Saturday, December 20, 2008

National Landfill

Photo taken during our visit in Spring of 1979

As we looked out along the moon’s pathway to the Gulf’s horizon, we could see the multiple silhouettes of oil rig platforms anchored to the sea. We were camping on Padre Island along the Texas Gulf coast in 1979.
We wanted to take a few days to explore Padre Island National Seashore, and it looked as though everyone just drove out onto the beach with their rig and camped wherever the wind blew. We only paid $4,000 for our Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser (largest frame automobile every built) and a 28 ft. Avion Travel Trailer, but it happened to be the only thing in the whole world we owned. So it was going to take a lot of convincing to get me to drive it out on some beach and sacrifice it to the sand dollar gods. But after a day of walking the beach and witnessing other fools with $100,000 rigs along the shore, we decided to go for it. The secret was to stay on the hard-packed sand and out of the water. By evening we were five miles down the beach, parked near a calm sea, within eyesight of others who looked as though they too would spend the night. Was this sucking the juice out of life or what? Sipping wine with our feet in the waves and our hind-ends in the warm Gulf sand. Not a worry in the world, and our only responsibility was to make sure we didn’t track too much sand into the trailer. It was an incredibly beautiful beach. For miles we had walked and discovered something new with every step. Gaila and I both agreed it was the most beautiful beach we had yet discovered along the Gulf coast. The calm evening was a perfect end to a perfect day, and we went to sleep lulled by the rhythmic sounds of the Gulf’s water ending its journey just yards away.
We were rudely awakened at midnight by Mother Nature in a rage. The wind shook the trailer in violent gusts. I can only compare it to the bombers in movies about World War II as they took flack from heavy, land-based guns. The wind-driven rain was well past the drop stage. It was as though we were parked under Niagara Falls. I jumped out of the trailer to put the fiberglass window awnings down, but the wind and rain were so ferocious, I could not keep my eyes dry enough to see. I left the awnings and went back into the trailer soaked to the bone. Then in an instant of horror I began to wonder if the tide was in or out when I parked. Did everybody else leave after dark? Is this some kind of spring hurricane? I raced back out into the storm and worked my way to both ends of the rig, trying to focus up and down the beach in search of another rig and a little assurance that we were not the only fools left out here to be flushed into the Gulf of Mexico. I could not see ten feet in either direction. The water’s edge was much closer, but perhaps it was just the storm and not the rising tide. I went back into the trailer and we rode out the storm without another wink of sleep until dawn broke in a eerie calm that made the whole episode seem like only a bad dream. I made some coffee and we walked down the beach. In the distance I could see that there were a few rigs still on the beach, but the storm had thinned out the smart and the timid. It had also transformed our beautiful pristine beach into a common landfill. Along this sand-strewn stretch that just yesterday held only nature’s treasures, today would yield anything one would hope to find in any landfill. The storm had rooted up, from the bowels of the Gulf, debris of every type and laid it out for a hundred miles in a display of natural decadence. Our feet became heavy and our pace slow, not only from despair, but from the fact that our shoes had become caked with a thick black tar that was compacted in yesterday’s pure virgin sand. We had seen enough and decided to cut our Padre Island visit short and head further west.
We pulled up off the beach, and it felt good to be back on hard ground again. I was never much of a sailor and, after a night of standing watch against the waves breaking up against my land yacht, I was a born-again land-lover.
An hour out of Corpus Cristi on Highway 441 I was about to rethink that status.
We passed through Alice, Texas, and it was 110 degrees in the shade—had there been any shade! I had seen plenty of pickup trucks with rifles in the back windows. In fact, I thought General Motors and Ford had made it a standard feature on pickups shipped to Texas. An option would have been a fishing pole in place of the rifle. In the middle of my gun thoughts, I heard one go off. It turned out to be a Michigan trailer tire that just couldn’t take Texas heat. It blew the rubber right off the inside of the tire. Our trailer was a 28-foot, 1963 Avion. In 1963 they could make a 28-foot trailer with one axle, and that’s exactly what they did when they built ours. To keep the wheel from hitting the ground in case of a flat tire, they installed an axle guard. This was a small piece of angle iron that attached to the trailer axle and hung lower than the wheel. It worked like a skid to protect the wheel—which was great unless you were in Alice, Texas and the asphalt road was as soft as warm margarine! By the time I got that rig stopped, we had cut a slice in the heart of Texas 50 yards long. Figuring they still hung people for less than road destruction, I wanted to get that tire changed and put Alice in the rearview mirror just as quickly as possible.
I was in such a hurry I forgot to unhook the equalizing hitch that distributes the weight between the car and trailer. I couldn’t seem to get the trailer tire jacked up off the ground. Sweating like a thief in church I soon discovered my error and released the hitch. At the same moment a 1963 Chevy low-rider sped by, noticed my dilemma and turned around to offer help. The kid in the Chevy turned out to be a nice Alician who wanted to help me. It was a small town. I imagined his dad was the road commissioner and I would soon be on a chain gang patching Texas back roads.
I never went back to see but I assume it gets so hot in Texas the road eventually melts back into place—just as my tire tracks along Padre Island melt into the sand.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ole Ern

Oil Portrait of Ernie Mallery by Michele Warner Smith

My parents will always be my heroes. I did not realize how fortunate I was to have perfect parents until I reached adulthood. We reap what we sow. Life came full circle for me the December my father Ernie (Ole Ern) passed away. All the memories of happy times come flooding back to me with such deep resonance and significance now that he is gone and I find myself so often reflecting on his life— comparing his parenting skills to my own.
I do not throw the word perfect around loosely in remembrance of my father’s passing. I can truly only hope to measure up to my parents’ uncommon knack of successfully raising a happy family.
Life is an adventure and my dad made sure we had plenty of adventures to glean experience from. He was full of life’s excitement and subtly injected that enthusiasm into everyone he met.
When I was about seven years old he took me to an open house at the Michigan Bell Telephone Company where he was a construction foreman. There were bucket trucks to ride, equipment to sit in and lots of refreshments. What I remember most was my dad explaining to me how to greet people. He said, "When I introduce you to someone, stick out your arm and while you shake their hand look them straight in the eye." Everyone who said peep to me that day got my hand and my stare. They still do today.
About that same time my dad bought an airstream travel trailer. It was the late 50s and there were few RVs on the road. We were like a band of gypsies as we traveled the country during long vacations each year. Most of our campsites were root beer stands or gas stations where they would let us hook up to electricity. Long before everyone had a CB radio in their vehicle my dad had built one the size of a small suitcase from a Heath Kit. I can picture him late at night at his desk soldering small transistors on to a board and adding thin crystals. In those days you were a mobile HAM operator and had to have call numbers. Our number and that of another family we often traveled with are forever branded into my gray matter. 19Q0166 calling 19Q1408. We had to say those numbers dozens of times a day to call the car ahead and make plans to stop for another coffee break and let six kids explore and let off enough steam to go another 50 miles or so.
My dad would always build the excitement prior to a trip. We went to the Seattle World’s Fair when I was in 5th grade. On the way West he said we would all get ten gallon cowboy hats, ride horses, go to rodeos, climb the Space Needle and jump in the Pacific Ocean. We did all that. He forgot to mention watching park rangers catch a bear, feeding wild burros and showing us how to make trains blow their whistles as we drove alongside with the car top down and a posse of kids mimicking an engineer pulling an imaginary air horn cord.
My dad never laid a hand on me as a child. I guess that is why he was in management. He would give us several fair warnings to straighten up and then send my mother with the belt. When my dad was giving instructions on such life lessons as picking up your rake and not laying it about where someone might step on it, he used a subtle approach. If you didn’t catch on right away, and he found your rake laying in the yard, he would discuss it quietly with you as he slowly pinched your arm. By the time you got to your tiptoes you were all ears!
Seldom did my dad walk through the door of a church, yet he possessed, and lived by values that few people master in their lifetime. Never a word of gossip, always encouragement. A bright side to every dark event. A blessing for every need. He had an infectious smile that garnished his wonderful sense of humor. When the doctors told him he was going to die and needed to arrange for Hospice he waited until he reached the car and jokingly said, "Well, that was encouraging."
If we could take his spirit of life, his generous compassion for friends, and the tolerance in which he judged others, and inject it into the world population instead of the smallpox vaccine, the planet would be the Utopia we all pray for. The world will miss his humor and his genuine concern for everyone he touched.
I will be able to laugh and cry for the rest of my years reflecting on all the good times I have shared with my father. I asked him once to route me a wooden sign for my fledgling bird feeder business. He was a great wood worker. He suggested I learn to do it myself. I gave it a shot, but the letters in our last name were crooked and the sign not centered. He grabbed another piece of wood and said, "If you had gone to college you would know how to do this." I couldn’t figure that. He hadn’t gone to college, and yet he could make beautiful signs. Over his shoulder I watched him skillfully create a handsome sign from raw wood. Midway through the operation I was chuckling but I never let on why. The finished sign read, "The Malery Construction Co." I could hardly contain myself. He held it up with great pride and said, "There, is that so hard?" I was quick to respond, "You know, if you had gone to college, you would know there are two ‘L’s’ in Mallery." He chased me out of the garage with that newly minted sign board and we laughed until it hurt.
I miss ya Dad.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Before "Blue Highways"

