Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Blue Jay"

by Pa Rock
Poetry  Appreciator 
and Bird Fancier

The poet, Emily Dickinson, seemed to have held the blue jay in high regard.   Regrettably, I don't share her admiration of the colorful crow.

I remember when I was a young boy of ten or so watching a group of blue jays attack a squirrel who ventured too close to one of their young who had fallen from the nest.  An admirable quality, I thought, protecting one's young.  However, after what I witnessed this morning, I am not so sure that is what they were doing.  The angry birds may have just been engaging in some pre-luncheon bloodsport.

This past winter as I was settling into my new home, I set up a bird feeder, three squirrel feeders, and a bird bath just outside of the living room picture window where I sit and type.  The show is different everyday and always entertaining - sometimes to the point that it interferes with my work.  I have had a never-ending stream of sparrows, wrens, doves, cardinals, and little blue birds feasting at Pa Rock's Bird Stop.  Robins will occasionally stop by for a drink or a bath - robins are carnivores and won't stoop to nibbling birdseed.

One bird that did not show up, at least not initially, was the hardy Ozark blue jay.   I remembered blue jays as being thick in my youth and wondered what had become of them.   Then one day, in a sad case of being careful what you wish for, one showed up.  He had such a grand time that he invited others, and for the past couple of weeks there have been four at the feeder most days.  The jays are also big drinkers and really enjoy the birdbath.

Great fun, I thought.

My positive opinion of the blue jays changed abruptly this morning while I was sitting at the computer checking my email.  I heard a fuss out under the maple tree that hosts the bird feeder and looked up to see a blue jay pecking angrily at something he had pinned to the ground.  A little brown wing flapped into view and I realized that the jay was terrorizing a smaller bird - probably a sparrow.   I rapped my knuckles on the window and the aggressive bird let go of his prey - momentarily - and the little bird tried to hobble away.  The blue jay, however, was having none of that - or none of me either for that matter - and he immediately jumped back on the little bird and began pecking him with a vengeance.

This ends here, I thought, racing out the door and onto the front porch, but Mr. Blue Jay was still in charge.  As soon as I appeared, he snatched up his breakfast in his beak and flew away.

What the hell?

I came back in the house and googled blue jays where I quickly learned that in addition to vegetation, they also like a little red meat in their diet.  In fact, some of the sources said that a third of a blue jay's diet might be made up of bugs, rodents, and smaller birds.

(There are three at the feeder as I write this, along with a few smaller birds and a woodpecker.  The woodpecker seems to be the only one who isn't intimidated by the blue-feathered gang members, and he may just be stupid.)

The blue jay is a close relative of the crow.  I am beginning to understand where the collective noun, a "murder" of crows, comes from.

I comprehend a bit about how nature works and know that everything serves a purpose in life's pecking order - so I will tolerate the occasional murderous blue jay.   Almost a decade ago while I was living in a second story apartment in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where I had a very busy bird feeder on the balcony, all activity ceased one afternoon when a hawk suddenly showed up and planted himself on the railing next to the feeder.

The hawk, now there is a majestic predator.  He is the Mafia don to the blue jay's street corner thug.  Miss Dickinson's ink would have been put to far better use by memorializing the hawk instead chirping the praises of the meanest bastards at the feeder.

Here is what Emily Dickinson had to say about blue jays:

The Blue Jay
by Emily Dickinson

No brigadier throughout the year
So civic as the jay.
A neighbor and a warrior too,
With shrill felicity
Pursuing winds that censure us
A February day,
The brother of the universe
Was never blown away.
The snow and he are intimate;
I 've often seen them play
When heaven looked upon us all
With such severity,
I felt apology were due
To an insulted sky,
Whose pompous frown was nutriment
To their temerity.
The pillow of this daring head
Is pungent evergreens;
His larder — terse and militant —
Unknown, refreshing things;
His character a tonic,
His future a dispute;
Unfair an immortality
That leaves this neighbor out.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ozark Farm Prices Circa 1940

by Pa Rock
Ozark Chicken Farmer

Referencing once again Marguerite Lyon's wonderful book, Take to the Hills, I thought I would share her comments regarding land prices in the depression years just preceding the Second World War.  Mrs. Lyon was asked by a friend how much she would have to pay for an Ozark farm, and she put her response into the book.

"When our friends, Mr. and Mrs Don Gardner (Jill Edwards) came to the Ozarks, they paid five thousand dollars for a cattle farm of two hundred acres, with good house, cattle and goat barns, and five springs.  But farms can be obtained far more cheaply. 
"You can get a farm of forty acres with a two-or-three room log or native timber house and barn (such as it is) for five hundred to a thousand dollars.  I know of one with twenty acres and a very nice little house for six hundred dollars.  I know of another farm with one hundred and sixty acres and a fair-minus house for which the owners ask fifteen hundred dollars.  And still another with twenty acres and a better-than-average house that is priced at nine hundred dollars.  All of these farms have woodlands on them, in addition to more or less cleared pasture land.  No farm is ever entirely cleared of its timber. 
"All of the farms I have mentioned are on good highways or farm-to-market roads."

Mrs. Lyon went on to caution her readers to not buy a farm sight unseen, and to always carefully investigate the water supple.  And she warned prospective buyers to be skeptical of what they are told by "real estate dealers."  All of that is good advice today.

I regret to inform you that farm prices in the Ozarks have risen considerably since the days when "the Jedge" and Marge Lyon lived at Sunrise Mountain Farm.   Still though, it's all relative, and a small farm with a decent house and a few out-buildings in the Ozarks today can often be had for about the same price as an average single family dwelling in the city.

There are perks with living out in the country, but drawbacks as well - and it's definitely not for everyone!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pushing Back the Snake Line

by Pa Rock
Country Gentleman

I haven't seen any snakes on my place - yet.  But with ten acres, nearly half of which is untamed with tall grasses and weeds, I know they are out there.  My defense against these slithering and sinister serpents is to keep the yard mowed as low as possible so that if Mr. Blacksnake decides to drop in for a meal at the chicken coop, the girls and I will be able to spot him coming.  And I certainly don't want Mr. Copperhead to have easy access to the house or any other inhabited part of the farm.

So every time I mow I take out another foot or so of the weeds to make a bigger yard and provide more protection.  (Of course, it also creates more to mow.)  I call this bit of manifest destiny "pushing back the snake line."

I just finished mowing the back yard for the second time since returning from Oregon.  The other time I used a push mower to battle the yard that had gotten out of control during my road trip to the coast.   The grass was so thick that I had to constantly shut down the mower and remove the clumps of grass from under the deck.  When I finished, those clumps had become the predominant feature of the yard.  The back yard alone took more than a dozen hours to complete.

Today, on my new rider, I knocked out the back yard in a little over two hours - and it looks like a golf course.  Between the two mowings I pushed the snake like back more than two feet.  Little by little the wilderness is being tamed.

(I do understand the importance of keeping some of the land in a natural state for the propagation of wild life.  Yesterday I saw my first bunny at the farm - and while he was hopping across my front yard when I spotted him, I know that Mr. Bunny is undoubtedly a child of the weeds.  I have also seen a wild turkey taking a leisurely stroll across the property, and the conditions look good for quail.  I've been told that the deer will be so thick as to be pests, but so far I haven't seen any.  Mr. Groundhog is still at home in the barn - I saw him scooting across the freshly mowed grass this morning.)

The only other big news at the farm this week is that my little guineas, who are a little less than two weeks old, are learning to fly.  They grow up so fast!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hail to the Chief

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Nearly six full years into the Obama administration, and a big segment of the Republican Party still cannot accept the fact that a Democrat is President - or, more to the point - that a black Democrat is President.  The loony fringe of the Republican party, aka the tea-baggers, are fanatical in their hatred of Obama, and they are devout enough in their voting habits to keep what should be the more sane elements of the party spouting nonsense also.

These people, the wild-eyed, hate-fueled baggers and bigots, believe in guns and the Bible and little else.   Science is fake, if the earth is getting warmer - it's God's will and not man's doing, slavery was a good thing for the slaves and the economy, women should be subservient to their men, and non-Christian religions aren't really religions - but breeding grounds for terrorists.

