Tiny Adventures

The Northwest is a wonderful place to live, in my opinion.  Around Portland we a wide variety.  You can go from the beach to top of Mount Hood in a few hours.  You can go from the green valley to the east of the Cascade range to the high deserts of Eastern Oregon.  In a short drive you can go from downtown Portland to the Gorge and experience a beautiful hike or just enjoy beautiful scenery.  Whether you are out of shape or in great shape, there is something for everyone not very far from where we live.  This weekend I was reminded that there are still beautiful and fun things to discover.

Christina IM’d me on Friday to ask if I wanted to “do the Fruit Loop”?  I had no idea what she was referring to so she informed me it was a nice drive to Hood River then up in to the fruit growing regions just south of Hood River.  We looked at the weather and it looked like Saturday would be a gorgeous day and, for a change, we didn’t have anything else we had to do on a beautiful and sunny Saturday so we decided to take the drive.

Christina likes to drive, so there are times when I get to act as a passenger and just enjoy the scenery and that’s just what I did.  We started out from Vancouver and, for a change of pace, decided to drive out the Washington side on Highway 14 and then cross over the Columbia at Hood River.  This is a beautiful view and a welcome change from speeding out Highway 84 on the Oregon side.  It’s faster over there but after all these years there aren’t as many surprises out that way.

This time I was able to enjoy the view of the gorge from the Washington side and it’s pretty wonderful.  The weather was a spectacular as we’d hoped, so it was clear and sunny and warm as we headed out in the morning around 10am.

We passed a hike I’ve only done once before and, coincidentally, my friends Ken and David did this very weekend.  It’s called Dog Mountain.

Dog Mountain is known for meadows of flowers in the spring as well as being a pretty aggressive hike on the way up.  When I climbed it, I did find up till the last quarter mile.  My achilles tendon doesn’t like to stretch and as a result, I have a tendency to climb steep hikes on the balls of my feet.  This is the first time that it was so sustained that by the time I reached (nearly) the top, my calves seized up and refused to let me finish the hike to the top without stopping for 20 minutes.  By the time they loosened enough for me to get to the top and join my party, they had already been eating lunch for a while so I didn’t get to enjoy the break as much as I would have liked to.

The trail that we took on the way down is less aggressive but this was the first time I’d been hiking in the boots I was wearing and so I spent the entire trail down stepping down on to my toes and having them slam in to the end of the boots.  By the end of the hike when we reached the trailhead and the parking lot, the ends of my toes were one continuous, big blister.  As a result, while beautiful, I don’t have fond memories of that hike.  Since, I’ve heard that this is why folks hike with poles.  Not for stability as I thought, rather to absorb some of the force of the hike so the feet take less abuse.  Suddenly this sounds like genius.

Further out the Gorge on the Washington side we passed Beacon Rock State Park.  Beacon Rock is a large basalt monolith that provides a beautiful view up and down the gorge.  It’s only a three quarters of a mile hike and about 850 feet of climb, so it’s a nice quick hike with a great visual payoff.  The last time I climbed this, though, Ken and I were taking a trip back or to college, so it’s been a while.  After this weekend, it’s back on our list of short/fun trips on a nice day.

Further out Highway 14, and further than we planned on traveling today, is the Maryhill Museum.  This place is an interesting stop if you’re in the area.  It includes a museum which is now advertised as an Art Museum but when I was last there (again, more than 20 years ago) it was a doll museum.  Additionally, if you Google Maryhill Stone Henge you’ll find that it includes a full-size, astronomically-aligned replica of Stonehenge.  It was built in the early 20th century by a businessman as a memorial to those who died in World War I.  An odd memorial on the face of it, but as I’m unlikely to get to the original any time soon, it’s an interesting thing to check out if you’ve got a bit of time and are up for the drive.

In our case we only drove out as far as Hood River then crossed the toll bridge in to town.

The Fruit Loop has a page on the web here

There were a few highlights for us on this trip.

First, the apple trees were in bloom.  At least some of them were.  So, there was a couple of stops along the side of the road to take pictures of the trees, the blossoms and Mount Hood in the background.