During the spring of 1968 I set out in a 1964 suburban that I had converted into a camper. I had just graduated from high school and had been planning my "Travels With Charley" for three years. It may have been the first hippie van, as hippies were still hitchhiking in 1968. When they saw me go by on the "Blue Highways" of America the thought finally struck them that a set of wheels was not a bad idea. "Far Out". I lived in that old truck all summer and national park hopped all the way across the country and back through Canada. I searched out birds, and other wildlife, through swamps, up mountains, up and down beaches, and across the Badlands.
It was a time in history when gas station attendants would fill your tank and check your oil. I remember this because, I cooked on my engine block. The guy would say, "Check your oil?" and I would say, "Yea, and see if my meat loaf is done will ya?" They would always laugh until they reached in for the dip stick. Then I would hear, "Holy cow, he does have meat loaf in here." It was not only an easy way to cook lunch and dinner, but it was always good for a laugh.
I don’t know if 1968 was a special time in history, or if it was just because I was 18 and the biggest concern I had was dry socks and clean underwear. All these years later I still feel 18, but the world seems to have grown much older. It was so fresh and new then, and today it seems somehow used and a bit tattered. I met my first trumpeter swans that summer in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley. I spent several days with them and remember wondering if I was looking at the new generation that would stock tomorrow’s skies, or the last of the wild trumpet callers. I sat against a Doug Fir in the shadow of Washington’s Hurricane Ridge and listened to a spotted owl. Had I known he was going to become such a celebrity, I may have pushed my way through the dense morning fog and introduced myself.
I backpacked hundreds of miles that summer with heavy gear. I couldn’t afford what little high tech gear was available. Everything I carried I bought with S & H green stamps, and measured in pounds not ounces. A few months later the Marine Corps was a cake walk compared to what I had been carrying. Except I didn’t have some guy that looked like a bulldog screaming in my face, and it was easier to talk to marmots than drill instructors.
I remember trying to get a picture of a ptarmigan in Glacier National Park, and every time I looked into the view finder I would see a roasted chicken. It wasn’t that I was getting tired of peanut butter and rice crispy treats, but my mind would constantly drift back to mom’s home cookin’. All through high school I had worked with the best bunch of people you could possibly assemble. They are the ones that started calling me Dick E. Bird, and quite often egghead. It was an Airstream travel trailer dealership and I knew I wasn’t going to wait until I retired to try this traveling life-style. Before I left they had a big party for me and everyone brought canned goods. I ate like a king for months.
That trip was my first formal education in ecology, vastness, splendor, conservation, wilderness, and limited resources. Even my young untrained eye (my good one) could see that Bob Dylan was right, the times they were a’changin’! I could see then the future battles over these resources were going to become more fierce and that it was a no-win situation. We were trying to manage nature’s pantry by slowly doling out her stores without restocking her shelves. We studied the forestry methods of Gifford Pinchot, and listened to his prophecy of doom if we didn’t put them into practice—but this was not Europe, this was America, and our natural resources could never be depleted.
I met a ranger on Kalaloch Beach in Olympia National Park. He was a seasonal that had worked the park for many years. I have seen him since and perhaps he is still teaching summer visitors to that part of the world about the mysteries of Kalaloch. On our walk in ’68, we talked of the old growth forests of the region and that one day they would all be whittled away by the slow process of politics. We talked about the life forms that depend on what is left, and the order in which they would disappear. We are now into the environmental battles that he described to me as "fall on your sword and die" issues. If we cannot come to grips with our needs and necessities now, our destiny will be one of less not more.
I can never have 1968 back, but I’m not looking back, I’m looking ahead to a time when the majority face reality and make judgements that include the feelings of nature, the wellspring of life.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Passing Conversations

Conversations are born in the quiet moments between words. It is a space in time where thoughts develop into prepared speech. Instead of listening to what other’s have to say, we are busy locking and loading our next volley of verbs. Life’s knowledge is passed along by all of us in a huge global game of "Telephone," where you whisper into one person’s ear and pass the message along until it comes out totally twisted. We love to share what we think we know, and what we know is only enhanced by the amount of mutual ignorance we can gather around us.
Along the Oregon coast one evening we camped at a roadside viewpoint. We knew that was illegal, but we were fortunate enough to run into several people willing to share their ignorance on the subject and convince us that the "no camping" rule was not enforced.
We had a great evening watching the sun slowly drop, setting the ocean ablaze in broken color. Suddenly, we could see a man running toward us yelling and pointing off shore. He pointed out to us the whales sounding just off the beach, unselfishly shared with us his entire, yet limited, ignorance on whale watching, then continued down the beach to share his enthusiastic ignorance with others. Eventually, he worked his way back up the beach, gave us a few more tidbits of whale knowledge he had just gleaned from his latest conversations of shared ignorance along the beach, mounted his Harley, and headed home to Oklahoma. As the sun died and the rolling ocean before us flattened, we sat at the viewpoint alone. Everyone had taken his share of ignorance and moved on. We continued to look out at the sounding whales that had now become, once again, jutting rocks. But we knew in the morning the water would again turn them into splash points of sounding whales and it was up to us to point the whales out to another chain reaction of travelers so that ignorance would not die on a lonely stretch of Oregon beach.
An Oregon State Park ranger stopped to tell us we could not park overnight at the viewpoint. We would have to stay in the state park, but it was full. We told him if we didn’t stay to point out the whales to the morning’s visitors a great chain of ignorance could be broken and Oregon would be dropped from millions of conversations hatched from hearsay.
He could see the significant benefit to the state and wisely decided to become ignorant of the fact that we were camping. He said we could night view the ocean until morning, and left us to guard ignorance for the evening.
Our ignorance often shines through when observing nature. Even those who think they grasp the fine details of nature’s mechanisms fall far short of assembling a full understanding of her infinite system of connectivity. One morning while waiting for my coffee to perk I stood and watched a ruby throated hummingbird perched below my nectar feeder on a long strand of vine. The wind was gusting heavily and I thought the bird might be trapped, clinging to the vine for dear life while swinging wildly to the whim of the wind and the trumpet vine. It also occurred to me that perhaps the bird enjoyed this jostling. The trumpet vine may be the hummingbird’s equivalent of a Six Flags amusement park ride like the "Corkscrew Upchucker."
I watched the bird for several minutes. He never attempted to fly. He was hunkered down riding it out— no less spectacular than watching a skilled bull rider hang on with sheer determination. In an instant the bird untethered himself from the vine and at the velocity of a bullet shot himself across the yard to a Beauty bush in complete control.
Many conclusions could be drawn as to how this bird, who weighs less than the wind, can master its movements against such a foe. But I’m satisfied in the belief that it is just another example of a miracle of nature and the awesome power of life itself.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hardcore Birding

Working a bird count in the early 90s in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Hiawatha National Forest, I had the opportunity to go into the Seney Wildlife Refuge at night to look for yellow rail. It was a small group of about eight people, some from New Jersey, Boston, California and Michigan. To add some birds to your life list it takes a little adventure. We left the refuge headquarters about 11 p.m. then headed out on the motor trail with Richard Urbanek, refuge biologist. When we arrived at the marsh Richard began striking two rocks together in hopes of calling a yellow rail in. When you use Morse code to call a rail, it is two short and then three short repeated clicks. Soon, on the far side of the marsh, a rail clicked back. This one was not in a traveling mood, so we finally decided to drive to the other side of the marsh and find a closer location to the rail’s position.
Once we made our move, we reestablished communications with our targeted rail and prepared to move into the marsh since he was not coming to us. I had no idea when I signed up to work the bird count that I would be going out chasing yellow rail, so I did not bring any waders. I was prepared to get wet. The roads in the refuge were developed by the CCC, and the construction method was to excavate material from both sides, pile it in the middle, and form a dike which also acts as the road system. Therefore, both sides of the road are always the deepest holes as you enter a marsh. As we plunged into the dark, my hiking boots and blue jeans turned swamp brown up to the knees very quickly. A few folks also filled their short waders, which tends to get your attention. I heard one lady in the darkness behind me tell her husband, "You go, Honey, and get the bird for your life list and I will just tell people I know you." The three ladies decided to stay back, and six of us followed Richard out about 50 yards and stopped to click again. The bird responded but would not come in to us. We cautiously moved forward again like a platoon on night patrol in a mined rice field.
A professional wildlife biologist is defined as "patient." That is also the definition of Richard Urbanek. He kept up his constant rock striking call but the bird would not come in. Finally, we moved in closer and the rail flushed. We all spotted and followed the bird with our lights, watching an hour’s worth of stalking effort take flight.
We then moved in the direction of flight and again began to communicate with the rail. Richard said this was going to be a difficult bird and moved up ahead of the group on his own. He said he would trap the bird and then bring it back for observation. As we all stood quietly in a foot or two of water for an hour, Richard clicked away and the rail clicked back, but neither moved. The silence broke with whispers as I heard one man say, "I’m satisfied. We saw the bird fly. We can list it." Another answered, "Yes, we can list it as ‘BVD,’ Better View Desired." But Richard kept clicking and cautiously moving in on the bird with his light and net. His patience finally paid off as we all heard the bird drop into the darkness nearer to Richard’s position. He advanced on the rail’s call and was able to net the bird. We all moved in as Richard banded the bird and one gentleman photographed it. Richard then took the rail in to show the ladies as we waited in the marsh for him to return and release the bird.
As unfortunate as Murphy’s Law is, it is always consistent. The photographer’s camera jammed after just a couple pictures during release. Richard slowly recaptured the bird and everyone killed their lights while the guy wrestled with his camera under his shirt. He knew what he was doing because, using the "Ensel Adams’ Braille Camera Repair Method," he had it working again in minutes. The yellow rail, however, was not so cooperative. Richard set the bird back down, and it flushed after just a couple flashes of the camera.
The whole show was well worth the effort. I had an hour’s drive back to camp and would have two hours sleep before I had to slide back into my wet boots and slosh off to the next morning’s bird count. Sometime during that short sleep period I dreamed there was a porcupine in my van. I drove a Chevy Astro Mini Van with no seats in the back. I often slept in the back on the floor as I did this night. It was a warm spring night so I left the double-doors wide open. Dreams are a mysterious thing that I do not fully understand. This one seemed so real and as I cracked the lid on my good eye I was staring a big, fat porcupine in the face. I knew it wasn’t a dream when he bolted for the door and I bolted upright. Before I was actually awake I had yelled for him to get out of my van and kicked him in the behind as he bailed out across the back bumper. Shocked fully awake and sitting up looking out the back of my van I didn’t know if I had dreamed the whole thing or not. I grabbed my flashlight and jumped out to see a disgruntled porcupine standing there like a indignant pin cushion staring into my flashlight and then turning in a huff and marching off. I apologized and went back to bed.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Monday, December 15, 2008