They also believe, reverently, that anything President Obama supports or endorses is wrong or a threat to their freedom.  They have beaten this notion into their legislators and sent the message forth that every bill supported by the President is to be ignored or defeated.  Their House of Representatives has the shameful honor of being the biggest "do-nothing" Congress in the history of the Republic.

The tea-baggers and their lackies in all levels of government hate the President to the point that they take actions which are not in their best interest just to thwart his agenda.   They are bitter over Obamacare, although there probably isn't a tea-bagger in America who doesn't have relatives or friends benefiting from that program.  Many states are also declining to expand their Medicaid programs, currently at no cost to the states, because it is an Obama initiative.  People are dying every day because they can't get access to health care, and the Bible-thumping zealots own those deaths because they cannot bring themselves to do anything that smacks of supporting the President.

They are obstructing with a skill and determination that would make a World Cup goalie proud.

They are also beginning to re-examine the once-powerful political institution of dirty tricks.  State legislators in Virginia have made the news twice in the past couple of weeks after pulling shenanigans that might have made Richard Nixon blush.  (Okay, bad example.  Nixon had no shame.)  The legislators recently affected the balance of power in the Democratic controlled state senate by offering a better job to a Democratic state senator - if he would resign his seat in the senate - and also offering a judgeship to his daughter.  Their goal was to keep that legislative body from being able to endorse Governor McAuliffe's plan for Medicaid expansion.

Governor McAuliffe announced that he would cause the expansion of Medicaid to happen with or without the legislature's blessing.

Then, on Father's Day, while the governor's office was closed (and locked) and the legislature was even shut down, the Speaker of the Virginia House ordered the Capitol police to break into the governor's office and deliver the voluminous state budget - which they did.  The purpose of that maneuver was to shorten the number of days that the governor would have to read the budget mess (he was mandated by law to act within seven days of delivery), and to thwart Medicaid expansion through various provisions embedded in the budget.

Poor Governor McAuliffe must have burned the midnight oil reading the state budget because he was able to ferret out the nonsense and use a line-item veto to eliminate the troublesome passages before the deadline.

Whatever happened to the good old days when people who won elections got to govern?  Even as despicable as Bush and Cheney were, nobody questioned their right to perform the duties of their offices.  President Obama has had to fight the irrational hatred by the tea-baggers since day one of his presidency - and he has done it in a stand-up manner.   He has suffered almost constant abuse and name-calling that no President before him has ever had to endure.  He has been labeled a socialist, a Muslim, a Kenyan - and sometimes worse - yet he stands tall and governs.

The President is a wonderful family man who takes great pride in his beautiful and intelligent wife and daughters.   There are no family scandals for the negative press to dwell on.

And President Obama is our legitimate leader.   He was born in the United States of America, has been elected twice - both times by greater margins than his Republican predecessor, and has had a relatively scandal-free six years in office.     The President has set a calm tone while putting the country on a steady course that allows the economy to strengthen so that more of our citizens can share in America's bounty.

President Obama has the mantle of leadership, one that was legitimately awarded to him by the citizens of this nation.  The Republican Party has obstinacy, trickery, and delusions of grandeur.   The divide is stark - and shameful.

President Obama is the nation's leader - and I am proud to support him!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pretty on Orange

by Pa Rock
Yard Ape

After the horrible experience that I had last week in mowing my expansive yard with a push mower (eighteen hours - and some of it had already been done for me), I knew that this week I would buy a rider.   Never mind that I can't afford a rider - I can't afford a stroke either!

I believe in shopping at home whenever possible, and avoiding the chain stores - also whenever possible.   After visiting at least a half-dozen places in West Plains that sell mowers, and not being satisfied with any of them enough to plop down the equivalent of two social security checks, I headed off to Lowe's in Mountain Home, Arkansas - the closest store of that type to West Plains.  I had shopped there before and received exemplary assistance from a sales clerk as well as from the store manager.  (The service was so good that I went on the Internet and filled out one of their happy customer forms.)

(There is also a Home Depot in Mountain Home, but I am boycotting them as long as they welcome armed goons to shop in their stores.)

I had done a lot of mower research before going to Lowe's on Tuesday and was fairly certain of what I was going to purchase - a beautiful green and yellow John Deere regular rider - not one the more expensive, but faster, zero-turn models.   But a problem arose when I sat on the mower:  it wasn't comfortable.  (On those rare occasions when I buy a vehicle, comfort is always my number one requirement.)

At that point, realizing that a sale was faltering, a very adroit saleslady led me over to the Husqvarnas - and, like Goldilocks, I found one that fit my saggy old behind just right.  The orange and gray Swedish machine had a more powerful engine than the John Deere, six inches more of cutting swath, was made of metal as opposed to the John Deere's predominantly plastic body, and was a hundred dollars cheaper.  All of that plus the 10% discount that Lowe's gives to veterans.  It was a no-brainer!

My new best friend was delivered this morning, and even though the lawn does not currently need a mow, I took it for a spin anyway.  Five minutes of cutting with the 24-horsepower engine and a 48-inch (four feet!) swath cut more grass than I could have mowed in an hour with the push mower.  And that baby can move along at an impressive seven-and-a-half miles an hour!  (George Jones, who once famously rode his riding mower ten miles to the local tavern after Tammy took his car keys away, would have loved it!)

So that orange streak coming at you probably isn't a bird, and it probably isn't a plane.  It's most likely Pa Rock mowing his yard and working on a land speed record!  Stand aside, I'm coming through!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guns for the Glory of God

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A small "Christian" church in Joplin, Missouri, got it's fifteen minutes of fame recently for a Father's Day stunt in which the church gave away two AR-15 rifles to two young fathers.   A spokesman for the church said that they were trying to attract more men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five into the congregation.  Earlier attempts to lure the same demographic included setting later service times so the Saturday night revelers could crawl out of bed and make it to church on time, creating a band which played loud religious rock music, and hiring a minister with tattoos and a mohawk.

This is the way the drawing for the rifles worked:  Young men who showed up for the Father's Day service received a ticket for the drawing.  They also got a ticket if they brought their father to church that day, and they got a ticket for each of their children that they brought to church.  The more children they brought to church - the better their chances of winning a semi-automatic assault weapon.  Nice.

One of the men who won a rifle on Father's Day stated to the press:   "Firearm ownership does not equate to violence."  No, it doesn't - at least not at the level of a 100% correlation.  But, firearm ownership does increase the likelihood of violence.  Little kids get wounded and killed every day because of their parents' firearm ownership.  Firearm ownership also does not equate to safety, protection, independence, godliness, or sex appeal - though many would argue it enhances some or all of those attributes.

What was the sermon about on Father's Day as the two lucky winners sat smiling in the pews stroking their new guns?  Was it "Love they neighbor?"  Or could it have been "Turn the other cheek?"  How about "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's?"   Or possibly even "Thou shalt not kill?"  No, probably not.  This sounds more like "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" crowd.

I hope the two new AR-15 owners are responsible and keep the weapons locked away from their children.    And please God, give them the maturity to be able to run to Target or  Home Depot without pretending to be Rambo!

Reverend Mohawk, if this goes south, you own it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Clint Eastwood Made My Day

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

I had been dreading the release of the film version of Jersey Boys, knowing that chances were slight, at best, that the material could translate well from stage to screen.   That dread was compounded when I learned that the movie was being directed by doddering old Clint Eastwood.  Clint, after all, had showcased his progressing senility by having a ten-minute dialogue with an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

However, as a fan of the Four Seasons who has seen the stage production of Jersey Boys twice, as well as being in the opening night audience when Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, did a reunion thing at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas in the early 1990's, I knew that I would have to go and witness Clint's folly - regardless of how terrible it turned out to be.

My first hint that the movie version of Jersey Boys might be less god-awful than what I was anticipating came last Saturday morning when I received a telephone message from my sister.  Gail and I had seen the stage version together at The Venetian in Las Vegas (a performance that outshone the one that I had seen earlier on Broadway), so she knew how great the show could be.  Gail's recorded message was rapturous:  "You have to go see Jersey Boys!  It's wonderful!  It's so good that I may go see it again - in fact, I probably will go see it again!"

High praise, indeed.

So Sunday afternoon, I drove to my local theatre and put out six bucks for a ticket. At best I could have an enjoyable afternoon, and, at worst, I could take m y popcorn home and share it with the chickens.

