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Major Mitchell

STORIES OF THE OLD WEST FOR A NEW GENERATION

Major's Blog

Sequestered

While I’m a fairly easy guy to deal with on most things, I am not so easy to get along with on a few issues. I don’t like being told that I can’t go to the post office or store, or be given a long list of things I have to do in order to take the dog for a walk. And it doesn’t make much difference knowing those telling me what and what not to do are doing it for my own good. I received a telephone call from one of my doctors saying they were postponing one of my tests due to the current virus. During the telephone conversation she asked how I was dealing with being at home. She said the picture Kaiser has on file shows me with one of my wide-brimmed western hats and she believed I love the outdoors. She was concerned that I wasn’t taking being sequestered at home very well. I lied and told her I was okay. The truth was that I caught myself sniping at my wife and yelling at the dog. Not a good combination.

It is strange to think that a little thing like staying at home can change you and the situation around you so quickly. I could yell and curse my wife and dog both but what would it change? I would have a hurt and angry wife, and a dog that only heard me yell “bla, bla, bla” and not understood a word. And to top it off, I’d still be required to stay at home. It is sort of like Mary Magdalene the day that Jesus was resurrected from the tomb. She saw the open tomb with no body inside. Now admittedly, that would raise a few questions, so God sent two angels who plainly told her Jesus had risen. But that didn’t stop her crying. Then she saw Jesus, who asked why she was crying and she mistook him for the gardener and begged him to show her where his body was and she would take care of it. Jesus had to call her by her first name to get her attention.

Sometimes, while we are riddled with grief or angered, we fail to see all the wonderful things around us. Mary almost missed the events of the most blessed day in the history of the world. Likewise, I can choose to snipe at my wife, yell at the dog and act like a fool. Or, I can grab all the free time I can to write and promote my books. Actually, it’s not a real hard choice to make, when you think about it.

 

 

 

A New Project

I’m sitting in my recliner inside my living room, staring out the window during my self-imposed quarantine. No, I don’t have the virus and don’t expect to contact it anywhere in my small circle of friends. First of all, it’s kinda hard to contact or spread germs or viruses over the internet, and I don’t expect to lick any handrails anywhere. The best place I go to contact a virus is the gym, which I attend three times a week, but being a guy, inside a guy’s world, we wouldn’t think of touching another guy for any reason inside the gym or anywhere else. You’d more than likely get tossed out on you rear. Now, I understand the gym is off limits until further notice. So, here I sit, staring out the window.

 

I will admit to keeping one small habit. I do give the dog a walk early every day, and say “good morning” to the same two or three people who are doing the same. I guess I could catch the virus walking the dog, except for the fact we are a safe distance from each other in order to keep the dogs apart. And no, Molly wouldn’t start a fight, but she will bounce all over another animal wanting to play.

I’ve completed several home projects, like helping our son Mark install recessed lighting in our kitchen and replacing the light switches and plugs. But those take up a small amount of time, and after today, I’ll be looking for something else to do. I was kind of anxious about staying busy until yesterday afternoon. That’s when I ran across a story outline I had written some time ago. Bingo! Now I know what I’ll be doing.

So, now I’m sitting in the same recliner staring out the window with a fresh cup of coffee and my laptop writing a contemporary mystery. It should keep me out of trouble.

 

God bless.

 

 

When the Storm Passes

The good news from California is that it isn’t raining today. That’s an odd thing to be saying about the state I’ve lived in all my life. As a child, I can remember honestly praying that it would rain, and being disappointed when it didn’t. On the few instances when it did, the first thing my two sisters closest to my age and I would do was  run to the street to play in the mud. We didn’t have a concrete curb and gutter or blacktop at that time, but we had plenty of mud. I’m sure our mother really loved doing our laundry. More rain is predicted for tomorrow and Saturday.

But such is life when you grow up in the Borrego Desert of California. While it is now known as one of America’s great farming areas, it once was known as a hot, waterless wasteland, only fit for rattlesnakes and lizards. The summer heat will rise to a hundred degrees by 12:00 noon, and keep climbing until around 4:00 p.m. In the middle of the summer, those who have air conditioners keep their doors and windows closed to keep the heat out. The rest just suffer.

Over the years we moved several times, until landing in Oakdale. It didn’t settle into my brain that I had moved to an identical place to where I had been raised. Of course there are a few differences. The San Juaquin Valley where I live has several rivers carrying fresh water, and is covered with wild grass and oak trees. The Imperial Valley had only two rivers, New River and the Alamo River, that carry sewage from Mexicali and are better left alone. Both of these rivers are fairly new bodies of water, having been created by a flood in 1905 when the Colorado River breached its banks in Arizona and rushed toward the lowest point, which happened to be the Salton Sea. But that’s another story for a different time.