Our 1994 Buick LeSabre

I thought I was going to spend a nice quiet night in Wekiwa Springs State Park just outside Orlando, Florida—WRONG!
We decided to escape the long Michigan winter and spend several days along the Atlantic coastline in Florida snorkeling, hiking and camping. The only stipulation was that we needed to spend a lot of time near a beach so my daughter and her friend could tan.
The girls flew down and I drove. The night before picking them up at the Orlando airport I had a reservation at Wekiwa State Park. I knew I was going to arrive late, so my wife called the park and secured me a confirmation number for my site and a combination to the park gate.
I pulled in after dark, quietly found my site, then walked a few laps around the campground. It was lightly raining so I decided to forgo the tent and just sleep in the back seat of my Buick. After driving hard all day it didn’t take long to start cutting Z’s. My sleep was rudely interrupted with a bright light in my face.
"Did you pay for this site?," the flashlight voice demanded.
I sat up pawing for my glasses and searching for my confirmation number. I was explaining my situation but the flashlight kept interrupting me— "You gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
"I don’t have a sticker because I arrived late. I have a confirmation number showing I paid for the site and a gate combination."
"You gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
"So let me see if I understand you. Even if I find my confirmation number you’re still not going to be happy."
"No, You gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
"Well, there was no one at the gate to issue me a sticker. If I give you my confirmation number can’t you issue me a sticker?"
"I’m the camp host. I can’t give you a sticker."
"So how do we solve this huge dilemma so I can get back to sleep?"
"I don’t know but you gotta have a sticker on the front of your car."
So then I lost it. Barney Fife of the ranger world had finally pushed my Irish over the edge.
"Look Barney, just go get a real ranger and have him bring me a refund or a sticker. I’m going back to bed."
"Well, you don’t have to get all grumpy about it!"
I thought he would think about it and realize there was no reason to rouse the ranger out of bed to look at an obviously legitimate campsite confirmation number. It wasn’t until two flashlights showed up that I realized where Jeff Foxworthy gets all his great material. These two would have made him proud. "Where’s Your Sign?"
The second flashlight was much bigger. I am assuming he was the ranger although he never officially identified himself. He was still in his night clothes unless Florida rangers have redesigned their uniforms to conform with Casual Friday.
"Do you have a site confirmation sir?"
I handed him my paperwork.
"Can I see some ID?"
I handed him my drivers license.
I mistakenly thought this was going to be the end of the camping crisis now that all my credentials were in order. He looked over all my paperwork, then slowly handed it back to me and said, "You can’t sleep in your car sir."
"Why is that?"
"Park rules sir. They should have told you that when you paid for your site."
"There are people in the next site sleeping in that van."
"You can sleep in a van sir. You can’t sleep in a Buick."
The van was not a camping van, it was a passenger van with windows all around and seats. This was vehicular prejudice. I needed a lawyer. I was a Yankee in the deep south being hassled by Boss Hog and Barney Fife. I wonder if General Motors know this is happening. It might be the reason Oldsmobile failed. I bet Florida singled Oldsmobile out first.
"Okay, I just want to get some sleep. I’ll sleep out here on the ground."
"You have to sleep in a tent sir."
The Irish was beginning to creep into my attitude again. Cowboys slept on the ground. Davey Crockett didn’t carry a tent. Lewis and Clark didn’t have a Coleman pop-up. I have hiked from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide sleeping on the ground without a tent many nights. I thought I was "CAMPING."
When did Florida redefine camping. I knew they redefined voting, and now they have moved on to destroy another of our inalienable rights—CAMPING!
"Okay, I have a tent. I will put up my tent. Is there anything else I need to do to make you two go away? Have you noticed—I don’t have a sticker on the front of my car!
It made me think of how a black man must have felt before the dawn of civil rights. You know youhave done everything right, followed all the rules and regulations, made calls to assure the authorities youwere going to arrive late and secured all the information you would need to comply with the campingregulations. Yet here was the law West of the Wekiwa standing outside of my Buick. Common sensewas playing no part in this conversation. It was a fixed chess game. They could change the rules as fastas I could question them.
I thought back to 1968. After high school I camped all across America for several months. My dad and I had turned a 1964 suburban into a camper. Kids today would have a hard time doing that. In Florida they wouldn’t be able to camp in a Suburban. They would have to get a passenger van or a tent.
Don’t let this story keep you from camping at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Florida. It is a beautiful place. I was up and hiking before the sun came up. Even though the park is surrounded by development it is a wildlife haven and a wonderful place to explore and enjoy—just leave your Buick at home.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pie Pressure

The first time I went to Isle Royale National Park, I was on the run. It was not the law that was after me, it was life. I was twenty-two years old and already questioning the path my life seemed to be charging down. I was the sole personnel department for a fruit pie company with just under a thousand employees. My days consisted of nearly round the clock refereeing. It was a giant food fight in a way. Pie line workers vying for position on dough covered Colburn® machines that pumped out two pies per second if everything was running smoothly. I ran three shifts with product managers calling for more production at daily meetings, pressured foremen speeding up the pie lines, and the Chief Steward of the Union pressuring the company to slow them down.
I can still hear the many voices in my head over three decades later. "On Monday we need an additional fifty people. We’re cranking up the cream pie and apple dumpling lines." "We have word the third shift freezer supervisor has a pie route and is filling orders late at night when no one is looking." "Someone left the corn syrup spigot opened all night and the bakery is carpeted three inches deep in corn syrup." "Karl has been drinking again and all the pecan pies are burnt." "You can take this job and shove it, I’m going deer hunting." "We’re three guys short on Sunday’s loading crew in the freezer." "Someone stole two freezer suits, you might want to see who just bought a new snowmobile." "There’s a car parked in the boss’s reserved parking space." "Did you hire this guy? He’s a convicted felon." "The Hi-Lo drivers need to be retested, we just had one drive through the back wall of the freezer." Libby® just sent us four railcars full of pumpkin mix. The bad news is, it’s in 8 oz. cans instead of 30# tins." "Someone is putting their pocket change in the pies on second shift." "The eight hour college boys are all sneaking out early when the six hour girls leave." "Herb swore at the packaging line again. They are all headed for your office." "You can’t promote him for doing a good job, he doesn’t have the seniority." "Your new hire just had an epileptic fit in the bakery and fell in the strawberries."
I was beginning to have flashbacks. Not from all the action I saw in the Marines in Hawaii but from my high school days working for an Airstream dealer. Many of our customers were auto executives with high stress, good paying jobs. I remember they all died at about 50. Was this my destiny—to work 18 hours a day for 30 years and one day be found face down in the banana cream pie filling?
Fate stepped in. Top management all left for the Olympic games in Munich, Germany. That left one engineer in charge who considered people as mere machines to be turned on and off daily. He wasn’t going to have much time to drive the train so he decided to reorganize the whole personnel department while he had the chance. Being the youngest member of the management team seemed to mean I was insubordinate if I had any constructive criticism. Had they reviewed my application they would have known better than to push me too far. They would have seen: Male, Caucasian, IRISH.
After two days of not making any personnel changes the cow pie (always thought that would be a big seller) hit the fan. I went home, grabbed my backpack, drove late into the night across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and caught the last boat to Isle Royale. They had squads of people out looking for me because they found out playing personnel manager wasn’t as fun as it looked. But it was too late. I was already immersed in the solitude of a northwoods wilderness paradise with no boats leaving for several days. They contacted my mother who said, "Well, his backpack is gone. That’s not a good sign."
Did I go back? Yes, eventually. I gave proper notice. In fact, I worked several months until a new labor contract was hammered out. I left the status and financial security of a corporate career to pursue life at a much slower pace. To paraphrase Robert Frost: "Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."
I’m not suggesting everyone should run off and catch the last boat to Isle Royale National Park—but it worked for me.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Swim Like a Cat