The young man selling concessions told me that I was in for a treat.  I wasn't sure how someone younger than Frankie Valli's grandchildren could know much about the material being shown, but he persisted.  The cast, he assured me, featured the same young men who had performed as the Four Seasons in the Broadway version of the musical.  I was a bit skeptical on that point, so when I got home I pulled out my old Broadway Playbill and found that none of the names matched.  Another urban legend put to rest!

But the kid was right on his other point - the show was a real treat!

The film version mirrored the stage production perfectly.   The young actors brought the fifties and sixties to life in a manner that would have made Ed Sullivan or Dick Clark feel right at home, and the wonderful music, the iconic songs of the Four Seasons, tugged at every emotion.  I wasn't the only one singing along - I checked!

One  of the concerns that I had before seeing the film was that the actor, Joe Pesci, a person who was integral to the formation of the original singing group, was not mentioned on the film's Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) page on the Internet.   It turns out that he was there all along (listed as just "Joey") and was portrayed in a bit segment in the movie.  My other concern was, of course, the eighty-four-year-old director.  Clint, to his credit, only used one of his many kids in the movie, and she had a very minor part.  But, more importantly, he took a terrific piece of material and had the good sense not to screw it up!

Jersey Boys is a great motion picture - one of the best that I have seen in years - and, like my sister, I will probably go see it again.  It's that good!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Mowing"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator 

I have been consumed this week with one task:  mowing.   Nine days ago I returned from a trip away from home of more than two weeks.  My yard was about ready to be mowed when I left on vacation, and it apparently rained almost every day that I was gone, making the grass grow faster and diminishing opportunities to mow.  When I returned on Saturday, June 15th, I found my flower beds swamped with weeds and yard vegetation that was literally knee deep.

My son came over on Monday (a week ago today) to help, and he did manage to get a couple of significant chunks of yard mowed before the belt on his riding mower broke.  Tuesday I purchased a push mower (non-self-propelled - I'll never make that mistake again!), and by Wednesday I had the mower put together and began the chore of taming my acres and acres of yard.  I mowed at least a couple of hours on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and today - and still have at least at least one more two-hour session ahead of me.

I am sick and tired of mowing!    I mow in the mornings, I mow in the heat of the day, I mow in the late afternoons - and the past couple of nights I have even dreamed of mowing!  Yesterday afternoon I gave myself a break and went into town and saw the new movie, Jersey Boys.  That worked out especially well because last might my dream-mowing had a Four Seasons soundtrack!

Here is Robert Frost's take on mowing.  I stand in abject humility before the great New England poet because while I moan and complain about cutting grass with a gas-powered machine, Mr. Frost was mowing his hay with a hand scythe!  Clearly he was the better man - in every respect!

by Robert Frost

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound--
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ruffalo and Roberts Rage in The Normal Heart

by Pa Rock
Drama Fan

Being poor, I have self-limited my cable television subscription to the absolute bare minimum, leaving me with a sad little assortment of network reruns and god-awful reality shows.  But every few months or so, one of the premium channels will offer a free weekend in order to get me hooked on their stuff.  When that occurs, as it has this weekend with HBO, I can sometimes manage to snag a great program. That happened last night as I came across Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart just as it was beginning.

Kramer's barely fictional account of the early years of the AIDS epidemic originated as a stage play.  It was performed on Broadway in 1985, and again in a revival in 2011.  Barbra Streisand owned the rights to the material for several years but was unable to put together the financing to get it made into a feature film, and it was HBO who ultimately brought the project to life as a television film.

The Normal Heart is a superb vehicle for showcasing the talents of powerful actors.  The main character, Ned Weeks, is based on Kramer himself and is brilliantly portrayed in the film by Mark Ruffalo.    Weeks is a young man who is angry (savagely embittered) because government and the public are turning a blind eye to the deadly epidemic that is sweeping through the gay community.  He helps to found an activist group, the Gay Men's Health Crisis (an actual group which Larry Kramer did assist in organizing), but gradually loses control of his group to the more deferential and politically correct members who feel they can better serve the cause by politely working through the system.

That is not Weeks' style.  Mark Ruffalo, as Ned Weeks, is loud and confrontational - and has the best angry rants of the entire film.

Julia Roberts, as Emma, the wheelchair-bound doctor who works tirelessly to find the cause and the cure, is also angry.  From her explosive confrontation with a television repairman who refuses to work on the television set of an AIDS patient, to her blistering attack on representatives of the National Institute of Health who won't recognize the severity of the problem and allocate sufficient funds to attack it, Roberts snarls and spits fire like an angry dragon.

The other exceptional performance in this gem of a television movie is by Matt Bomer who plays Felix, a New York Times reporter and Ned Weeks' boyfriend.  Bomer's character discovers he has AIDS and is consumed by the disease during the course of the film.  Production had to be halted for several weeks in order to give Bomer time to loose forty pounds to make him credible as a dying man with AIDS.  Bomer's dying Felix is every bit as believable and powerful as Tom Hank's dying attorney in Philadelphia.

Two politicians are ravaged throughout the film.  New York City's mayor, Ed Koch (who is identified in the movie as a gay male), and Ronald Reagan.  Koch allegedly stood in the way of city funding or involvement in the crisis because he did not want to do anything that would attract attention to his private life.  Reagan, the icon of America's conservatives, had no interest in serving a group that was traditionally vilified by his base.  Reagan, as noted in the film, did not even utter the word "AIDS" until late 1985, more than three years into the epidemic that decimated a generation of some of America's most creative voices and shattered the lives of families across America and around the globe.

The Normal Heart is a powerful history lesson that recounts a very shameful time in America.  Like all good drama, it stirs a range of emotions - not the least of which is anger.   This is not a "feel good" movie," but it is one that will stick with you.  The Normal Heart pleads for human decency.  It is a story and a lesson that we all need to understand - and remember.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mississippi: Still Smoldering

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It was fifty years ago today that three young men, two whites from New York and a local black youth, were executed in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan and local law enforcement officials.  The deaths of the three, Michael (Mickey) Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, went on to have a chilling effect on the movement to register black voters in the south - and was central to getting more involvement by the United States Justice Department in the process of ending the rule of Jim Crow.

The movie, Mississippi Burning, recounts the tragic murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, and the role of the FBI in coming to Mississippi and trying to solve those crimes.

The southern whites, as portrayed in the movie, seemed almost too ignorant and intolerant to have been real.  They were presented as overdrawn caricatures of bigots - but real they were.  The primary conspirators, few of whom were ever convicted of anything, were men with badges (of the "bubba" variety) and businessmen who prospered and profited by pandering to the poverty, insecurities, and fears of the locals.  One was even a part-time Baptist minister.  They spewed ignorance and hatred and were rewarded with votes, business, and the good will of the white community.

Mississippi has changed, perhaps not eagerly, in the fifty years since the murders of those young civil rights workers.  But even with that change, there also remains a strong cadre of individuals who seem to be mired in another time.   This Tuesday there will be a run-off election for Senator in Mississippi in which a man who has been in Congress for over forty years may lose his seat to a tea-party candidate.  Neither candidate is a prize, but a tea-party victory would be a significant boost for the morale of the rabble who dream of taking the country back to where it was before Eisenhower went and ruined it!

And today there was a piece in Daily Kos reporting on a new study which ranks states according to their "gun sense."  Almost predictably, Mississippi came in second from the bottom - leading only Louisiana.    Over 54% of households in Mississippi have guns, and the gun death rate in the state in 17.80 per 100,000 individuals.

Clearly there are people in Mississippi who are insecure, and other people who are thriving on that  insecurity and fear.  Mississippi may no longer be burning, but the fire does not appear to be completely out.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thucydides Rides Again!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

John Huppenthal is a Republican career politician in Arizona who has spent much of his professional life with his snout in the public trough.  Three years ago Huppenthal, who has never taught a day in his life, managed to get himself elected Arizona's state superintendent of schools.  This week it was revealed that he has been trolling various blog sites and posting anonymous comments on an array of political blogs.

That, in itself, would not be much of a story if it were not for the fact that Huppenthal's anonymous comments were so rancorous and offensive.   He referred to Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, as a Nazi who fed 16 million African-American babies into abortion mills, spouted a theory that Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for the Great Depression, and conjectured that FDR's economic policies gave rise to Hitler.