From our vantage to the west of Mount Hood we see one side of the mountain.  It’s fairly iconic, but it was wonderful to see it from the (more or less) north looking south towards the mountain.  On this day we had blue skies with a few clouds and one persistent cloud around the mountain.  The sun was shining and temperatures were climbing but there was a enough of a breeze that it never seemed too hot.

Our first stop was at a thrift store that caught Christina’s eye.  I’m not a shopper but I know she enjoys these stops.  In this case I was more than happy to stop as I’d spotted a taco truck just about a block away, so while she looked around I walked back and had a taco.  I have a weakness for taco trucks and those little tacos.  Mmm!

After that we went looking for the Apple Valley Country Store.  They had pies and jams and jellies, barbecue sauces and rubs, unique mustards.  We walked out spending a bit more than we planned but had really nice pork chops with a tasty grilling sauce on them tonight!

While there we heard about a barbecue place up in Parkdale, Oregon.  I didn’t think I had been to Parkdale but once we were there, it turns out I might have been.

Parkdale is one of the stops on the Mount Hood Railroad.  I rode this once years ago in a previous work life as a group activity.  It was wonderful fun then and would be today.  You get to ride out of Hood River and just relax and enjoy the views.  There are open and closed cars so you’ll have a good time regardless of the weather.

We found our barbecue place in Parkdale.  It’s called the Apple Valley Barbecue and the food was great!  I love good barbecue and the lunch plate was a very good choice for us.

We’d purchased a berry hand pie back at the Country Store, so dessert was covered.

After we finished our lunch we wandered off and visited a couple of other places on the loop.

Our first stop on the way back was at Cascade Alpacas of Oregon.  Here we met some alpacas, got to feed them (bring quarters) and looked in the shop.  Alpaca wool is very soft.  In fact, Christina picked up a souvenir which was a bear made of alpaca fur.  It’s ridiculously soft and terrifically cute.  At one point we were looking at the alpacas and noticed in a separate pen nearby a large white alpaca laying down.  It had long, white luxurious fur.  We thought it might be like the long haired rabbits we’ve seen at fairs.  Well, something spooked it because it leapt up and barked and turned out instead to be a white Great Pyrenees dog.  So much for our animal identification skills…

After that we stopped at Rasmussen Farms and bought some strawberries that I planted today.  It was a beautiful little nursery with a great view of Mount Adams.  Because of the clarity of the day (and my poor geographical skills), I had to ask someone which mountain it was.  Public School Education for the win!

Finally, we stopped at the Mount Hood Winery and sampled some really nice hard ciders.  One was an apple-pear based, another pure pear and the last one was finished with blueberries.  The last was too subtle for me to make out as I was recovering from a cold and my sense of taste is fairly poor on the best of days.

By this time we were ready to head home so we wandered back to Hood River and jumped on US84 to take the fast way back home.  I finished the day with a sunburned forehead, some really tasty mustards, sauces and rubs, a really great lunch and tried some really wonderful local beverages.  We were tired when we got home but it was a wonderful day spent with my favorite person and we both needed that time together and, more importantly, away from everything else that demands our attention.  I’m really happy we still have adventures like this right in our backyard to discover and enjoy whenever our time and the weather conspire to give us the opportunity!

Poker Night

When I was little, probably only five or so, my Dad used to have a group of friends he played poker with fairly regularly.  I remember that I wasn’t much taller than the table, but I could see up there and see the red, white and blue chips, the drinks and food.  I even recall the blanket that they would throw over the table to use as a cover.  As a kid, I wanted to play poker with them so badly.  I never got to play in that game but, eventually, my friends and I made our own.

My Dad is a good card player.  He usually does really well in part by being a very good reader of people – a skill that he and my brother share in spades and seems to have largely skipped me.  But, also, he’s got a very good memory for the cards played.  Playing Gin Rummy with him is a losing proposition as he seems to know what he has, what he needs and, very quickly, what you have as well.

My own poker experience started not long after my son was born, so probably 22 years ago or so.  Several guys at work (including my long time friend, Ken) decided to have a poker night and my place was, I think, one of the first places we played.