Stan Simmons and I, the day he threw me into the lake

Life goes by like a lightening bolt heading for ground. I have a new perspective as I look back over my aging shoulder and reminisce about friends, places, good times and bad. I have a lot of wonderful memories about colorful characters. I was thinking about one of them recently that I met before I could swim. I was six or seven years old. My parents had a boat—a small cabin cruiser we could sleep on. My dad worked at the phone company with a man who lived on a small lake near our home. His name was Stan Simmons and he let us moor the boat in front of his house. We spent every weekend on the boat and barbecuing with Stan and his family.
Stan knew I couldn’t swim. One day he said to me, "Everyone can swim, it comes natural." He said, "Even my cat can swim." At that moment he picked up his cat and threw it off the end of the dock. That cat came out of the water like an Indy car with no brakes. I never did see it stop running. It wasn’t the kind of swimming lessons I had in mind.
One piece of lawn furniture in the yard was a metal sofa designed to swing. The adults were often gathered there talking. That afternoon I happened to be behind the swing making cat noises. It seemed to annoy Stan so I continued my "meowing." I was getting tremendous enjoyment from the fact that my cat imitation was irritating Stan. Finally he said, "If you meow one more time I’m going to throw you off the end of the dock just like I did the cat.
I didn’t believe him for a minute. Besides, my mother was sitting right there. She would never let him do that to me. "Meow" no more than crossed my lips and I was sucking water. I can still see the underwater scene to this day. I didn’t close my eyes. And just like that cat I learned to swim in seconds. It happened so fast I think my mother was still in shock by the time I passed her moving as fast and in the same direction as that cat.
I ended up in our 1950 Buick Road Master. Because it was all black the sun had turned it into an oven. I sat in the front seat crying and drying. I think it was my first lesson in calling someone’s bluff. I would be careful with that tactic in the future. I completely forgot about my traumatic event when I discovered a fifty-cent piece lodged down behind the seat. It must have fallen from my dad’s pocket. Instantly I was rich. My fortunes had changed from sorrow to elation in the blink of an eye.
Simple actions impact children in ways you may never understand. I can remember Stan and everyone laughing at me when I finally gathered enough courage to climb out of the car and confront him. First I showed everyone my Lady Liberty half dollar. Then I told Stan, "I’ll get you for that." My mother laughed and warned him that I was Irish so he had better listen to what I was saying.
We were good friends for over 40 years. Stan was a jovial fellow who could make everyone laugh just being around him. Near the end of his life he had a stroke and ended up in a hospital near my home in northern Michigan. I went to visit him and found him down the hallway from his room eating his dinner looking out the big picture window. Although the right side of his body was slumped from the stoke he still had his sense of humor. We talked and laughed for an hour. When we were getting ready to leave he asked me if I could help him back to his room. He wasn’t used to his walker and needed someone to take him by the arm and steady his balance. I was honored to help him.
The stroke rendered his right leg almost useless and Stan would take a step with his left leg then drag the right around in front of him. Just as we neared his room, his right foot caught the back of his left heel and he tumbled to the floor. Stan was a big guy and I couldn’t stop his fall. I let him down as easy as I could and ended up almost on top of him, my face right at his left ear. I said the first thing that came to my mind. "That’s what you get for throwing me in the lake you old goat."
We were both laughing so hard it took three nurses to get us off the floor. That comment brought him so much joy he told anyone that would listen to him the whole story.
I’ll never forget Stan. He’s part of my history. His teaching methods came from the old school—get your feet wet—sink or swim. Some would call it crude but I can recall many occasions in later years when I made decisions based on the lesson I learned the afternoon Stan taught me to swim like a cat.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Maggie May

If you look into your children’s eyes you will often see your ancestors. Such is the case with our daughter, Maggie. She resembles her great grandmother when she was eighteen nearly a hundred years ago. It was 1908 and millions of people were coming to America. Margaret (Maggie) Walsh from Tipperary, Ireland was one of those people. When my great grandfather said good-bye to his daughter he told her he knew in his heart that he would never see her again and indeed he never did. It was over sixty years before she returned home again. By that time everyone she had known had passed away except for her sister Hannah.
It is a little ironic that at the same age her great grandmother was when she came to America from Ireland, Maggie visited Ireland. It wasn’ t planned that way. My 85 year old mother always had a desire to visit her parent’s homeland but it just never seemed the right time for her. She lost her twin sister to cancer and days later found out that she too had lymphoma. It seems she had lost her whole generation in just a few short years—my father, her sisters and many close friends. One day she told our family, "If I beat this cancer I’m going to spend your inheritance and take all of you to Ireland." Being the tough little Irish woman she was, six months of treatments sent her into remission. We booked the trip and the whole clan was headed across the pond to invade Ireland and visit our roots.
Maggie even sang in the pubs. She has always had a beautiful voice and several years in a row won the local "Danny Boy" singing contest held on St. Patrick’s Day.
It wasn’t until we began to study old pictures and tried to discover more about the Walsh and O’ Connor side of our family that I began to see more and more of my grandmother in my daughter. She has the same sense of adventure it must have taken for my grandmother to leave Ireland in search of her new life in America. We used to call Grandma O’Connor, "Sweetheart Grandma," and Maggie seems to have that gene too. The reddish hair, fair complexion, quick smile and a twinkle in each ey e. She has that Irish sense of humor that just seems to spill out of her, and the compassion of a saint. If she ever cleaned her room she would be darned near perfect!
She is a grown woman now. It seems like such a short time ago she was in kindergarten sitting at the breakfast table ready to leave for school without a care in the world. It had been the Easter holiday followed by National Heritage week. She would be sharing her heritage with her class at school so we explained to her about her great grandma coming to America from Ireland. Before she started out the door we tested her, "Maggie, where did grandma O’Connor come from?" She paused and thought for a moment and then very confidently said, "She arose from the dead." I said, "We’re a great family, but we aren’t that great!"
One of the stories my grandmother would tell us was about a young man she dated before she left Ireland. John Scanlon was a groundskeeper at Lismore Castle and took her dancing there just before she left for America. Her stories are the only clues we have of where she might have lived. She actually inherited the family farm when she was nearly 100 years old. She was the last surviving of thirteen children. She had a nephew who was a retired Judge in Utica, NY who helped her sell the farm and settle the estate. She used some of the money to make sure everyone of her family in Ireland had a proper headstone. Everyone has small pieces of information about the family but the world was a much larger place at that time. Communications were slow and families who came to America were often fragmented. Centuries of family history has been lost. But what did it really matter. Part of our adventure was to visit County Tipperary where Maggie Walsh was raised and County Cork where my grandfather, Micheal O’Connor was raised and use our imagination as to how these two, who grew up so close to one another, moved halfway around the world to meet and fall in love.
As for our Maggie. I’m not planning on any good-byes. No matter where her life’s adventures take her, travel time has been reduced to hours not weeks.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Dog Gone

Our daughter, Maggie, with Aussie and holding Heidi when she was a puppy

We had two wonderful dogs, and after many, mostly faithful, years, they both died within a few months of each other. Instead of going out and replacing them with new models we decided instead to take care of "other people’s dogs." That works out quite well. We get our dog fix and they have the comfort of knowing their dogs have someone to sleep with, pet them, feed them and scoop poop for them here at "Camp Mallery".

The two we had, Aussie and Heidi left us with a lot of good memories—and a few sour ones. Aussie came from the Humane Society. I was on a early morning talk show. While I was being pre-interviewed before we went on live camera, suddenly the whole crew disappeared. I discovered they were with the Humane Society guy who had all these cute little Australian shepherd and whatever jumped over the fence, mixed mutts. I called my wife and told her to keep watching after my interview was over because our dog was going to be on next. She said, "We don’t have a dog." I said, "We do now."

Later we had to go to the Humane Society and officially adopt the dog. Gaila didn’t like the one I picked and decided on another of the litter. Aussie was a great dog except for the fact that she piddled when she was nervous. The vet said I should take her to town during tourist season and let her piddle around all the tourists and she might get over it. She never did!

It might have been because her breed never developed a tail. You knew when she was happy because her whole hind-end shook. She was smart as a whip. I taught her to fall dead when I shot her, get her dish, speak and not fight with raccoons that were bigger than her. Actually, she taught herself the raccoon trick. One afternoon she was sunning in the driveway while a big fat raccoon climbed on our extra large bird feeder. Usually raccoons only come around at night but this one needed an afternoon snack I guess. Aussie never bothered the furball until I walked out into the yard. She must have thought she wasn’ t doing her job and needed to attack the raccoon. She jumped up and charged.

The raccoon nonchalantly climbed down the feeder pole, grabbed Aussie by the throat and started wrestling. Aussie was crying like a baby and yelling, "Dick, get him off me—quick!"
I had to use the hose to break them up. Aussie headed for the house with the tail, she didn’ t really have, between her legs. She ignored raccoons after that.

I took her to the bank with me and left her in the car while I went inside to make a deposit. I told the teller I needed a treat for my dog out in the car. She said, "Bank policy is, we need to physically see your dog before we can give you a treat." I said, "No problem, I’ll go get her." The teller quickly explained, "I’m only kidding." I said, "No, my dog will work for her treat. I’m going to go get her." On the way to the car I remembered she might piddle in the bank but it was too late. I was already committed.