But it was on the topic of the President and people who draw public assistance where the politician really got rolling:

 "Meanwhile, Obama is rewarding the lazy pigs with food stamps (44 million people), air-conditioning, free health care, flat-screen TV’s (typical of 'poor' families)."

(Which government program do I need to sign up for in order to get a flat-screen television?)

Huppenthal, a native of Indiana, shows such a complete ignorance of American history that one could almost suppose he went to high school in Texas - or perhaps even Arizona!  And as for his disdain of the poor, the irony of one individual living off of the public largess pointing a finger at others who are similarly funded and calling them lazy pigs is thick, and rich, and creamy!  Pot-kettle, Mr. Huppenthal.  Pot-kettle.

The angry typist was posting his comments under the pseudonyms of Thucydides, Falcon9, and Socrates.   He was ultimately busted in his clandestine free-speech project after one blogger tracked the comments back to computers belonging to the state department of education.  He was blogging from his office!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guineas Are Funny Fowl

by Pa Rock
Fancy Farmer

Two days ago I drove down into the wilds of Arkansas and came home with twenty baby guineas.  I lovingly placed these tiny fowl in the chick nursery which is a totally enclosed coop and pen next door to the adult bird coop and pen.  These babies are so small that a couple have actually escaped through the standard holes in the chicken wire - but they hustle back in when they see me coming!

I have raised guineas from chicks before and have a basic idea what to expect as they mature into nature's finest outdoor alarms and tick-chasers.  And for information which I was lacking, I asked the bird breeder who sold me the guineas.  My first question was about how she acquired her baby guineas, which were in cages in all through the house.  My earlier guineas had babies out in the woods and would bring them by on a tour of the yard after they hatched out.  But a few days later the babies would disappear.

The bird lady told me that guineas, especially the females, are notoriously bad parents.  A male will usually stand guard close to the nest until the babies hatch, and then the moms take over.  When any threats arise, the adults quickly abandon the young and look out for their own safety.  And what could be more delicious to a hungry fox, coyote, owl, or snake than a dozen or so warm little guineas.  Talk about  mouth-watering hors d'oeuvres!

The lady said that she keeps a few adults in pens and then robs their nests as soon as the babies hatch out.  She also said that she watches the birds that roam free and tries to find their nests - which she also robs.   She sees that as a way of protecting the chicks from the other predators - and she encouraged me to to try and capture any baby guineas that I find at the farm.

The lady also talked about something which I already knew - or at least had a sense about.  She said that guineas identify with a home, and if they are unsure where home is, they are likely to move on down the road.  I bought my earlier guineas when they were tiny chicks, and as they grew they had an intense loyalty to my little farm.  They would walk the yard looking for bugs and ticks almost on a schedule - often being in certain parts of the yard or pasture at a particular time each day.  By getting the birds when they are little, and then keeping them in an enclosure until they reach adulthood, they learn to identify with the locale and the individual who brings the feed.   An adult bird who is new to the farm might or might not hang around.

My favorite thing about guineas is their quickness to sound the alarm whenever they feel threatened or something disturbs their tranquility.   A few distressed guineas with set up a squawk that can be heard throughout the neighborhood.  They are great watchdogs!  The guineas that I raised previously would roost in the tops of the pine trees at night - forty or fifty feet in the air with a commanding view of everything.  Nothing roamed across the farm at night in silence.   Here I have tall pines aplenty, so I am hopeful that these new little residents of the farm will avail themselves of the protection and magnificent vistas that the pines have to offer.

After just two days at the farm, the little guineas from Arkansas have become acquainted with their new home and are enjoying being out in the fresh air and sunshine.  The young hens in the adjoining pen, although only two-months old themselves, peer through the wire separating the two pens with obvious maternal feelings.  Everything is peaceful at Rock's Roost!

And Pa Rock has to go mow.

From break of day to setting sun, a farmer's work is never done!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Missouri Commonsense: Lake Ozark Bans "Open Carry"

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Lake Ozark, Missouri, is the second biggest tourist destination in Missouri, with the first being Branson.  In a noble effort to keep from scaring off those valuable visitors, the Board of Aldermen of Lake Ozark passed a bill to maintain safety and a sane public demeanor.  The Board passed, on a 4-2 vote, local legislation that would prohibit the "open carry" of weapons within the city limits.

Right on cue, some of the locals have begun whining about their Second Amendment "rights" being trampled, and labeling the action of the Board of Alderman as being "tyranny."

The Missouri legislature, that august body that shamed itself by placing a bronze bust of Rush Limbaugh's head in the Capitol's "Hall of Famous Missourians," has taken issue with city's ability to set its own standards for public behavior.  The state senate recently passed a bill that would prohibit local communities, like Lake Ozark, from being able to ban "open carry."  So far, the show-me state's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, has not signed the bill.

Stand strong, Governor Nixon.   Missouri should let it's counties, cities, towns, and villages decide whether they want armed morons roaming their sidewalks and businesses - or not.  That is just commonsense -  and having commonsense is something that has always been a point of pride with Missourians.

And Governor, after we get this issue behind us, what are we going to do about that god-awful bronze bust of Rush Limbaugh's fat head?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Holy Jumping Turkeys, Batman!

by Pa Rock

I haven't  provided a farm update since Boone and I returned from our trip out to the Wild West, so here's what's new at the zoo!

Several weeks ago I wrote about three large and beautiful Great Pyrenees that had traipsed across the farm one afternoon and scared the pee out of Junior, my occasional dog.   When we pulled in Saturday afternoon, the three big, white behemoths were standing in the backyard, tails a-wagging, ready to greet the road-weary travelers.  Well, actually the two females were.  There is also a male that won't come near me - yet.

The largest female Pyrenees has a collar and tags that identify her as "Violet."  The smaller female also has a collar, but has lost her tags.   The male, too, is collared, but I haven't been able to get close enough to see if he had identification or not.   Here's how I see it:  if one female is Violet, the other couple could be Richard and Hyacinth, or, more likely, Onslow and Daisy.  I am choosing to go with the latter until they tell me differently.

My son, Nick, who watched the farm while I was gone, had concerns about something living in the barn.  He said that the poultry had been acting strangely the past couple of days, and then he found a wide hole in the dirt floor of the barn that some creature had dug.  Nick thought it might be a bobcat scooping out a place to have her kittens.   (The barn is technically mine, but if a momma bobcat decides to have kittens there, it is definitely hers until she vacates!)

I went to the barn to investigate that night, flashlight in hand in case I had to fight a bobcat or mountain lion.  There was indeed a bowl dug into the earth about three feet in circumference and a foot deep.  Instinctively, I knew that it was the work of the Great Pyrenees.  The following day, while it was raining, I walked back to the barn where I found my three big friends - Violet, Daisy, and Onslow - napping in the barn and waiting out the storm.  Onslow was in a second bowl that he had dug for the occasion.

So far the Great Pyrenees have visited every day since my return.  It's probably not because I am feeding them, but it could be!

Sunday I was squatting near the ground in the poultry pen filling a waterer when the largest turkey, probably six or eight pounds at present, decided to jump up and perch on my shoulder.  I told him to get off, but her liked his new perch and stayed where he was - even after I stood back up.  I didn't have my camera, or I would have taken a "selfie" to show who's really in charge at Rock's Roost!

Today I went to Lowes in Mountain Home, Arkansas - 45 miles from my home - and bought a push lawnmower which I will go outside and break-in when I finish this blog-posting.  After that I drove to a farm way out in the woods near Gainesville, Missouri, where I purchased twenty guinea chicks.  The place where I got the guineas had pens of different kinds of birds covering several acres of yard, and the house was also full of birds.  It was nasty - filthier than any place I have been in since my days as a child protection worker for the state.  I came away feeling like I had "rescued" the guinea chicks - and they are at home now in a clean and safe environment.   I will probably go back and rescue some peacock chicks when the next batch hatches out.

That's all of there farm news, and as Steve Martin once said, "It's a great day for a mow."  I guess that I'd better get at it!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Old Nurse"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Yesterday I wrote at length about an old book, Take to the Hills, by Marguerite Lyon.  It is her story of the changes that she and her husband had to endure as they left their professional lives in Chicago and began operating a small and very primitive farm in the Ozark hills near Mountain View, Missouri.  Mrs. Lyon's book contained a poem about an old granny woman taking care of the medical needs of the hill folk.