Back to why no rain is good news for California today. We had some substantial rain, followed by an entire week of rain, followed by a dry day, and then followed by two more rainy days. The experts tell us to hang on, because we will have two more days of rain beginning on Friday. That’s both good and bad. It is good for the cattle and some farmers, but bad for the nut farmers and citrus growers. It all depends on who you are talking to at the moment. Sort of like politics. So, I’ve decided, at least for today, I’ll sit here in my recliner with a hot cup of coffee and watch a good western on T.V. and thank God I’m not out in the cold rain. God bless.

 

Take a Break

I’m sure that most of us have heard, and more than likely repeated, the old axiom I’m having one of those days. We instantly know what the speaker means when we hear someone repeat those words. We have all experienced a day where nothing seems to go the way we had planned it, and certainly not how we wanted things to turn out. We climb into the driver’s seat early in the morning, planning on going to work, only to discover the car won’t start. Okay, it sounds like the battery is low. We simply call our spouse, if they are available, or a friend, asking for a jump start. When the battery cables are connected, we discover the battery is fine. It’s the starter that isn’t working. What next? You call work and tell them you’re going to be a little late. How late? Who knows? You’ll do your best…maybe an hour or two.

Now, you are faced with a different problem. You can call a tow truck to take your car to the garage, and hope they can get to repairing it before next Tuesday, or remove the starter yourself and walk two miles to the local parts store. Then, if they have it in stock, return home and install the new starter. You quickly decide that doing it yourself will be faster.

That’s when you discover you’re lucky, because a buddy happens by and seeing you lying under your vehicle, asks what’s wrong. After hearing your sad story, he offers to give you a ride to the parts store and waits while the guy behind the counter goes into the back and returns with a box containing your new starter. Your buddy then gives you and your now-lighter wallet a ride back home and offers to wait while you install the new starter. With the new starter installed, you wipe your hands and insert the key into the ignition and shout when the car starts perfectly. You dash into the house and wash up. You’re only two hours late for work.

Grabbing your work folder and another cup of coffee, you dash back out the door, start the car and head out of town. Only you don’t quite make it, because the car with the blinking red light behind you wants you to pull over. The problem? You’re doing 35 miles an hour in a 25-mile per hour zone. The officer agrees that nearly everyone and their cousin drives down that street at 35 miles an hour, but you just happened to get caught. He also agrees the speed limit should be changed, and soon will be, but the law is the law. He turns out to be a nice guy and lets you off with a warning, telling you to slow down. So off to work you go.

But you have a different problem now. The two or three dozen people passing your car know you got pulled over, and will tell all their friends, who will tell their friends. By 6:00 p.m. everyone in the small town you live in will know you’ve been arrested for bank robbery. You’ll spend the next two weeks explaining that you got pulled over for speeding and you’re not really a bandit who kicks his dog.

Being an author, I will admit to embellishing some of this, but much of it actually happened. So, now I will pass along some sage advice. When you’re having one of those days, slow down, don’t fight it. Maybe drink that extra cup of coffee I talked about. Reacting in anger will only make things worse. Also, learn what you can. You can learn something in each and every situation. The lessons may not be pleasant at the time, but reacting in anger and frustration will only make things worse.

Finally, remember Christ’s promise that he will never leave or forsake you. It will somehow give you a different outlook on things realizing that Jesus is right there with you, lying under a greasy car installing a new starter, or inside a hospital room visiting that loved one with you. Grab another cup of coffee and sit down. Discuss the problem with Him. You might be surprised at what you learn.

 

 

Lessons From An Apple Tree

 

The apple tree Zachary planted in our back yard several years ago is telling us that spring is around the corner. And yes, I know they are forecasting another storm system moving into our area sometime this evening, dumping more rain in the valley and snow in the mountains. But still, the apple tree says be patient because spring is here.

What we see now are only the leaves starting to unfold. In a matter of weeks the tree will show its true beauty when it is covered with flowers. In the summer the apples will appear to be picked next fall.

Zachary’s tree is a constant reminder that nothing stays the same. Life is always changing, and what might appear to be a storm in your life today will be followed by something beautiful. If we are aware of what’s happening around us God can do some amazing things with very little. Don’t ignore the small reminders as you go about your daily routine. God hasn’t abandoned you in your storm, and He never will.