I brought Aussie to the front of the teller counter and shot her with my finger. She peed on the floor and fell dead. The bank crew was not upset, they said, "Oh look, she peed on the tile and not on the carpet." With that comment Aussie ran around the counter to the teller, got all nervous and peed on the carpet. I said, "We’ve made enough deposits for one day, let’s get out of here."

On the sidewalk heading for the car the teller ran out and said, "In all the commotion she didn’t get her treat." Aussie took the biscuit and piddled on the sidewalk. From that day on we always pulled up to the drive-in window.

Heidi was an abused orphan. Someone dropped her off in the woods by our house. She was a small malnourished puppy. She looked like a German shepherd but she kept growing and growing. We finally decided she was a long-haired, Afghan, Wolfhound, German Shepherd mix. Aussie, half her size, was still top dog. Heidi would never have gotten into trouble if she picked her friends better, but she always hung around with Aussie. Besides rolling in turkey poop their favorite trick was to run off into the woods. They had a favorite mud hole. If we turned our backs for one minute they took the opportunity to sneak off. They would come back covered with this thick, black, almost toxic, ooze pasted all over them. They both hated baths and you would think that sooner or later they would equate mud with bath—they never did.

Like many dogs they were afraid of fireworks and gun shots. They would shake all over and hide behind the couch. I decided to use this weakness to break them of their mud bog adventures. They were smart enough to head in the opposite direction when they slinked away, then circle back to the shallow pond of decaying matter to play. One day I purposely let them get away then ran down into the woods and hid behind a fallen tree where I knew they would pass. When they finally came through, I popped up from behind the tree and emptied a starting pistol at them. They both squatted and piddled then went straight home at Mach four. Did this work? No, they had very short memories—but they left us with many long term ones.
—Keep Smilin, Dick E. Bird

Friday, December 5, 2008

Terror Cell

I wasn’t taking this terror cell threat seriously until just recently. You always think, "This could never happen to me"—then out of the blue a terror cell sneaks into your life and tries to destroy you. It all started two years ago. I guess this is why they call some cells "sleepers."
My 17 yr. old daughter wanted a cell phone. I tried to discourage her but she said we were the only people on the planet that still had zero mobile communication capabilities. I tried to prove that we could still communicate with the rest of the planet. I drove quickly to the nearest pay phone. As I pulled up, there was nothing but a black hole with a single wire dangling from it. I said in astonishment, "I wonder why they took the pay phone out." My daughter quickly chimed in, "Because dad, the phone guy came to get his money and there was only a quarter—and it was YOURS."
So for Christmas we bought her a cell phone and a two year contract. When she opened the box on Christmas morning she didn’t laugh when as a joke I had a very official looking contract wrapped around two tin cans with long strings attached.
So for two years everything seemed to go smoothly—that’s how sleeper cells work.
Recently we renewed her contract for two more years with Alltel. I shopped around a bit and they seemed to offer a pretty competitive service so we decided to not only stay with them for two more years but also add a second phone and join the ranks of maniacs who talk and drive at the same time. If life was fair a vehicle’s license number would be the driver’s cell phone number. That way when they were doing something real stupid you could call them and give them a piece of your mind.
So for twenty bucks and a two year contract we were given two phones that do almost everything. We can play video games on them, take a picture of our cat and send it to our family in Arizona, surf the internet and email our friends—quite amazing. All I really wanted to do was talk to people—you can’t do that! Unless you are standing underneath a cell phone tower our phones get about the same reception as the Dick Tracy wrist radio I had in 1957. My friend Donnie could hear me on his wrist radio only if I was yelling really loud.
I visited my once friendly Alltel office and explained my problem. They agreed that my phone was not known for great reception and said they would give me a Motorola. Someone in line said, "The thing was probably made in China." I said, "Actually, the problem is this is the only model on display that is built in America."
When it was finally my turn to sit down with a representative and get my new phone, they wanted another hundred bucks for two new phones. That’s when it happened. The sleeper cell was activated. I was their latest target. The "bait and switch." This shell game is as old as time and still working on modern day cell phone customers all over the world. With the first volley of protest I was given my options, buy new phones or put up with our bad service for two years—YOU SIGNED THE CONTRACT, FOOL.
That’s right. If you cancel the contract, lousy service or not, they can charge you two hundred bucks as a cancellation fee.
I tried to use the analogy of the car lease. Say I lease you a car for two years and you go home and it won’t start. You come back and tell me your car doesn’t start. I say, Oh, you want a car that starts, that’ll cost you another five grand." Wouldn’t you just assume that when you buy a car it will start? He said, "Well, you can’t buy a Chevy and think it’s going to run like a Cadillac."
I took my phone and headed home to call Scott Ford. Scott is the CEO of Alltel. I found his name and number on the Internet. It didn’t give his cell phone number because Scott probably doesn’t get any better reception than I do.
I was never allowed to talk with Scott. They assigned me Agent #15809, code name "Anthony." I tried a different analogy on Anthony since the car scenario didn’t work on the lock stepping, company policy branch manager. This time I tried lawn mowing. Say you sign a contract with me to mow your lawn for two years. I show up and butcher your lawn. I do a completely horrible job on your beautiful yard. But you signed a two year contract with me so you are going to have an ugly yard for two years. Does that seem right?
Anthony said he would send me two new KX-1 phones. I told him not to send them until I checked them out with consumer review on the internet. He gave me his phone number, again not a cell number, and I told him I would call him back.
I now have two new phones that are not made in America. These two are made in Mexico. I was hoping for Chinese phones but Mexican phones got me a step closer to communication devices that actually transmit voice signals.
Did you know they want to charge you ten bucks to transfer all the phone numbers you have in the phone they give you that doesn’t work to the phone they gave you that they say will work? I find this whole cell phone industry surreal—and they seem to think I ask too many questions.
Have you ever looked at your bill and wondered about the charge for calling the information operator. We’ve never called an information operator. The charge is not part of the call breakdown showing date and time of call. It’s a separate charge altogether with no history. So if you can’t prove you didn’t make that call who do you think is right? RIGHT!
No matter who your service provider is—land or cell phone—you should be learning to read your 12 page bill. After I cleared up all my problems with Alltel phones I had a new crisis—my bill showed up in the mailbox. After spending two hours deciphering the accounting labyrinth I discovered they had over billed me $ 102.13 for product and service I didn’t ask for, I was never pitched to buy and had absolutely no need for. This unregulated industry is a regular wild west show. Think about this. One of the charges is phone insurance! They automatically charge you sixty bucks a year to insure your $ 19.95 phone. If 1% of the people end up with a bill like mine and don’t catch that one bogus charge for just one month, that's a nice company bonus. With 12 million subscribers, Alltel stands to rake in millions of bogus bucks. That’s just one of the charges you have to find and tell them you want removed from your billing.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I’m having a tough time getting used to the Global Economy. Billy Durant once told my Grandfather, "If you have a nickel put it in General Motors." That was right after Billy lost control of GM. My Grandfather was a young man who didn’t heed Mr. Durant's advice and therefore I didn’ t inherit fifty million dollars. But maybe what goes around comes around. Maybe if you have a nickel now it’s a good time to buy GM.
But that is a small part of the Global Economy problem. My biggest beef is with technical help. Every time I call for help for anything electronic I end up talking with someone on the other side of the planet. This might be a good thing for foreign economies but it doesn’t solve my problem which makes it bad for my economy.
I called a company in Arizona recently and they connected me to tech support. I couldn’ t understand a word the guy was saying. The conversation went something like this, "You problem. Yabadabadoo Wadoodlewaday no work!" Not only could he not speak clear English, I could tell he was reading the same trouble shooting manual I had. I hung up, called right back and got another guy. He was a little better so I hung up on him and called a third time. I can’t guarantee this will work for you but you can give it a try. Since I couldn’t understand them, I decided to see what would happen if they couldn’t understand me—I stuttered. Immediately they switched me to a tech who spoke perfect English. His expertise consisted of suggesting I turn off my printer and turn it back on again and it would magically fix itself. So after three calls and three different tech people from who knows where, I ended up with a guy I could understand that didn’t know anything. This is what American business calls progress.
Let’s not forget about the scam factor. The consumer used to be considered a valuable customer. Companies used to bend over backwards to keep you happy. Today you're just another schmuck with a buck. Let’s revisit my printer problem. I finally gave up calling the company tech service. I emailed them. I was sure they would email me back in English. I was right. After explaining my problem and giving them the error message that continued to come up on my screen they emailed back with these instructions: "Your printer needs service. Take it to a certified technician."
The error message was: "A part on your printer is at the end of its life. Service your printer." I discovered that my printer has a brain, and that the brain is programmed to help the company scam me out of my hard earned money.
It’s a little techno war I’m waging against the establishment. Basically I hate paying $50 bucks for a little cube of ink that doesn’t last all that long. My first attempt at beating the system was to buy those little kits that refill the ink cartridge. I would end up with more ink on my hands than in the cartridge but it did save some money. I discovered the printer engineers were miles ahead of me. They have designed a little cartridge chip to fail after so many trips back and forth across the printer. So even though the cartridge was full the printer would go on strike after a couple refills.
I’m Irish. I was not going to let them get the best of me. I went on Ebay and bought a bulk ink system— little bottles of ink that sit on the side of my printer with tubes intravenously feeding ink to a super cartridge with chips that automatically reset themselves. I thought I had’ em—that’s when my printers brain started playing chess with me. Error message, blinking lights, printer playing opossum as if it were brain dead. I spent hours googling the net for printer options. Finally I found a site called "Printer Doctor" with a small piece of code I could download to revive my printer's brain and bring it out of its coma. This little code makes the printer think it’s working for me instead of the printer manufacturer. It seems surreal. I have brought this innocent piece of machinery over from the dark side to fight for right and justice and cheaper printing ink dispensing.
I guess I have gone global. I have an American printer made of Japanese parts. The tech support for my printer is tucked away somewhere in the Middle East. If I need to give it a brain transplant I go to the "Printer Doctor" on the internet who is based in Britain.
To top it all off I discovered recently that if I get mad and want to throw my printer in the trash I have to deal with my global garbage company. They practically have a monopoly on North American garbage. They control collection, recycling, disposal and landfill services. Instead of paying large monthly trash bills and throwing everything away, I fight the disposable economy and recycle a large percentage of our waste. I can fit everything we throw away into one "budget bag" every two weeks. I pay $2.50 for the bag and put it at the end of the driveway on my allotted trash day and it goes to the landfill along with all the garbage they hall here from Canada. I was just informed that they now want a surcharge of $5 if I insist on continuing my environmentally, economically sound practice of not generating enough garbage to boost their corporate spreadsheet balance. Stay tuned. I’m googling for the "Trash Doctor." I’ll let you know if I can bring my garbage man over from the dark side. —Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I’m finding that the transition during the time you lose your parents is almost surreal. They are still so close in memory that it is almost as if they are not really gone. Sometimes I think I hear my mom whistling, as if she were standing at the kitchen sink with Harry the canary singing harmony with her from his cage just a few feet away. She was known around our town as, "The Whistler."
As we were going through mom and dad's things it brought out great memories for all of us, but what touched me most was how certain seemingly unimportant objects held great emotions for our kids. It made me realize that they held those important feelings for their grandparents that we possess. Each one of them had as much quality time with grandma and grandpa as they wanted or needed.
My parents called their property "The Ole E Ranch" and it was always a welcoming place. Anyone could drop in and feel like they were expected. It was just a 60's model mobile home, but in a beautiful wetland setting. Friends would say, "They live in a palace." And what made it a palace was not the place, but the occupants.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that mom was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. My brother Tom is in possession of the glass cookie jar with the green tin top that could not be quietly opened. And believe me we tried. Kids are different today. When we were kids we never used doorbells, we would always go to our friend's door and yell their name— "Donnie." It was very efficient. You never got the parents or an older brother, who was just gonna slug ya anyway. The person you wanted always showed up at the door. But kids would come to our house and yell—"Bea." They didn’t want Tom or I— they were at the door begging my mom’s cookies—she would always give them some, which only encouraged them to come back.
My mom played many roles in the parenting scheme of things. Tom and I found out many times that Bea and Ernie worked together. Ernie would yell at us, but when things got out of hand he would send the 5 ft. enforcer in to quell any riots that might be going on in the upstairs bedroom. She was always famous for saying, "I’m little, but I’m mighty." One time she came up to straighten us out and Tom and I tied her up and told her she was "mighty little." We paid for that!
On the other hand she was also the peace-keeper. For example whenever she wrecked the car she would always say to Tom and I, "Now don’t tell your father."
Her advice to her daughter-in-laws was advice that her mother gave her, "a little white lie never hurt anyone—it’s better than a big fight." What the girls don’t know is that she gave Tom and I that same advice.
Her peace-keeping role only went so far. After all we are Irish. When most kids get into a fight in the neighborhood the parents would be out there to break it up. But my mom would be out there screaming, like Jim Bradock’ s trainer, shouting boxing jabs. She always told me I needed to use my left more.
She was very athletic. When we were gathering her things we found many of her trophies from high school to senior golf and bowling leagues. I said to Tom, "Why don’t we have any trophies?" Then I remembered, I don’ t play golf, and mom could out drive Tom.
She was contrast in motion. She was both a sweet, gentle little Irish lady and tougher than nails at the same time. During her few months in the Hospice program I would visit her at her home every morning and ask her how she was doing. "Fine, I feel great, NO Problems." Then "psychic" Sara would show up—our wonderful Hospice nurse, and say, "What’s wrong, Bea?" "Nothing, I’m doing great." It’s okay Bea, you can tell me." "Really, I’m fine." She quickly learned that Sara’s blood pressure and pulse readings worked exactly like a lie detector. You can’t even tell "Little White Lies" to Sara. "Okay, I fell last night and hurt my leg but I’m fine, I don’t want my kids to worry about me."
For a woman that could not swim and was afraid of the water, my mom loved to fish and had four boats named after her, The HoneyBea 1,2,3, and 4. I think that might have been brilliant marketing on my dad’s part. When my folks bought an Airstream in 1957, which were known in those days as "Land Yachts," I’m surprised that it wasn’t christened "The HoneyBea" also. But it already had an Airstream Travel Trailer Club number on it, so I guess there wasn’t room.
You don’t often appreciate the efforts of your parents until later in life when you reflect on all the things they fit into your youth. While we were going through pictures, my niece Tabatha was getting a kick out of a picture taken by a Michigan Bell Telephone Company magazine photographer. It was a picture of the whole family next to a 1960, chocolate brown, Buick LaSaber convertible with wings big enough to make it fly — hooked to it was our Airstream with a big red and white sign that said, "Seattle or Bust." We were headed for the world’ s fair. Tabby said it looked like my Dad had this big smile and wave, like — "Hooray, we're going on a great adventure." She said my brother, Tom, her dad, looked like he had his hand up as if he were at that age when — "I’m too cool to wave" — even our collie Duke had a big smile on his face. But Tabby said she thought my mom had that look of — "Oh boy, here we go again ! " But if she did feel that way you would never know it. She was a trooper, always game, always fun, always kind, always encouraging.
She was capable of her own adventures. She always wanted to go to Ireland and see her mothers old homestead. When she was taking Chemotherapy she told us, "If I go into remission I’m going to spend your inheritance and I’m taking the whole family to Ireland." And by golly that’ s exactly what we did. To the Emerald Isle went her great granddaughter Lexi, her grandchildren Tabatha, Kevin and Maggie, my brother Tom and his wife, Chris, Gaila and I — and even though she wasn’t feeling up to par mom was sitting right in the front of the bus leading the charge across Ireland. Of all the stories we will have to tell through the years about that trip one of my favorites will be when she, and her oldest son, and her grandson closed down a pub in Bunratty called Dirty Nellies and had to drag themselves back to the Bed and Breakfast and knock on windows until they found someone they were related to — to let them in.
My memories will always be highlighted by her deep faith. Even toward the end when she needed help to get ready for bed, before she would climb in, she would still drop to her knees and say her prayers. She prayed us through many of the peaks and valleys of life. On our many adventures when I was a kid we never missed church. On Sunday morning, it didn’ t matter if we were in the middle of Wyoming or the wilds of Canada — we went to church. Fishing camp in Canada was the one I remember the most. There was a traveling priest who covered several churches, so he didn’ t hold mass near us until mid-afternoon. It was great because we could fish all morning. But after lunch she would make us get cleaned up and off to church we would go. It wasn’ t that far. I think the church was in Quebec — and we were only one Province over, in Ontario.
If you ever hear me talking about my mom or my dad, or any of my grandparents for that matter, you might get the impression they were perfect. Well — they were!
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Camping Evolution