At the time we lived in a small rental.  I don’t remember how we had enough chairs, I’m guessing we had to borrow some.  Stakes were very low to start out with.  Folks literally showed up with a jar or baggie of change.  That night we played with that change, no chips.  I think we quickly decided pennies were verboten but there were certainly nickels, dimes and quarters.  A quarter was the max bet back then (we were all young and careful with our money).  With a bet of a quarter and three raises, it was possible that a bet could climb to a dollar before it got around to you.  Since then, our bets have risen a bit.  Buy-ins are usually around $40, but you’re welcome to buy in for less if you’d like.  Bets are typically a max of a buck.

When we first started, a good night might have someone up $10 and a bad loss would be to lose that same $10.  Now, a good win might be (and was last night) $80 to the good and the biggest loss was, I think, $40.

When we had a fairly stable group for a number of years, we’d have themes to each poker night.  We had Science Night at my house.  You had to show up with a science experiment which you’d demonstrate to the others during a break time.  There was Cheese Night where we sampled various familiar and unfamiliar cheeses.  There was one that night that smelled like a baby’s diaper but tasted pretty good!  There was a Norwegian cheese brought by Jan-Erik, our Norwegian friend.  It was kind of waxy, caramel brown and had an odd taste.  I don’t know the spelling, but we made him teach us to say the name and it was something like “YAY-toast”.  One night we made up poker games.  My favorite, or at least the one whose name has stuck with me over the years is “Searching for Elvis (High and Low).”  The game had something to do with trying to figure out if someone had (of course) a King and involved staring in to their eyes to see if they were lying or not.

Over time, folks would come and go.  Most have gone over the years as we moved apart or they lost interest or had kids or it just became too far to travel to the various homes.  But a few of us have stuck together.  I’ve known Ken since we were 13 or 14.  I played my first (formal) poker game with him and played with him again this last Saturday.  I’m very thankful for that friendship and that continuity in my life.  He and I have always been a bit competitive with each other, so it’s always fun to try and get his money, but I suspect he’s gotten slightly more money from me than I from him over the years.

Come to think of it, I actually played something we called “Lightweight Poker” with him and several other guys and girls in our college dorm.  It involved very cheap wine as the betting mechanism.  These games were very silly and were the first time I got drunk with friends.  No one was driving anywhere as we lived in the dorms so after the games drew to a close we typically would sit in the hallways drinking LOTS of water to hydrate to try and avoid the hangover in the morning.

Our group tends to play about half straight games (five/seven card stud, draw poker, Texas Hold’em, Omaha) and half what we call the crazy games.  Lots of wild cards with weird rules and, often, wild betting and wild swings in money.  We also play a wide variety of games and are always open to a new one.  Being able to remember the difference between Do-Ya? and King’s With a Buy helps keep the games moving.

I recall a game of Acey-Ducey (which we call Red Dog, others call Between the Sheets) that involved getting two cards and having the opportunity to bet whether the next card would fall between those two cards.  In this game, the first card was an Ace and was declared (as was the option of the player) as low.  The second card came up and was another Ace and was automatically high.  This is the best situation possible in this game.  At the time there was exactly $13.50 in the pot.  The no-brainer bet was to bet the entire pot because with two Aces up, nearly every card was between those two Aces *except* for the unseen other two Aces.  So, two cards in 48 were bad.  Great odds.  In this game, though (or at least our variation), if you matched the end cards, you had to double the bet.  The player thought for a few minutes and decided to go for it.  In a moment that will never be forgotten in our poker group, a third Ace came up and there was an absolute uproar of people yelling $13.50!!  At the time that was a lot of money since our typical buy-in was probably $20.  The player had to dip in to their wallet to buy more chips to match the pot.  It was a crazy game.

Ken has done a good job keeping stats for our games going back much of that 20 years.  In fact, at one point Ken did some analysis (we’re engineers, we analyze data) and it turned out that the while there were a few people who did somewhat better than others, the average loss over many, many years for the person who lost the most was about $5.  Yes, for a night of six hours of entertainment, usually with snacks and drink costs shared, the “big loser” averaged a loss of $5 across all the games for which we had data.  I, as one of the folks who won more than I lost, had an average win at the time for the data we had of something like $10/night.  So, the losses less than the cost of a matinee, wins get you a double feature.  That’s a pretty cheap night of entertainment by any measure.