While many of us have probably not come across a real "granny woman" during the course of our lives, this poem should at least remind us of everyone's favorite fictional doctor from the hills, Granny Clampett!

The poem, "The Old Nurse" is by Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey and was part of a volume by her entitled Ozark Lyrics.   I am dedicating this telling of it to my good pal of nearly fifty years - Xobekim - because it more than likely references one of his relatives.   Enjoy it, Mike.

The Old Nurse
by Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey

Granny was humming an old, old tune
In her sweet voice, broken and thin,
Busily making small shapely bags
And tying up seeds within. 
"When Ruth Box's young'un gits took down
Straight away she sends for me,
She knows I can drive one's fever out
With my good old pumpkin seed tea.
Onc't when Dr. Ralph had been called
An' left not a powder ner pill,
While Jake Stevens galloped off to town
With Doc's perscripshun to fill
I saved the Stevenses baby's life
Frying onions in polecat grease,
Bindin' 'em hot to her little throat,
An' soon she was  sleeping' in peace."

Watermelon seed and saffron,
Witch hazel bark and rue,
The lining of chicken gizzards,
And toasted eggshells, too;
I knew that catnip and other herbs
Hung in the attic above:
"Just notions," her smiling daughter said,
But I smiled and said:  "Just love!"

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Take to the Hills

by Pa Rock

Sometime around the early 1960's I came into possession of an old book entitled Take to the Hills, the story of a city couple who moved to the Ozarks during the Great Depression and began operating a small sheep farm - a one-hundred-and-sixty acre spread that they lovingly called Sunrise Mountain Farm.  

I never read the book, but for reasons unknown I hung onto it.  Then, in the late 1970's while teaching history at the Mountain View-Birch Tree High School, somebody mentioned the volume and noted that it took place in and around Mountain View.  At that point I read one chapter which dealt with the girlhood of a lady whose children were students of mine, but still I neglected to read the entire thing - and still I hung onto it.

Now, at long last, I have read Take to the Hills, and I am pleased to report that the experience was a real treat!

In 1935 Robert and Marguerite Lyon, a professional couple living and working in Chicago, witnessed a friend suddenly lose his job at the height of the Great Depression.  In an effort to protect themselves from a catastrophe like their friend endured, the couple became proactive in planning their future.   After hearing a relative speak of the low land prices in the Ozarks, the Lyons bought a 40-acre farm in the Ozarks - sight unseen for the sweet price, even then, of one thousand dollars!

The couple remained in Chicago working to save money to invest in livestock and crops on the new farm.  Robert moved to the farm first where he made enough money working for the National Republican Party on behalf of the presidential candidacy of Alf Landon to pay for an additional 120 acres that were adjacent to the farm.  By the time Marge joined him, he had hired a knowledgeable farm hand, gotten into the sheep business, bought a few chickens and geese, and begun to be known throughout the neighborhood as a man of some intellect.

Robert's political work, traveling around the country with a speaker-truck and giving impromptu political speeches, did not even put a dent in the solid Democratic voting patterns of the area.   But the political activity did earn him some personal respect in the area, and he was eventually elected to be the first head of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce.    Later Robert was appointed and then elected to the position of Justice of the Peace, a job which earned him the appellation of "the Jedge."

Marge Lyon was a writer by trade, drawing a regular salary for penning commercial prose to help sell products.   It wasn't long after her arrival at Sunrise Mountain Farm that she began jotting down stories of their daily lives as they became accustomed to a different lifestyle and dealt with characters unlike any that they had ever encountered in the city.

Marge wrote about Doris, a child of the Ozarks who could travel from cabin-to-cabin through the woods at night and never get lost.  I knew Doris years later, long after she had a grown family and was presumably through traipsing through the nocturnal woods.  Marge wrote at length about Aunt Mealie whose cabin leaked profusely,  Mealie used her sole umbrella to protect her most valuable possession - a thirty-year-old sewing machine.   The neighborhood knew spring had officially arrived when Aunt Mealie shed her long underwear.  And then there was Wild Rufe, a man who suffered "fits" that resulted in him losing his clothing in inconvenient places.

Marge also talked about the weekly Saturday sales at Mountain View and the various ways that people managed to get into town for those sales.  She described "Ozark Station Wagons" which were worn out cars that had their tops cut off and their tires packed tight with straw.  Those contraptions were then hooked up to a team of horses or mules and the family rode into town in style!

My enjoyment of this book was based in large measure on the glimpses that it gave me into my own adventures in small-time farming - not with the current farm, but with the one I had near Noel a decade ago.  The work was hard, yet I had a lot of fun - and the relaxing was great!  I am beginning to experience those same things again - and I thank Marguerite Lyon for reminding me of why I came here!

Life is still pretty sweet in the Ozarks!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Eastward Ho! (Day Sixteen) Home at Last!

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Boone and I made it back to my home in West Plains around 1:30 this afternoon.  Nothing much has changed.  It has rained most of the time we have been gone, and the grass and weeds are knee-high.  The girls out in the hen lot seemed awfully happy to see me, and, by a complicated count, they all appear to be present and accounted for.  The four turkeys have really grown.  They are quite a bit larger than the chickens and now look to be two gobblers and two hens.

The last leg of the journey home, from Kansas City to West Plains, proved to be the hardest - with the wagon master missing two different turns and making the team pull the big wagon several unnecessary miles.  According the the pedometer that I attached to the leg of Babe, the big lead ox, our trip totaled 5,488 miles.  During that long drive we visited thirteen states and three national parks - and saw many miles of the rugged Pacific coastline.

I suspect that Boone will remember our trek out west for many years to come - and I know that I certainly will.

But, it is good to be back home!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Eastward Ho! (Day Fifteen)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

We arrived back in Kansas City early this afternoon - where everything remains up-to-date.  Our drive from Kearney, Nebraska, was relatively uneventful.  The weather was nice and traffic zipped along at a brisk pace.  The oxen really had a good workout!

This afternoon we made a trip to Costco where I bought some supplies for the house.  Kansas City is basically the closest Costco to West Plains.  There isn't even one in Springfield.  I like going into Costco because their employees are always smiling and happy - unlike their underpaid and overworked counterparts at Sam's Club.  Costco has proven that paying a living wage is good business.

Tomorrow morning we head south on the final leg of our trip.  We have seen and done a lot in a little over two weeks, but it will be very nice to finally get home.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eastward Ho! (Day Fourteen)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Drove almost six hundred miles along the Interstate 80 Trail heading east today - and finally pitching our camp at a Motel 6 in Kearney, Nebraska.  If this beautiful weather continues to prevail and the oxen don't get ill or go on strike, we should be in Kansas City sometime tomorrow afternoon - and then home on Saturday!

Our motel tonight is right across the street from the Ft. Kearney Museum, a long building that resembles a remodeled army barracks and is situated on a large wooded acreage.  There are some peacocks in the woods yelling about something - or perhaps yelling about nothing at all, as peacocks sometimes do.  They have gotten me to thinking about how much I would really like to have a few peacocks at the farm.  Guess I will have to attend some animal swap meets when I get home!

There isn't much to report from the road tonight.  Everything is green, providing the team with plenty to munch on along the way.  Saw quite a bit of southern Wyoming and central Nebraska today, and have been blessed with clear skies ever since the downpour that we suffered in South Dakota on the first day out of Kansas City.

I thought of Matthew Shepard as we drove through Laramie, Wyoming, this morning.  It is hard to imagine that peaceful little community being the scene of such an awful hate crime.  Rest peacefully, Matthew.  Fifteen years on and you are still remembered and missed.

The trail is winding down.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Eastward Ho! (Day Thirteen)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Today we crossed the rest of Nevada, all of Utah (at the narrow end), and made it more than one hundred miles into Wyoming.  We are staying in Rock Springs.

The trek eastward was fairly uneventful today.  As we crested a hill preparing to enter Utah, we were greeted with endless stretches of white that looked like fields of snow.  It was the Bonneville Salt Flats where many land speed records have been set.  We could see several sets of tire tracks heading off onto the salt plains and then cutting curly-cues, so the area appears to still be used for vehicular acting out.

We also came across several dead deer on the roadways.  Interstate 80 must not be an especially good place for animals to frolic.