 

Beautiful Weeds

These plants are known as Datura Stramnonium, or more commonly called Jimsonweed or Angel's Trumpet. It is a summer annual broad leaf plant. All its parts, especially the seeds, contain alkaloids, and when ingested, are toxic to humans and livestock. The trouble is, they grow everywhere---along roadways, ditch banks,creeks, and they thrive next to wastewater. While being a nuisance, they take on a beauty when in full bloom, sort of like The Ugly Duckling.

Sometimes people are that way. Depending on how you look at them, they can be a troublesome weed, or something beautiful. You know the type---the relative that has caused you more trouble and pain than you'd care to mention. Or, maybe the obnoxious person who just cut you off and almost caused an accident, simply because they wanted to be one or two cars ahead. Or, they could be the homeless man or woman, wanting you to dig into your purse or wallet. These all can be bothersome weeds in your life.

I was rewarded in a strange way some time back. While spending a Sunday afternoon with Judy, bouncing from one antique store to another, a homeless man I had seen many times in Oakdale was shuffling along the sidewalk in front of us. It was obvious he had some severe mental problems. The weather was pushing the mid to high 90s, and he was fully dressed, including a full-length coat. As we crossed the street, on a whim I said hello and asked how he was doing. The man looked at me with a shocked expression, then grinned and told me he was doing fine and thanked me. He then shuffled on past without asking for a thing. It only took approximately thirty seconds, but it was easy to see I had made his day, perhaps his week or even his month.

A weed? No, I think he was extremely valuable to God, and at that moment to me also. Try it. Take 20 or 30 seconds of your time to give a smile and say hello. It won't kill you. And just maybe like the Jimsonweed, you'll get a glimpse of some hidden beauty.

Rainy Day Blues

Okay, I believe I've reached the point that all red-blooded men hate...that they are getting older...maybe even over the hill and sliding down the other side, without any brakes to stop you. In my case, it was always the other guy, but never me. I guess I was like the character Al Capp created named General Bullmoose, who at the age of 90 was still in the gym pumping iron and out-performing all the younger men. Not that I'm 90, or built like General Bullmoose, but I still walked 5 miles a day and exercised. In turn, I was the guy a lot of people called on when they were in a jam. Yep, I'll admit it, I'm at the point where I'm calling the other guy.

We bought an old Northern Lite cab-over camper for our ½ ton truck, knowing it needed some work. It seemed like a perfect fit, since I'm the one who insisted on a camper with a bathroom. Call it a phobia, but I've always hated taking showers in public restrooms and sitting on public toilets. I will if I have to, but I'd rather not. Well, what we bought will solve that problem. But, as always, it turned out to need a bit more work than we expected. We now believe the poor thing had been in a flood. Not a problem for the guy who does everything.

Replacing the floor was a little out of my line of expertise, but we know flooring contractors Tim and Ruth Bell. They had the new floor down in one afternoon. I kept pecking away with the other problems, like installing a new refrigerator and microwave . I also refinished the cabinets and hung new window shades and curtains. Judy was busy ordering items and pointing out things that needing fixing, and all was well in Major's land. Then we ran into a couple of things beyond my grasp.

The guy who had delivered it to our house, for some unknown reason, had placed some extra blocks under the left front jack, making it difficult to level. I was struggling with this problem when I got the bright idea of simply raising the other three jacks, which should allow me to remove the extra blocks. It was a good idea, except the camper slid off the unneeded blocks and fell against the side of our house. Oops! You can't simply move a 1,600 pound camper by yourself. That led to my first call for help. God bless our friend Onan Rice who ran to our aid with jacks and had the camper upright and on a pad of pallets in a matter of a half-hour. There was no damage to the house or camper, so things were back to normal and I got back on schedule. We were nearing the end of the remodel and deciding where we would like to take our first trip. Then I hurt my back.

Don't have any idea when or how, but I woke the other morning with it screaming at me. But, since I'd always secretly chuckled at people with back problems, thinking they might be looking for sympathy, I took on another project. Our kitchen faucet was leaking, so I took a trip to our local hardware and brought home a rather nice-looking unit and broke out the tools, only to discover some problems.

First, I discovered my eyesight ain't like it used to be. Even with my glasses, things looked a little fuzzy lying under the cabinet. It took a little longer to remove the old faucet than I thought, due to not being able to get the *#** wrench on the couplings. Had to be a faulty wrench, because I've never had that problem before. I finally removed the faucet and cleaned the sink, and it was time to install the new one.