Eventually, as with all things, the games changed.  Theme Nights went by the wayside.  Folks stopped playing and our games became much less frequent.  Our last game, or at least the last game I played with Ken, was probably four or five months ago.

I’m very fortunate that my wife, Christina, likes to play Poker and enjoys that activity with me because I really enjoy sharing Poker Night with her.  She’s a fun player and I enjoy hanging out with her.  We don’t do everything together and do enjoy our activities separately sometimes, but I’m very thankful that Poker is one we can do together and enjoy together.  Winner her money can be just a bit sweeter!

Poker, along with the friendships that have come about because of it, has been an important part of my adult life.

Frankly, I don’t care if I win or lose that much since I never gambled more than I could afford.  Having said that, I do recall taking a walk from the table one time after a big loss.  The term “Sleeping With the Cats” was coined another evening when I went back in to a spare room and took a nap because I’d lost my stake and wasn’t willing to put in more money and didn’t have my own car that night.  So, maybe I do prefer to win than lose.  But, generally, what I’m really there for is the visiting and the fun of the games.  If I’m up, I tend to play more loosely and will chase after pots, just for fun.

There is a book called “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” about how in the middle of the last century, people joined bowling leagues to socialize, or the fraternal organizations like the Elks or the Eagles or the Masons.  Those organizations don’t really have the kind of pull or influence they once did.  I want to believe that my generation replaced them with things like our Poker Night.  Our own (informal) organization with our own rules and traditions which would sound silly outside our group but are important to us.  And Poker Night has been important to me.  It was a constant for me though raising my kids and through a divorce and is a part of my relationship with my wife.  What my Poker group thought of Christina when I introduced her to them was important to me because they were important to me.  (Truth be told, I would have ditched them over her, but don’t tell them.  Or her.)  The good news was she liked my Poker group and my Poker group was happy to have her join.

I was invited to Poker Night at my friend Ken’s place last Saturday.  There were eight folks there.  Two of them I’ve played poker with for more than 15 years.  I’ve been playing poker with Ken for more than 20 years.  I thanked Ken and David for hosting and I meant it.  They were great hosts.  I had a good time.  I won a bit of money ($23)  More than any of that, though, I’m thankful for having a friends that I’ve stayed in touch with and stayed close with for most of my life.  Poker, for me, has been a welcome thread through those years that brings me together with those friends and for that I’m very thankful.

I had lunch with my son this week and it turns out he joined a role-playing group for the first time, in part because I infected him with some of my enthusiasm for my own role-playing experiences.  He had a good time and thinks he’ll keep playing with them for a while.  In high school, my daughter had a group of friends that were very tight.  They had traditions that were unique to them including Waffle Wednesday.  They looked out for each other and are still close through college.

I’m very thankful for my own group.  I’m equally thankful for the groups that my kids have found and are a part of.  The social groups that supported my parents and their parents may be passing away, but I’m happy to see that we’re still forming our own groups and those groups support us through the years and the groups that my kids are forming will be there to support them in the same way as long as they need them and as long as they add value to their lives.



[box type=”shadow”] Note: Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/5857806294/sizes/l/in/photostream/ and licensed via Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). For more info, see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/[/box]

How to Choose a Career Without Really Trying

Prior to meeting my first personal computer, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.  Lacking any better direction, my parents thought it’d be a fine plan for me to be a lawyer, presumably because lawyers made lots of money and I’m sure they wanted me to get a job where I made lots of money because that was better than the alternative.  So, until I got hold of that first computer, I was fine going along with the idea that, sure, I was going to be a lawyer.  When you’re 12 that doesn’t mean much.  I did well in school because I liked school and liked doing well.

My Dad had a grade system to pay us for grades that didn’t hurt, but probably didn’t really do much to motivate.  We got a dollar for an A, fifty cents for a B, nothing for a C and, well, just don’t bring home a D.  It was further understood that if you were going to bring home an F, it was probably better to just not come home.  Idle threat?  Probably, but not so idle that I didn’t at least wonder at the back of my mind.