Today's drive took us past the Great Salt Lake, through Salt Lake City, and on up into beautiful Park City, Utah.  We had a nice lunch in Park City at the local Wendy's.  I heartily recommend the new Strawberry Fields salad.

We are camped at another Motel 6 - second night in a row.  We have stayed in three on this trip - all recently remodeled and quite nice.  They are the cheapest chain on the trail.  This morning we received a wake-up call from Tom Beaudet.  He said, "Good morning.  You've just won ten million dollars!  No, just kidding - but it's time to get up!"

That Tom is quite a card!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eastward Ho! (Day Twelve)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

This evening finds us at a Motel 6 in Winnemucca, Nevada.  For those who have read Armistead Maupin's wonderful Tales of the City, Winnemucca is where Mrs. Madrigal lived as a child - in her mother's house of prostitution.  My first impressions of the town and the motel are positive.

We made our escape from the Bates Bigfoot Motel in Willow Creek, California, early this morning.  It looked as though we were the only paying guests last night, which is probably why the manager had to have ninety dollars for the room.  The light over my bed did not work, which was upsetting because I like to read in bed, and I had to reattach the chain to the toilet mechanism twice during the evening.  I suspect most North American Bigfeet are smart enough to avoid the place.

Today we drove through some breathtaking, evergreen-clad mountains which bordered the Trinity River in northern California.  We were on a twisting, winding road and had to stop numerous (at least three) times due to road repair work.  But those stops gave me time to study the atlas and figure out the shortest route to Reno, Nevada.  All told, we put in 460 miles on the road, about twenty more than yesterday.  Tomorrow we will begin the day on Interstate 80, a very smooth and straight highway that should give us some quick miles.

We must be in Nevada because every gas station houses a casino!   Fortunately, I don't gamble - except for the odd lottery ticket - or I would be tempted to bet the Conestoga and oxen, and if I lost I could console myself by riding on home in style on a Greyhound Stage Coach!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Eastward Ho! (Day Eleven)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

We are back on the trail today heading south and then east.  Would like to reach Kansas City by Saturday night and be home on Sunday.

Today we drove the beautiful Oregon coast from Newport down through Brookings - and on into California as far south as Eureka.  There we turned the wagon east and headed up through the mountains in the general direction of Redding.  Tonight we are in the very small town of Willow Creek staying at the Bigfoot Motel.  (Seriously!)  We managed to get a thirty-dollar room for just ninety bucks in a sad little motel that banks on its unique name and the fact that it is the only available hostel for weary travelers within miles.  Our innkeeper looks as though he might be Bigfoot in his off-duty hours.

The Pacific Ocean along the Oregon and northern California coastline is magnificent, with tall evergreens running down the hillsides and almost out onto the beaches - and lots of big boulders dotting the landscape both in and out of the churning waters.  We drove through several tall stands of California  redwoods which are also amazing and truly awe-inspiring.  At one point we climbed down out of the wagon and walked up into the hills to commune with the giants in an up-close-and-personal manner.

I remembered lots of yellow banana slugs in the redwood forest from when I was there nearly thirty years ago, but today we didn't encounter any of those slimy forest inhabitants.

Willow Creek actually does look like the type of place where Bigfoot might put in an appearance - or at least a bunch of gun-toting old white guys with beards and wearing cammos - and being followed around by a television crew.  As Barnum said, "There's one born every minute."  And as Pa Rock said, "Yes, and they all watch reality television."

Sarah Palin would be right at home in Willow Creek, and so would those bearded, homophobic  millionaire hillbillies from Duck Dynasty.

Tomorrow we will head out toward Redding, Reno, and points east - if the creeks don't rise and Bigfoot doesn't eat the oxen!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Another Day, Another Deadly Shooting in America

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It feels like we are at war, and it feels like nobody cares.

This morning there was another deadly shooting in America, an event becoming so commonplace that it is a wonder news organizations still bother to report the carnage.  Today's shooting took place in Las Vegas and stretched across two separate business locations.

The shooting was carried out by two bad guys with guns - and perpetrated on two good guys with guns who never got to use them.

Two local police officers were sitting at a Cici's Pizza enjoying their lunch when a pair of armed lunatics walked in and shot each officer in the head.  Reportedly, the shooters were a man and a woman using high-powered rifles.  They supposedly shouted "This is a revolution!" as they murdered the policemen - and then ran next door to a Walmart where they killed another person before going further into the store and killing themselves in a suicide pact (probably secure in their delusion that they had just fired the shots heard around the world.)

Remember the good old days when people carrying rifles into public places would have stood out and been noticed?

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I am sick and disgusted by this gun stupidity that the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America, Fox News, and a plethora of absolutely insane politicians have foisted on our country - all just to sell guns, guns, and more guns through fear and intimidation and phony patriotism.  They've raged that Obama is coming to take our guns,  the police can't or won't do their jobs, and if you want to be safe you must have your own personal arsenal.  It's just nonsense!  It's just horseshit!  And it is just about selling guns!

The massacre of two dozen little first graders in Newton a year ago last December should have been the straw that broke the camel's back,.  Any thinking, caring person knew that a civilized nation would have to impose some limitations on guns and ammunition after that bloody villainy.  But nothing happened.  Our gutless politicians cowered before the gun lobby and ignored the pleas of an heartbroken parents and an outraged nation.  After that political betrayal most people seem to have just given up.  If Newtown didn't shame the gun industry and their water-bearers in Congress, then obviously nothing ever would.

Now we have states passing legislation that emboldens some of the scariest and most unstable people in society.  Stand-Your-Ground laws give permission to basically shoot if you are scared - or later just need a handy excuse for killing someone.  Concealed carry laws, adopted by every state in the nation, mean that just about anyone you encounter during your daily activities is possibly armed - and many of those are ready to stand their ground if you accidentally bump into them in the checkout line at the local grocery or cut them off in traffic.   And now many states are allowing "open-carry," and we have all seen the pictures of the Neanderthals walking through Target and Home Depot pretending to be Rambo.

White Neanderthals.  The jerks at Fox and those drawing paychecks from the gun lobby would not be nearly as unwavering in their support of gun rights if packs of armed black men were suddenly showing up in public places.  Guns in America are an extremely racist issue.

States are allowing people to buy fully-automatic assault weapons with monster clips.   Does a person really need seventy-five quick rounds to kill a deer, or even an intruder?  These people are stocking up for war - for the revolution that two miscreants tried to start in Las Vegas earlier today.  They are living in a Red Dawn fantasy world.  They are nuts - and they are armed to the teeth!

Shame on us for letting this madness continue.  We are a shameless society.

Remember the immortal words of Pogo:  "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

Westward Ho! (Day Ten)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Sunday evening and we are just wrapping up the westward portion of our trip.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, Boone and I will begin the long trek homeward.  Tomorrow's travel will be southward along Oregon's coastal highway - and then into the magnificent redwoods of northern California.   We will take a left a Sacramento, probably on Tuesday, and head out toward Reno and Salt Lake City.   Eventually we will see the outskirts of Denver and way too much of Kansas as we make our way to Kansas City on Interstate 70.

Boone is still out visiting with his grandmother.  I have said my good-byes to Molly and Scott and my three Oregon grandchildren.   Molly and Sebastian will be coming to Missouri for a brief visit in July (my oldest son's wedding), but it will be at least this fall before I am able to see the other two again.  Next time I come to Oregon, I will fly and leave the Conestoga wagon at home!

We spent most of today at Molly and Scott's home.  This afternoon the little kids played outside in the sprinklers and had a great time.  I did manage to get a few things organized so that we can make an early exit from Salem in the morning.

The wagon is packed (mostly), and the oxen are rested.  We are ready to hit the trail!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Nine)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Boone has spent today in Portland with his grandmother, Aunt Molly, and Cousin Sebastian enjoying the Rose Festival and the other things Portland has to offer.   I, on the other hand, have been sitting by a stream washing my clothes in the clear Oregon waters, and hanging them up to dry in the low limbs of an old spruce - and now everything is clean and ready for the trip home!

Scott and I took Judah and Willow to Salem's Riverfront Park this afternoon where they ran in two different directions to play on all of the playground equipment.   My focus was keeping an eye on little Willow to make sure she did not fall off of anything or disappear among the many other kids who were ranging over and about the playground like ants on pie.  Willow loves to slide and does not seem to have any fear.