I have been camping all of my life and many of my fondest memories involve the many campsites I have occupied with, family and friends over the years. A campsite is actually an odd concept. By definition: An area where an individual or family might camp. I have always thought of it as the opportunity to live outdoors for short periods of time.
My first memories of camping involved my parents and grandparents in an old canvas tent in Michigan State Parks in the early 1950’s. Camping for us soon blossomed into a whole new concept. My grandparents bought a 1956 Airstream. Within a year my dad and his brother also bought Airstreams and we were on the road almost every weekend.
During the summer we would head West and camp wherever someone would let us plug in our trailer. My dad said we were a bunch of Gypsies. I didn’t know what a Gypsy was but I figured they must like to camp. One of my favorite campsites in those days still exists today. It is in Avalanche Campground at the base of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. We would run the trail to Avalanche Lake and listen to the ranger programs at night. When I graduated from high school I lived a few months in a truck I converted into a camper and made it a point to stop in Glacier and camp in the very site we often used. The site was near the trailhead to the lake and during the afternoon I would sit at my picnic table and watch Khrushchev watch me. He was a big habituated grizzly, obviously named after Nikita, the big Russian bear who led the Soviet Union at the time. Khrushchev had a white spot of hair on his chest that made him very distinctive. He had been trapped twice in Avalanche and moved far into the park. He had not learned his lesson but sat patiently in the woods and waited for a camper who was living on more than just Rice Krispie Treats. His wish came true one afternoon when an older couple set up camp near me and started roasting a chicken. Khrushchev ended up with the chicken, but not without a fight. I kept telling the woman to forget the chicken but she was bound and determined to snag it before Khrushchev ate it. She only made one lap around her car before she decided that "Possession is not always nine-tenths of the law."
I took my wife to Avalanche on our first camping trip in 1975. I took my daughter several years later, and one day I will probably take my grandkids. But that is just one of many places that hold family history and archives of good times.
The joke is that most women can’t keep their husbands from fishing, but in my mom’s case she had to convince my dad it was a good idea. Mom loved to fish and my dad had little desire to "drowned worms." She finally talked him into trying it and he decided we would caravan with friends to Canada to a place called, "Sweet’s Log Cabin Camp." It was a fish camp, but we were allowed to park our trailers along a point on the lake. My dad never did take fishing too seriously but he loved to buy gear. He had every conceivable rod and reel combination, special bait and killer plugs like the "Bomber." But we had discovered this wonderful Canadian lake campsite that made for many memorable summers of big fish fry’s and bigger fish tales.
Another great camping spot was along the Ocklawaha River in Florida where Gaila and I lived for several winters. It was called Colby’s Landing. It was such a magical place that friends and family from all over the country would come and visit us. We cooked cowboy stew by the barrel and tales around the campfire would get taller as the fire got lower.
I started thinking of all this when two friends recently told me about their summer vacation. The two brothers live in different parts of the country and decided to get their families together by renting motorhomes and meeting in Yellowstone. One brother rented a small Class "C" motorhome that would accommodate he and his family for the short time they planned to camp and explore the Greater Yellowstone Basin. The wife of the other brother found a internet rental deal in South Dakota that looked too good to pass up. They rented the coach and decided it would make the vacation more interesting traveling through the Black Hills on their way to Yellowstone country. Knowing absolutely zero about motorhomes they arrived in South Dakota and the guy gave them about fifteen minutes of instruction on operating a 40-foot monster motorhome. My friend said it was so big he couldn’t even tell if he was in his own lane. They had to drive 500 miles the first day and pulled into a KOA after dark When most other campers were already in bed. He said, "They told me they didn’t have any pull-thru sites. I had to back it in. It took me an hour to get that crazy thing backed in and every time I put it in reverse you could hear the loud ‘BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP,’ all through the campground."
The next morning, after finally reaching Yellowstone, he said he decided to use the big rig to put both families in while touring the park the first day. He noticed that everyone was using the toilet all day long and remembered the owner telling him not to let it completely fill up. When they arrived back to their campsite that night he decided to empty the septic immediately. He went around to the back and found to his horror that the valve had been open all day."
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rubber Egg on the Face