So, through elementary school, I could count on six bucks, maybe five or five fifty each of the four quarters of the year.  Once I was big enough to mow lawns and babysit, that money lost pretty much any incentive, but at the time it was cash money!

Once, in Junior High, I did get a D for the quarterly grade and I was pretty sure I was going to have to consider moving to Canada.  I remember viscerally the feeling of dread.  In that particular class, we could sit next to whoever we wanted to and I sat next to my best friend, Mike.  So, as a result, we spent most of the time talking instead of trying to figure out how to type better and/or more accurately.  Additionally, at the time I was convinced that learning how to type was about the most useless skill imaginable.  Believe me, the irony that I would then go on and enter a career where typing was one of the most useful skills I could have is not lost on me in any way.

In any case, this would have been eighth grade, I think, so before personal computers existed at all.  It’d be another two years before I’d get my hand on my own computer.  So, I fooled around and talked in class and, as a result, I was amazed and terrified when it was clear I was going to get a D in ANY class.  This was unheard of for me and I was not happy to bring that home.

Surprisingly to me at the time, and partially perhaps because it was clear that I was far more distraught at the outcome than anything my Dad could have done on top of that, my Dad was very understanding.  He didn’t just say “Well, do better next time”, though.  No, he went right out and bought a used typewriter (manual, not even electric) and mandated a regular practice regimen at home until I brought my grade back up.

I found out after the typing class was over that my Dad had gone in to my school to confront the teacher over my grade.  I don’t recall that I had somehow prompted this by somehow claiming it wasn’t a fair grade, but that’s possible.  More likely, or at least how I think I recall it, my Dad just didn’t believe that *I* was capable of getting a D.  By that time I’d only had As and Bs and maybe one or two Cs in my entire grade career.  So, as I’ve heard the story, my Dad went in and confronted the teacher over the grade.  As I said, at the time, I was unaware this had taken place.

I practiced at home and was more diligent in class and talked less with my best friend in class and when the second quarter of the year rolled around and grades came out, I was very excited to find I’d brought up my grade to a B!  In this grading system, the two quarterly grades were averaged to form the semester grade.  I was pretty clear on how averages worked so I was flabbergasted to find that my D and my B had been averaged to become a B!  This made no sense and didn’t until the end of the year.  For some reason I asked the typing teacher, with whom I had at best a strained relationship (he wasn’t very likable) to sign my yearbook.  In it he wrote something along the lines of “Maybe you’ll come to understand that grades aren’t everything.  Good Luck.”  That was weird, I recall thinking.  I took it home and shared it with my Dad and that’s when he’d told me that he’d gone in to talk with the teacher.  In the course of the conversation, I came to the conclusion that my Dad had done more than “talk” with the teacher.  I was sure that somehow he’d made clear that HIS son didn’t get Ds and that I was going to work harder but that there better not be another D in the second quarter.  So, I’m pretty sure that my B in typing was a combination of my harder work and not a little arm twisting by my Dad.

Aside from that experience, grades were not an issue for me.  I retained things easily.  I could get away with studying Spanish vocabulary literally in the walk between classes and retain it well enough to avoid studying it at all!  And, of course, I totally didn’t understand that I was only hurting myself by not working harder on it, but I got the grades and that was the only measure that seemed to matter all the way through high school and graduation.

Later, in college, it would become clear that being able to memorize something was entirely different than being able to do critical analysis and actually add something that indicated that I understood what I was reading and could apply some of my own thinking.

I graduated from a Catholic university with a Bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering.  It was and is a good school known mostly for fielding a very, very good basketball team for its size.  Well, that and for having Bing Crosby as an alum.  As a result of being a Catholic University taught by Jesuits, philosophy and religion were required classes, even for the engineering students.  I had no problem with this, by the way, as they were a nice break from the hard science classes like Statics and Dynamics or Materials Science, two classes I have NEVER used in any way after school.