Again, the stupid wrench had trouble finding the couplings. While lying in an awkward position, half inside the cabinet, my back began another protest that almost had me in tears. Finally, I had it all together...or so I thought. It's there, looks good, but has a couple of drips. While thinking of crawling back in the cabinet my back started saying “Uh-uh, ain't doing that right now.” So, after a call to another friend, I placed one of Judy's pans under the drip while waiting for his arrival.

Sitting in my chair and watching the rain outside my window, I admit I've learned several things this week. First, I am almost 73, and getting older like everyone else. Second, there is no shame in asking for help, and a little humility is a good thing. Third, back pain is real and I tip my Stetson to anyone who suffers from it. But I'm still gonna go camping here shortly.

Follow Your Own Advice

About ten years ago we decided to have an in-ground swimming pool installed in our back yard. After taking several estimates, we hired El Dorado Pools out of Modesto to do the job. The finished product was everything we expected --- a large kidney-shaped lagoon affair with a waterfall and lagoon bench and a six-foot deep diving area. We instantly began using it, and have had countless backyard barbecues with family and friends, adding an outdoor kitchen with a grill, a sink and refrigerator, then a gas pool heater to extend the swim season into the fall.

Needless to say, with a big family of six adult children, seventeen grandchildren and four great grandchildren, pool safety has been a priority. As an added precaution, we installed a safety fence, much like you see surrounding motel pools, which we have recently removed now that the young ones are a little older. The rule that parents must be present while their young children are in the pool still stands.  Climbing the rock waterfall is forbidden as well as diving or jumping into the pool while swimmers are in the diving area. There are also a few universal rules, such as no running around the pool and watch where you're walking. It only takes a careless second to inflict pain on someone and spoil an entire day. It might sound like a lot of rules, and I guess that’s true, but Judy and I want swimming and playing at Grandma and Grandpa's house to be a pleasant and happy experience for everyone, young and old alike.

There are times when the rule-maker fails to follow his own rules. A few days ago we woke to a cold rainy morning in Oakdale, knowing outside chores would be limited. One chore I had been postponing was cleaning the pool filter, simply because I didn't want to chance getting wet while it's this cold. However, the filter was dirty and prevented the pool-sweep from doing a proper job. About one o'clock, it looked like we might have a break in the weather, so I decided to chance cleaning the filter. Everything seemed to be going as I had hoped, and with the filter cleaned, the sweep began making a clean path across the pool bottom. While brushing the lagoon deck, I noticed a kink in the hose. Since the brush I was using has a telescoping pole, I hooked the tangled hose with the broom, and while walking backwards, stretched the kink out of the hose. Things were going great.

 The instant I hit the cold water I realized I had not been following my “watch where you're walking” rule. Forget drinking a cup of strong coffee as a morning wake-me-up. Jump into an un-heated winter pool instead. I was suddenly very aware of what I'd done. I was also aware I was wearing my leather jacket with my leather gloves in the pocket. I also realized I was wearing my battery operated wrist watch, and had my smart phone hooked to my belt. I was removing the watch as I climbed out of the pool, and instantly took the phone out of its case. Thank God I had unlocked the side door to the garage, since the next step was to remove my water-logged boots and clothes, a sight my neighbors didn't need to see.

I was drying myself with an old ragged towel, now used to dry the cars, when I opened the door and called for Judy's help. After she stopped laughing, she brought me some dry clothes and asked me to write this into a blog. I guess I need to mention that I also got a good laugh at myself, thinking what I must have looked like trying to walk on water.

 I need to close this session by tipping my soggy hat to Timex for making a watch that appears to truly be waterproof. I also need to give Otter Box two or three tips of the soggy hat for creating a  case that kept my phone fairly dry, only allowing a couple of drops to seep inside. The phone continued to work for a short period, then gave up the ghost. The killing moisture had evidently seeped through one of the ports used for earphones or charging. I am currently using my old cell phone while waiting for the new smart phone to arrive.

One last word of advice is to always look where you're going. I don't know how many times I've said that to our grandchildren. Maybe it's time to follow my own advice.

 

Adams Creek

Adams Creek winds a path from the hills to the east of Oakdale, across fields and pasture land, where it intersects Orsi Road at the edge of town. From Orsi Road, it cuts a gash in the earth for approximately a city block where it meets with an underground syphon, to be piped across town. On an early morning walk, you can hear the constant chirping of birds mingled with the occasional chatter of a squirrel. Most mornings you can hear the crowing of a neighbor's rooster and the neighing of horses and baaing of goats coming from Mo and Doreen Dumalo's ranch across the road. Over the corral fence from Doreen's ranch comes the mooing of cattle. As we wander south toward Sierra Road, the sun peeks over the distant tree-line and ranch dogs bark their greeting as we pass. The braying of a mule says good morning as a flock of pigeons swirl across the early morning sky. On a rainy morning such as this one, you are greeted with the roar of a small waterfall as the creek cascades into the pipeline.