We get our eggs from our neighbor who raises chickens. We just put an egg crate in the mailbox and when we pick up the mail the next day we have a dozen fresh eggs. While making French toast one morning I grabbed an egg with a membrane so tough I could hardly break through.

This incident took me back to sixth grade. I was visiting my grandparents. They had a subscription to, and a pile of, Popular Science and I loved to read them. I happened upon a story about making rubber eggs. It sounded simple so I asked my grandmother for an egg and a cup of vinegar.

If you let the egg soak for a few days the vinegar (acetic acid) dissolves the calcium carbonate in the eggshell. Once the egg shell dissolves you end up with just the protective membrane. Sure enough, the next day I had a perfect rubber egg.

Not satisfied with this egg oddity, and perhaps with too much time on my hands, I decide to experiment further with my egg. I asked my grandmother for some red food coloring. I put a few drops into the vinegar, curious to see if the vinegar was penetrating the egg membrane. I had my answer the following morning. I removed the egg from the jar full of vinegar and had a beautiful red rubber egg.

The jar my grandmother had given me to perform my experiment happened to be an olive jar. After dumping the vinegar and filling the jar with fresh water, my egg was suspended in the jar like the small planet Mars floating in space.

The following Monday I took my rubber egg to school to show my friends. It caught the eye of my teacher. She obviously had never seen anything like it. I could tell by the excited curiosity in her voice. Because of the sudden stir my oddity was causing my Irish Blarney must have kicked in automatically. When the teacher, surrounded by my classmates asked what it was I told them it was a Mexican Olive. Before I could explain that I was just kidding, the teacher said, "I am going to get the Principle, she needs to see this."

Soon the Principle and several other teachers and staff members where at my desk examining my Mexican Olive. It was too late to change my story so I just kept layering it on. Thank goodness there was no such thing as Google back then. I would have been ferreted out quickly.

Today you can ask Mr. Google just about anything and get an instant answer—sometimes it’s even right! In fact, I just Googled Mexican Olive and up came the Mexican Olive ornamental flowering tree, and a beautiful Mexican Olive seashell. I guess I could have built a case around the fact that the flower tree sometimes would develop fruit as do those in the Mediterranean region. If you think fast enough and talk fast enough anything is possible.

I never told anyone my Mexican Olive was actually a colored, rubber egg. This experiment answers the age-old question... Which came first, the rubber egg or the rubber chicken? It’s easy to make a rubber egg if you understand the chemistry of removing the eggshell with vinegar. What you’re left with is a totally embarrassed naked egg and a cool piece of science to take to school and make a liar out of yourself. --Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Billy Beach

I had a job once (yes, it’s true) in Ocala, Fla. I unloaded pot trucks. It’s not what you’re thinking. I worked for a plumbing wholesaler to the mobile home industry. I spent a good share of my time unloading semi-trucks that were filled with toilets. I worked during the winter and traveled during the summer. It was a great gig. I was actually a very good pot truck unloader, and the people I worked with were some of the finest I have ever known. They always rehired me when I returned from a summer of traveling, and treated me as if I had never left. I always showed up around Thanksgiving and received a turkey and holiday bonus like everyone else. Same thing happened at Christmas.
But the real magic about this one time career is centered around an individual who I can truly say was one of a kind. He was a clown of the highest order. He made Robin Williams seem like a straight man. He was one of the most incredible characters I have run across in all my days of rambling. He made showing up for work a pleasure.
His name was Billy Beach. He looked like the NFL great, Lyle Alzado. From what I could gather from others, he once played school football with the same enthusiasm as Lyle. He could get away with anything around the warehouse because he worked twice as hard as everyone else.
At first I didn’t know how to take him. I didn’t have a checking account, so on payday I would go to the bank with Billy and he would cash my check through his bank. The first time we drove up to the teller window, Billy deposited his check and sent a note in to the teller to cash mine. I could see all the girls in the bank giggling and laughing and wondered what was so funny. Billy sat in the driver’s seat as if nothing was going on. Finally, I asked him what the tellers were laughing about. He said, "I sent a note in with your check that read, "I love you."
During the spring, before I would leave for the summer, Florida would begin to get very hot and humid. In a warehouse full of plastic plumbing fittings and fiberglass showers, there wasn’t much that water could damage. Spring would often break out in water fights toward the end of the week on Friday afternoons when all the shipping was complete. It happened much like a football coach’s being ambushed with Orange Crush when his team was assured of a championship. As a first-time victim, I was sweeping up the warehouse when Billy dumped a garbage can full of water on me. That was my initiation and my lesson to be combat ready on hot Friday afternoons. I can only remember once getting the best of him. He was usually thinking quicker than everyone else. I must have caught him on an off day. I saw him filling the can and knew he was targeting me. It was the day I took water combat to a new dimension at Service Supply Systems. The old plant did not have a sprinkler fire-prevention system in the ceiling. Instead, it had a fire hose with all the pressure of a New York City pumper truck. I made sure I continued to sweep the floor within easy access of the fire hose. Billy came bounding around the warehouse storage racks struggling with his heavy burden of water. I can still see the shocked look on his face. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. He was screaming, "That’s not fair!" as I blew him straight out the back of the building through the loading dock doors.
There is a Garth Brooks country song with the verse, "I’ve got friends in low places." It’s about a beer joint called the Oasis. It’s a place that Garth Brooks has never really been. The Oasis really did exist. The song was written by a fireman from Ocala. The Oasis was on the north side of Ocala. The front of the joint had plastic palm trees. It was probably the classiest part of its decor. The boss held our Christmas party there once, and if I remember right, I think we almost got thrown out of the place. Billy was singing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" using Judy Garland’s voice. He was even doing the high Auntie Em and Toto parts.
Billy’s father, Clifford, worked with us. He was quiet, mild mannered and serious. I always told him I thought he must have brought the wrong baby home from the hospital. Clifford always knew if he scolded Billy he was going to get put in a headlock and have the top of his head kissed. All joking aside, it was a joy to see the relationship the two had. In fact, Gaila and I had the pleasure of knowing the whole family very well. We still have sweet potato casserole every Thanksgiving. It was a dish that Billy’s wife Louanne served the first Thanksgiving we spent with them.
Friends are the real value of a lifetime. Good memories are a commodity that can only be traded through the heart. Sharing with others is the bond that welds the two forever.
When I heard that Billy had passed away. I found it no surprise that hundreds of people attended his funeral. He was a welder of bonds, a special individual, a maker of memories.
--Dick E. Bird,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The RV Lifestyle

My grandparents bought an Airstream travel trailer in 1956. It would end up having a huge impact on my life. It was actually my grandmother’s idea. She saw one at a gas station one day and had my grandfather turn around and go back. The owner gave them a tour of the trailer and before long they had one parked in their driveway.

Not long after that my dad brought one home. I don’t think my mother was all that thrilled. It wasn’t like getting diamonds or pearls. It actually meant she would be busy every Friday for years loading the trailer for weekend camping and unloading every Sunday evening.

During my dad’s summer vacations we would travel all over the country like a bunch of gypsies. It was long before trailer parks were common or franchised. We would camp while traveling wherever they would let us plug in our electric cord. Gas stations, A&W root beer joints (my personal favorite), city and county parks in small towns across the U.S. and Canada.

