleep, rest, or snore to suit myself. 

Rather than the introduction to hell that we had been experiencing the last couple months, the last few days had turned idyllic.  This evening was a cool mid-seventies with a refreshing breeze.  For Oklahoma, it was surprisingly comfortable as I sat there looking out over Canton Lake.  By the time I had the RV work done and the tent set up, I was thoroughly fagged.  I was waiting for Jean to return.  She had gone back home to care for all of her critters, including a new-born bunny that she was feeding twice a day from a syringe.  Once she returned and we all had dinner together, I anticipated a shortened evening and a stroll up the hill to my tent. 

As I walked up the hill to my tent, I saw something shining and sparkling on the ground.  They were the color of blue ice, or like shimmering diamonds.  As I looked around, there were more and more.  Jean had to see this, especially when I looked closer and realized that the twinkling lights were the eyes of large, hairy brown spiders about the size of a fifty-cent piece, and later determined to be wolf spiders.  They can grow to be 4-inches including their legs, but I didn’t see any reaching that size.  Jean looked and looked, but couldn’t see them, even when I indicated precisely where they were.  Finally, I gave her my headlamp, and she could see them all, but now I couldn’t.  A short experiment indicated their ice-blue eyes were the reflection of my headlamp. To be visible, the viewer had to be directly behind the beam of light.  Wolf spiders have the third-best eyesight of all spiders, and have eight eyes.  The two largest ones were the ones creating the reflection.  The spiders are very fast, mostly nocturnal, and while they usually sit near the burrow and wait for a passing victim to pounce on, they will chase a prey a ways, and are even called the ‘never give up’ spider by some populations.

The wolf spider.  Credit Google images

Walking up the hill, I saw them all over the place staring back at me with their beady little eyes.  There were hundreds and hundreds of them.  Many that I looked at more closely were sitting across the burrow they had dug in the ground.  As soon as I crawled into the tent, I zipped it up tight to make sure there were no gaps between the zippers.  In spite of my precautions, at some point I apparently carried a spider into the tent on my clothing or shoes.  When I sat or rolled on it during the night, I got a bad bite on my right rump that continued to bother me for two weeks regardless of what I tried to do to treat it.  It created a sizeable, hard lump that burned until I messed with it, and then itched a lot.  They can jump well, and are aggressive about going after what they want.  In preparation for this post, I decided to do a bit of research, and was put off by one site’s statement that “the wolf spider is considered to be one of the most dangerous spiders in the world.”  I don’t know about that, but can say they can be a pain in the butt, literally.  A couple weeks after this trip, we decided to take a picnic lunch and our books and chairs, and just go down to the lake for lunch and relaxation.  I felt something bothering the back of my neck while I read.  Thinking it was a fly, I swatted at it, and danged if I didn’t get a half-dozen more bites across my neck that drove me crazy for another two weeks.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Out of Touch

Knowledge, experience, and the right tools---Priceless.
If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been mute for so long, there are a few reasons, but losing internet connection was certainly one of the most important.  We had a great experience with our Suddenlink repairman this time.  He was very professional, found the problem in no time (water intrusion into the cables that had not been properly weatherproofed by a previous worker), and did trouble-shooting on the entire system.  Then he went above and beyond.  I mentioned that I was concerned about the tree limbs laying on the wire, and asked, since he was already in the cherry-picker, if he had any way to remove some of the branches.  He happened to have a chainsaw in the bed of the truck still left there from his emergency hurricane repair trip to Texas, so he dropped a half-dozen branches out of the tree.  He then wanted to cut-up the limbs for easy removal, but not wanting to take advantage of his generosity, I assured him that I would take care of them.  Suddenlink’s stock went up substantially that day with me, and internet access has been flawless since.