The creek offers quite a study for those who take the time to actually look. On the surface, it only appears as a tree-lined dirt bank falling sharply toward a muddy stream, covered with a tangle of dead tree limbs and berry vines. But for the curious, it hold treasures untold.

One morning I encountered a feral mamma cat while walking Molly, and though cats will normally run from a dog, this black and white beast hunched her scrawny back and stood her ground. Molly, being the dog she is, smiled happily and trotted past the hissing cat to sniff the next tree. Once we were past, I turned to notice the cat carrying a kitten deeper into the brush. She returned seconds later to carry another away from what she considered danger.

On a different day, I spied what we used to call a hobo camp, tucked beneath some low-hanging oak branches and protected from the wind by the concrete siphon check-gate. It gave me a feeling of melancholy as I wondered how the person came to such a condition. While some prefer a hobo lifestyle, I have encountered others who are homeless due to situations not of their own choosing. With new houses going up hundreds of yards from this particular camp, I realized the tenant had chosen wisely. There was plenty of scrap lumber lying around, perfect for campfires to heat cans of beans or soup and keep him warm. The new houses proved to be a double-edged sword, in that the authorities arrived days later to close it down and evict the tenant.

In the warm summer months, hundreds of wild sunflowers decorate the creek bank, mingled with multi-colored wildflowers. The berry vines become covered with small flowers that quickly turn into tasty fruit. While the raspberries are inviting, several trees display yellow “Keep Out” signs for safety reasons. Considering the steep pitch of the bank, if one were to lose their footing, they would likely fall head-first through a jungle of thorns, dead branches and rocks to end in a cold, muddy stream. If they didn't drown, they would encounter the same tangled jungle climbing back out.

While Judy and I were walking Molly a few days ago we saw several young girls play on the opposite bank of Adams creek, drawing in the dirt, tossing rocks at the water, and doing what young girls do for fun when their parents aren't around. Yellow warning signs be hanged. Who cares about yellow signs when you have a world to explore. I will have to admit, if I were still a kid I would have been right there with them, maybe shooting at squirrels with my slingshot or playing cowboys with my Roy Rogers cap-gun. Please God, help us to never lose the ability to pause now and then and investigate the world around us. Who knows, we just might regain some of our youth, and become aware of our Creator's blessings to us.

 

Seeing Clearly

I woke to a chilly, foggy morning here in Oakdale. The damp air made me zip my jacket snugly around my neck while walking Molly. Funny how some dogs don't seem to mind damp, cold air or even a light rain, but when you show them a tub of warm bath water and a bottle of sweet smelling dog shampoo, they run and try to hide. We humans are like that at times. Not so much with taking a hot shower and shampooing our hair, but show us a gym or some exercise equipment and that's a different story. Oh, we'll readily give our assent to the idea of exercising, or talk about how we “used to do that,” but doing it now is a different idea.

I didn't realize how far I'd let myself slip until yesterday. I had a chance to join two other men in doing some volunteer work, doing a little maintenance work for a lady who needed a hand. I woke this morning feeling sore muscles where I didn't realize I had muscles. This coming from a guy who always took pride in what good shape he was in. I “used to” walk five miles a day, and “used to” do a half-hour workout every day. Maybe choosing to sideline the routine for the winter wasn't a good idea. Getting back into the routine seems to be the problem.

Evangelist Rick Davis once said, when things seem insurmountable, that's when you need to reach down inside your gut and pull the courage and willpower to the surface. Sounds easy … right? No, it's never easy, but sometimes it is exactly what is needed. If you want to stay in physical shape, you've got to exercise. And no, eating a large bag of french fries one at a time doesn't count as exercise. If you want to play an instrument, you've got to practice an hour a day. If you want to learn something, you have to look up the information, and probably read a book. And, if you're actually going to write that award-winning novel you've been planning, you need to actually start writing.

Most Americans will be making New Year’s resolutions in a few days, only to break them rather quickly, some within an hour or so. Most of us will step back and laugh at how fast we forget about our resolutions, simply because we did not take them seriously in the first place. But when it comes to the more important things in life, things like our physical, mental and spiritual health, we do need to reach down inside ourselves and pull up the resolve to actually do what's needed. Without it, we'll continue as we are, or maybe even regress a little each day without knowing it. Kind of like looking at ourselves through a fog.

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