We also took a turn on the park's beautiful carousel.  Today happened to be the carousel's birthday, so rides were discounted - and all of the horses were wearing birthday party hats!  I tried to hold Willow onto her horse, but she kept pushing my hand away.  Such an independent young lady!

Boone and I are staying at the local HoJo's where we were given their "last room" at a reduced rate.  It is actually a suite, so even at a reduced rate it still stretches the budget.  But it is nice to sort of be able to spread our stuff out.  Some of the rooms in which we have stayed on this trip barely had room for our luggage!

(It is amazing the amount of "last rooms" we have been able to rent on this trip.  It almost feels like it could be a sales gimmick!)

We will start the long trip home on Monday.  I am getting anxious to see all of my feathered friends back on the farm.  I hope they remember me!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Eight)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

We arrived at our destination - Salem, Oregon - before noon today.  Boone has spent the afternoon at the beach with his grandmother, and I have busied myself playing with my three grandchildren who live here.  It has been a very busy day!

Our drive this morning from Boardman to Salem was about two hundred miles, but most of it ran along the banks of the Columbia River, one of the nation's most beautiful waterways.  I found myself humming and whistling Woody Guthrie's "Roll On Columbia" during much of the drive!

I drove the same route back in 1986, and it looks almost the same now as it did then.  One big difference, however, is the addition of hundreds of utility windmills on both sides of the river.   Oregon and Washington both  appear to be very "green."  At one point we did cross over to the Washington side of the river so that Boone could add another state to list that he has visited.   The oxen did not seem to mind the old metal bridge at all!

Current plans are to remain in Salem until Monday morning and then begin the long trek home.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Seven)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

This evening officially completes our first week on the road.  We had one down day in Kansas City, but the other six have been spent in some fairly rugged travel.  The oxen pulling the wagon are about ready for another day of rest and recuperation.

Today we put in a full five hundred miles - that's really hoofing it!  We began the morning at Idaho Falls, Idaho, and are camped tonight at a Rodeway Inn in Boardman, Oregon.  Our destination, Salem, Oregon, should be within sight before noon tomorrow - or thereabouts.

Last night we had the nicest - and cheapest - room of the trip.  It was an almost new Motel 6.  They did allow pets, which I regard as bad motel policy, but our room appeared to be clear of fleas.  The only problem occurred in the very middle of the night when the fire alarm in our room went off and scared the bejezzus out of me!

Tonight we are at a Rodeway Inn which is filled primarily with construction workers who are  employed building new lanes on the Interstate.  This place does not allow pets.  (If Maw and Paw can check into Motel 6 with a pair of little yappy dogs (like our neighbors last night), then I guess I should  be able to keep of couple of chickens in my room.  I may have to try that sometime.

One new thing that I have noticed in Idaho and Oregon is what I call "truck trains."  Today I observed a dozen or so large trucks that were pulling three separate trailers - like a short train.  I counted seven from the Fed Ex company alone, and a couple of those were really fighting the wind.

We didn't stop anywhere today for tourist purposes, but we did get out and take a few pictures of the lava fields surrounding Craters of the Moon Park in southern Idaho.

Salem, tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Six)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

(Special Note:  This is posting number 2,500 to this blog.  I think it is starting to get out of hand!)

There were two highlights to today's travels:  the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park.  The first is essentially an expansive museum housing Buffalo Bill memorabilia and art and implements of the Old West.  Those traveling out this way who are interested in history should plan no less than a full day to enjoy all that this facility has to offer.   With the sole exception of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center is the finest museum that I have ever experienced.

Exhibits include the stagecoach used in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, many of his clothes, costumes, and guns, rooms of original western art by such masters as N.C. Wyeth and Frederick Remington, photographs, posters, correspondence, research facilities, several rooms of firearms including the actual guns used in many old television westerns, and nature exhibits throughout.  It is simply amazing!

Yellowstone remains beautiful, and I was able to drive right in on my senior pass, saving a handsome twenty-five dollars.   (Of course, I spent twenty-vie dollars on table scraps for lunch at a dirty park cafeteria - so the money was a wash.)

We entered through the west gate and climbed high into the Rockies.  The views and snowscapes were stunning!  There were a couple of hours of nice weather which ended just as we were reaching Old Faithful.  There it started to rain, then snow, and, after we were out of the car heading for the visitor center, the hail commenced!  It was quite an experience.   The weather improved a little after lunch and we were able to put in another hour or so viewing the park.  One of the highlights was seeing several buffalo up close as they roamed a meadow alongside of a stream.

Sadly, there were no bear sightings!

This evening the oxen stopped at a Motel 6 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and refused to go another step.  They seem to be envious of the laid-back lives of Yellowstone buffalo - and they are obviously as tired as I am!

We will plod on toward Oregon in the morning!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Five)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Our day began in Hill City, South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore, and it is in the process of ending in the sad little  town of Greybull, Wyoming.  Between those two places we have managed to put in appearances in Deadwood, South Dakota, the Devil's Tower in northeastern Wyoming, and the Powder River Pass high up in the Rockies.

I informed Boone this morning that I had decided to eliminate Glacier National Park from our itinerary for this trip.  It is a "must see," but just not this time.  Glacier would add two full days to the trip, and I doubt that either me or the oxen are up to that long ride across Montana and up those magnificent mountains.   To make up for that, Deadwood and the Devil's Tower were added.

Deadwood is a very interesting little town  It is the place where Wild Bill Hickok was killed in 1876 while mulling two pair (aces and eights) in a poker game at the local saloon.  He and Calamity Jane are both buried at the Boot Hill Cemetery in Deadwood.  Most of the original town burned and was replaced by more modern buildings, many of them stone, in the very early 1900s - so is still has a strong historical flavor.  Boone and I walked along the brick Main Street that was lined with tourist shops and casinos.   We saw one fellow sitting out in front of one of the saloons with a full glass of beer - at nine in the morning!

Devil's Tower is known to many for it's prominent inclusion in the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It is very impressive, standing essentially by itself out in the middle of a beautiful nowhere and reaching for the sky.  In the movie it made a convenient landing pad for the spaceship.  Richard Dreyfuss also made a mud replica of Devil's Tower inside of his home - something that movie wife, Teri Garr, failed to appreciate!

We took Wyoming Highway 16 from Buffalo to Worland, a beautiful drive through the mountains where we saw many mule deer.  The highest point on that trail was Powder River Pass which is 9,666 feet above sea level.  The temperature was in the forties there, but after we descended six thousand feet or so, it was in the eighties.   There was a lot of snow on the ground up in the mountains.   We also drove along beside a couple of streams that were roaring their way down the mountainside.

Tomorrow we will go to Cody, Wyoming, early and visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and then we hope to spend the rest of the day driving around Yellowstone National Park.

It's been a great trip up to this point!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Four)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Five hundred miles today - including some backtracking.  The oxen aren't the only ones who are worn out.  I feel like I could sleep for a week!  We are camped at a Super 8 in Hill City, South Dakota, just down the road from Mount Rushmore.

We were at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, this morning before most decent people had their second cup of coffee.  It it a large old auditorium covered in corn and other vegetative matter.  The unique old building is also the town's civic center where basketball games and other activities are held.  I heard on their kick-ass oldies radio station that Tommy James and the Shondells will perform at the Corn Palace next week.

Mitchell, South Dakota, is also the hometown of former presidential contender, George McGovern.

For lunch we stopped at a facsimile 1888 town (another roadside attraction) that had many authentic (or authentic-looking) town buildings from the 1880's.  There was also a museum that contained numerous artifacts from the Kevin Costner movie, Dances with Wolves, which was filmed in several locations across South Dakota.  Our lunch was in the dining car of an old train.

The next stop was in the extraordinarily over-hyped Wall Drug.  I can't properly describe this commercial enterprise, but would recommend stopping there just for curiosity's sake.  You can't miss it - there are road signs for about five hundred miles in every direction.

Speaking of road signs, there is apparently a winery in Rapid City, South Dakota, called the Fire House.  We saw four different billboards for it, and each had an authentic old firetruck sitting out by the advertisements.  Two of the signs were within about a mile of each other.  They do get your attention, and I guess that is the point.

Immediately after leaving Wall Drug we drove through the Badlands - about a thirty mile loop.  That preserve forms another "must see" for anyone venturing out west.  Boone, who has never been in this part of the country before, was especially impressed with the Badlands.