In those days you could do things that would now have you arrested and thrown in jail. Each new trailer came with a narrow shovel for digging gopher holes. That was the polite way of describing the septic disposal method. Even in the state parks, digging a gopher hole was standard operating procedure. The septic dumps on trailers at the time were designed to be located on the shoulder side of the road. In rural areas my brother and I would pull the pin and my dad would drive down the shoulder. We made a wide berth to catch up with him. It was no different than the railroad passenger cars dumping on the tracks. Needless to say, people discovered, as RVing became very popular, that the practice was not acceptable and unsanitary and some would say, "The idea just plain stinks!"

We spent many summers exploring National Parks and Monuments. I learned to love nature, camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing and just plain traveling, meeting new people and exploring. I guess you would define it as wanderlust. I have been rambling ever since.

After graduating from high school I lived in my ’64 GMC suburban for several months traveling and backpacking through the Northwestern states and the Provinces of Canada. For graduation people gave me canned goods. I would make Rice Krispy treats in a metal bucket. That was a large part of what I lived on that summer. When I had extra money I would splurge and buy hamburger, cooking it on my engine block driving down the road.

After the Marines and marriage, wanderlust struck again. My wife Gaila and I bought a trailer and worked our way around the country for several years. We would stop and find work whenever we ran out of money, which introduced us to some of the most wonderful and interesting friends we have had throughout our lives—not to mention some of the craziest jobs.

After spending years parking long trailers in short spaces—such as small ferries in Alaska’s Inside Passage—we switched to a motorhome. Gaila loves to drive the motorhome and after spending five months searching for me as I hiked the Continental Divide from Mexico to Jasper, Alberta Canada, she has decided that me walking and her driving is an excellent way to travel. She says that if she sees me once a week—that’s plenty.

Traveling across the continent in a self-contained mobile unit of any kind is an adventure. I guarantee when you return you will have new friends and stories to tell. We have been stuck in spring snowstorms in the middle of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, near hurricanes along the coast of Texas, broken down along 1,200 miles of the Alaskan Highway and changing flats in 110 degree Arizona heat. But to temper those rough times we have watched majestic sunsets across the plains, sunrises full of life in the Everglades, warm summer nights in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, spectacular fall colors through New England and sunny days along the rocky Oregon coast. We have seen Denali from the backcountry and life from many angles that would never have presented themselves to us had we not been there to seek them out. If you have a sense of adventure, traveling is one of the pure joys of life. Living in an RV allows you to feel right at home on the road. --Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Learn to KAYAK

During the years that Gaila and I lived full time on the road in our Airstream, we stopped one fall in Connecticut to visit friends. They were a professional couple we had met on a hike through Mammoth Cave National Park. Nancy was a teacher and George a lawyer, but they really wanted to be professional kayakers. I had never been in a kayak, so George took me out on the Farmington River and tried to drown me.
He was a very good teacher; I was just a lousy student. I had my helmet on, got all tucked into this porthole with a boat under it, adjusted the spray skirt and told Gaila where to spread my ashes. George said it was very easy. He had tied a practice golfball on the spray skirt, then he told me to lean downstream and let the water run under the craft. If I rolled the kayak all I had to do was grab the golfball which would make me lean forward, pull the spray skirt off the boat and roll out. That sounded easy enough.
He pushed me out from behind my secure boulder and into the current. I immediately forgot everything he told me, leaned upstream and flipped over. As my helmet bumped along the bottom of the river, I tried desperately to climb out of the boat. A few rocks later, I finally remembered the golfball. I reached up for it and rolled right out. It wasn’t long before I was an expert at getting out of a kayak. I rolled that thing, without exaggeration, at least 40 times in the first hour. But finally I learned the body English for staying afloat in a boat with no bottom, and it was fantastic the rest of the day. George tried to teach me to roll. That way, when you go over, you don’t have to come out of the boat. You just roll back over. Heaven knows I could get a lot of benefit from a move like that, but no matter how great a teacher George was, I never did learn to roll, but I could really rock!
They were very gracious hosts. While they were working, we would explore; on weekends we traveled together. They have a cabin in Skowhegan, Maine, so over Labor Day weekend we headed north. Our first stop was L. L. Bean in Freeport, Maine, about midnight. Bean is open 24 hours a day, all year except Christmas. It’s even crowded at midnight. I love outdoor gear, and I could have dropped a bag of money there. Lucky for me I didn’t have any!
Every body of water in Maine is a pond and their cottage was situated on beautiful Oak Pond. From there we headed out to Acadia National Park. We love national parks and so do Nancy and George. Just ask their kids, Acacia and Bryce. We always figured that if they had a boy they would name him Smoky or Oly.
Acadia was a wonderful place. I met a seasonal ranger in the Everglades who spent his summers working there. He told us not to miss it in our travels and now we could see why. The reason I remember this particular ranger is that during his park transition, he had just a few days to travel from Acadia and report for duty in the Everglades. He and his wife had a pickup camper, and they were taking turns driving down the East Coast. His wife was driving late one night while he slept in the camper when, somewhere in North Carolina, she almost hit a deer. Slamming on the brakes, she rolled him right out of bed. By the time he got up and opened the backdoor to see what was going on, she had accelerated and he fell clean out of the camper—stark naked! He had to use every ranger trick he ever knew to convince the sheriff what happened. The highway patrol finally caught up with his wife in South Carolina, or she would have been in Florida without him.
And Gaila thinks we have all the pre-Dick-aments.
During our stay near Acadia, we stopped for a lobster dinner. It was one of those places along the Coast where you pick out your own lobster and they boil it up for you. We were all looking forward to a lobster dinner, but Gaila was not sure she wanted to have one sacrificed for her. So, she asked the owner if it hurt the lobster to be placed into the boiling water. He very patiently explained to her that the lobster would not feel a thing. He gave her a five-minute explanation that made her confident her meal would not squeal, and we picked out our lobsters. As we walked back toward the building, the guy dropped the lobster into the water and let out a bloodcurdling scream. I’m sure Gaila was not his first skeptic. His timing was too perfect!
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Friday, September 26, 2008

Starlings Are Smarter Than the Average Bird

Star on my shoulder

Starlings are extremely smart birds. They know when they’ve got a good thing. Like the rest of us they are greedy and always wanting more.
A friend told us about a baby starling she found abandoned in a barrel near her garage. It was so irresistible we decided to try raising the little egghead. We took the little orphan home and put her in a small cage in our atrium just off the kitchen and discovered that even at this fragile age she was a ferocious eater.
She loved blueberries and roast beef. We called her "Star Ling" and when she had all her feathers we gave her full use of the atrium and soon she was looking for room to roam.
I was getting real used to having a regular supply of roast beef in the house, but Gaila said we had to release the bird outside. I tried to convince her that I wanted to teach Star to talk but she knew I was only interested in the roast beef supply. As it turned out we both got our way. After we released Star she stayed close to home. On our way to the mailbox she would swoop down from the tree tops and land on our head or shoulder and look at us as if to say, "Hey, how about some roast beef."
One day Gaila went to get her hair cut and the hairdresser said, "Looks like you’ve been painting, Gaila, you’ve got paint in your hair." Gaila was too embarrassed to tell him that it was recycled roast beef.
Another time Gaila was talking to Star who was perched on her shoulder and the bird poked her in the eye. It started to get infected so she went to see our optometrist. A couple weeks later I went for my yearly exam and had to explain to him why I had a ugly bruise on my forehead. Maggie and I had been swimming in Lake Michigan and in jest I told her I was going to sneak up on some ducks swimming nearby. I swam underwater for about fifty feet before I collided with a cement block that held a water pump on the bottom of the lake. The doctor already knew we were a couple of birdbrains but this proved it.
Star loved to travel. We would take her on weekend camping trips. We could release her knowing she would always come back for roast beef or blueberries. We usually knew where she was—we could hear other campers screaming when she landed on them. On occasion Gaila would have to go fetch her. One day a couple Star met was amazed by her and had been planning to take her home. Gaila was calling for her and as soon as she heard her name she flew over and landed on Gaila’s head.
Star loved meeting new friends. We live on a dirt road that curves 90 degrees at the bottom of our driveway. Vehicles always slow down to make the curve and Star found that to be an excellent way to meet new friends. One day she landed on the hood of a car. The driver was a baker heading for work and dressed in bakery whites. When he stopped the car to check out this bird who had now flown to his side mirror, Star perched right on his shoulder taking her regular morning blueberry dump.
Star went all the way to town that day. Her reputation followed her. The guy stopped at a local business and asked if they had a camera so he could get a picture with this overly friendly bird. A woman in the office exclaimed, "That’s Maggie Mallery’s bird!" Coincidentally this woman happened to be our neighbor and she brought Star home that afternoon tightly taped in a cardboard box. When we opened the box Star hopped up on my shoulder and looked at me as if to say, "Hey, how about some roast beef."
Towards the end of summer Star began to feel the tug of wanderlust. She was reported further and further down the road. Soon the tug of adventure over-powered the urge for roast beef and blueberries and Star was gone. She may have made friends with the wrong people but we like to think she merged into a flock of her peers. She would tell them where she had been and all the things she had done and they wouldn’t believe a word of it. When you do things others have a hard time believing, then you are most likely living life the way it was supposed to be lived.
Every time we see a massive flock of swirling starlings we look for Star—and every time we find her wonderful memories. - Dick E. Bird