Our final two stops were at the Crazy Horse Memorial where Crazy Horse and his war pony are slowly being carved into a mountain - and Mount Rushmore.    There had been a little progress on the Crazy Horse mountain carving since my last visit twenty years ago - very little.  But the museum was impressive.  The memorial donates scholarship money to many local Indian youth.

Mount Rushmore is as impressive as ever.

I have a national park pass for seniors that I bought last year at the Grand Canyon National Park for only ten dollars.  The lady who sold it to me said that it would be good an any national park forever - I could enter free and so could any passengers in my vehicle.  The pass got us into the Badlands without any problem, but their was an issue at Mount Rushmore.  There visitors must pay to park (a pricey eleven dollars) - but entry to the park is then free.  I think that is a racket - and I blame Orange John Boner!

Early tomorrow we will head out across Wyoming - if the oxen are willing and the creeks don't rise!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cher! An "Icon" Comes to Kansas City

by Pa Rock
Music Fan

As noted in the post immediately previous to this one, Cher and Cyndi Lauper rocked the Sprint Center in Kansas City (Missouri) last night.  Miss Lauper was the opening act for Cher, an American diva of legendary status.

The area around the Sprint Center was awash in people long before either of those extraordinary singers took the stage.  The Power and Light District was hosting a big part of a Cancer (Pub) Crawl, an event that had thousands of partiers stumbling around the area adjacent to the massive auditorium as they showed their commitment to finding a cure of cancer by getting soused.  Rock Fest was also taking place not too far away.  Everything was definitely up-to-date (and loud!) in Kansas City last night!

There were several vans from the local radio stations out in front of the Sprint Center talking to the lumbering hordes who were waiting to get in.  One was hosting Karoke with music by Cher - an event they called "Cher-i-oke."  We came across the semi-tractor-trailers and tour buses used for the show about a block from the venue.  They were so close and so numerous as to make it impossible to count from a moving vehicle, but there were more than eight of each type.   After viewing the extravaganza of a show, it was obvious why a fleet of trucks and buses was necessary.  (At least one was needed solely for Cher's gowns and costumes!)

As the curtain went up on the Cher portion of the show, about forty minutes after Cyndi Lauper had left the stage, the star was revealed in some type of Roman temple attire standing atop a twenty-foot column.  That was the prelude to what proved to be a full-blown Las Vegas production.  There were acrobats and dancers, trapezes and swings, and an enormous Trojan horse.  There was an amazing assortment of light shows - and a  myriad of film clips showing on giant screens.  It was an auditory and visual feast of magnificent proportions!

Cher mentioned her age shortly after entering on the pillar - sixty-eight - and several times during the performance she noted that it would be her final farewell performance, or sometimes she worded it as her "farewell, farewell performance."  I am a doubter on that score.  Her strong voice and shapely bod still resonate across gigantic venues as well as across the ages.  I suspect Cher will be doing farewell performances well into her eighties!  (Mick Jagger will probably be her opening act by then!)

I wasn't the oldest one there last night, and neither was Cher.  There was a goodly number of silver hairs in the audience, as well as many who were so young that they probably didn't have a clue as to who Sonny Bono was.

Sonny was pictured in the programs which sold for a healthy thirty dollars each.  I didn't buy one, but the lady sitting next to me did - and I enjoyed hers immensely as she slowly leafed through every page.  Sonny was also featured in many of the film clips, and the most poignant segment of the show was when Cher sang a  duet of "I've Got You, Babe" with Sonny.  She sang live and he was, of course, on video.  She noted that Sonny would have probably liked that because he was a "big ham."

The songs Cher sang were known to one and all - and everybody sang along.  The show was loud, and raucous, and glitzy, and glamorous, and very, very Cher.

The icon (a term she used to describe herself) came in on a column and left on a swing.  A silver contraption descended from the heavens, she stepped aboard, and it carried her the length of the auditorium and around each side - twenty or thirty feet in the air - giving even those in the nose-bleed seats a good view of the goddess as she surveyed her kingdom.

The only disappointment of the entire evening was that the Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church) scum from Topeka didn't show up to protest the event.  I thought with Cher being the parent of a transgendered adult child that the temptation for them to come out spew their hate would have been well nigh irresistible.

But, those idiots aside, what a show it was, and what a time it was!  Cher, you are (and always have been) fabulous!  Thank you for taking a "swing" through Kansas City!

Cyndi Lauper in Kansas City - Not Kansas!

by Pa Rock
Music Fan

Last night I had the most amazing concert experience of my life when I was able to see two great entertainers, both mature women in their sixties - rock the house at the Sprint Center in Kansas City:  Cyndi Lauper and Cher!  The show was so phenomenal that I will discuss each performer in separate posts.

There is a bit of lingering bitterness with Kansas City audiences when stars come on stage and comment about being in Kansas - an understandable error that has been known to elicit booing and rude comments from people in the audience who paid big Missouri dollars for their seats.   Cyndi Lauper, the opening act in last night's show, addressed that before she even got to the stage.  She entered through the audience walking toward the stage saying, "Toto, I don't believe we're in Kansas anymore.  I don't believed we're in Kansas at all!"  The people in the packed house roared their approval of her cognizance of where she was at.

Lauper, who will be sixty-one later this month, spun, bounced, romped, stomped, and rocked around the stage with a ferocity that would have put a twenty-year-old on life support.  Her voice is still as healthy and dynamic as it was when she was at the top of her game back in the eighties.  She is a completely amazing performer.

Something I did not realize:  Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical, Kinky Boots.  She said it will begin a national tour in Vegas next year.  (I loved the movie and can't wait to see in produced on the stage - especially with Lauper's powerful music.)

Cyndi Lauper is a native New Yorker (Queens) who is equally at ease speaking the language of the street with a Queens' accent (something she calls "the Queen's English") or quoting Lawrence Ferlinghetti.   She is also a close friend of Cher's and has toured with her in the past.

And then there is the political side of Cyndi Lauper, a facet with which I am quite comfortable.  Toward the end of the show she encouraged the audience not to forget about the kidnapped girls of Nigeria.  She also mentioned, angrily, sixteen-year-old Jane Doe of Connecticut - a transgendered youth who has not been charged or convicted of a crime, yet is being held in a prison for adult females because the state regards her as dangerous.  Jane Doe has been in the state's foster care system since she was five.  Many of us might qualify as "dangerous" if we spent most of our childhood being bounced among foster and group homes.  (As a former state child welfare worker, I know something about that of which I speak.  It can be an awful experience, one that nobody should have to endure - and certainly not for eleven years - and then graduate to an adult prison!)

Cyndi closed her portion of the show with a raucous rendition of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."  As she left the stage, she shouted into the arena - "Now get ready, 'cause Cher's gonna come out here and kick your ass!"

Which, of course, she did.

Westward Ho! (Day Three)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

We left the Kansas City area bright and early this morning and managed to put in nearly four hundred miles on the trail heading north.  Tonight we are camped on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at a place called the Red Rock Inn.   The poor oxen are literally worn out!

The primary highlight of today's travels was the weather.  We were caught in a torrential downpour just after crossing the South Dakota state line and had to pull over and put the flashers on for about ten minutes.  Then, as we neared Sioux Falls, the weather got dicey again and we pulled off the road to camp at the first motel we came to.

What?  You didn't know oxen came equipped with flashers?  They're mounted on the yokes.

Lunch was at a Culver's in Sioux City, Iowa - and it was good!  Thanks, Uncle Tim, for introducing us to Culver's!

We did manage to pass historical markers for the Lewis and Clark Trail at least twice today, and signs for South Dakota's primary tourist attraction, Wall Drug, have also begun to appear with increasing frequency.

Another highlight was a brief stop at the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.  Boone was impressed with the campus, though it is actually quite small by university standards, and the Music Museum was very impressive.   One instrument, a cello from the 1500's , is the oldest violin-type instrument in existence.  The curator said it was valued at $19 million!  They also had another ancient fiddle worth a respectable $5 million!  And there were piano's, guitars, horns, drums, and even harmonicas!  (If you plan your vacation around the National Music Museum, just remember that admission is free on Fridays!)

Tomorrow we will take a left out of Sioux Falls and head west on Interstate 90.  Lots to see along that route as we cross South Dakota from east to west.