It was only one religion class and I was, at the time, at best agnostic but certainly was not Catholic.  We were reading a particular book and were required to write a paper applying some of what we read.  I’m embarrassed to this day to admit that I got the only A+ on a paper that I ever received in college on a paper where I espoused a philosophical position that was in line with Catholic doctrine, the teacher’s position and the University but was in no way in line with my own personal beliefs.  I took the entirely mercenary approach of writing exactly the paper that I thought the professor wanted and I got the best grade I ever received.  I even got stopped in hallway by my Philosophy teacher to congratulate me on the paper, so the professors were even talking to each other about it!

I hung on to that paper and still have it to this day to remind myself of how I felt making that decision.  I got the best grade in class.  I got a great grade out of the class.  Even my Philosophy class got easier, I believe in part because of that paper.  And I didn’t agree with a single word of it.  I’d certainly given up the opportunity to challenge the doctrine and authority of that institution for a better grade.  At the time I was absolutely okay with that because the grade was more important, but, as I said, I’ve kept that paper as a reminder of my immaturity and my lack of strength to say what I really believed in that circumstance.

Both of these anecdotes come together, at least in my head, to underscore a few things.

First, you never know when you’re going to be exposed to something that’s going to be critical to forming who you will be in the future.  I never imagined that typing would be so critical to my eventual career.  Because I can type reasonably accurately and quickly, I can get my thoughts out more quickly in front of a keyboard than anything I can approach with writing.  As a result, my hand writing is an almost unintelligible scrawl, but that’s okay so long as the technology persists and civilization doesn’t crumble.

Second, grades aren’t everything but it was all that seemed to matter at the time.  It wouldn’t be until university that I would actually learn to study and to focus and to apply critical thinking, so in that I was playing some catch up with my peers.  But I was able to catch up, though it impacted my grades for a while.

Third, and this is directed as much as anything to my daughter who is preparing to graduate from university with her degree and is struggling with what comes next for her.  As she explained to me, her whole life plan has been centered around getting to this place: Graduating from university with a degree.  Now that’s she will soon accomplish that, she has no clue what to do with herself next.  The breadth of the options open to her are actually more scary.  To this point she had a pretty clear path.  Now the path branches infinitely and that is, in my experience, an absolutely daunting notion.

I had a bit of a crutch with respect to that.  I knew from the time I was 15 what I was going to do: I was going to find a way to get paid to writing programs on a computer.  That passion, that clarity of purpose drove my every decision from that time through to when I started my career.  There was no wavering, no doubts.  Certainly the lawyer notion fell to the wayside once I had this epiphany.  I was incredibly lucky that my passion lined up well with a career that would pay me well to do what I love.  That’s a rare and very, very fortunate thing.

Of course, I wish nothing more for my kids than that same kind of passion about whatever they want to do, but I’m learning that that’s actually a pretty rare thing in life, let alone from the time you’re fifteen.

My daughter is weighing between just “getting a job” and doing what she loves.  And I have counseled her firmly that if you do what you love, you don’t care as much about how much money you are making because you love to get up in the morning, you love to go do that thing because it’s what you loved all along.  Alternatively, if you just go get a job to get paid, it’s easy to hate the job, hate the choice and resent it for holding you back from doing what you love.   My advice to her is to first figure out what she loves and what she would love to do and find a way to get paid doing that.

She’s just about to turn 21.  She has plenty of time to later make compromises, as many of us do, between money and passion.  But I hope she doesn’t start there.



[box type=”shadow”] Note: Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/anthonyalbright/ and licensed via Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). For more info, see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/[/box]


My Dad was a hunter.  Every year when I was a kid he and his buddies would go elk hunting in southwest washington in the Blue Mountains outside Yakima.  Sometimes they’d come back with something, mostly they didn’t.  There was deer hunting, there was grouse hunting and chukkars, occasionally some pheasant hunting.  And, as a kid, I looked up to my dad and wanted to do what he did so I wanted to hunt, too.

It was clear that if I was going to go hunting with my Dad, I would have to go to the gun safety course and learn how to handle a gun safely and properly.  And I think that was a great idea and I still have those rules about always paying attention to the barrel of a gun, respecting the damage it can do, never letting someone past the end of the barrel of your gun.  To my 12 year old self, these were important things to know about a piece of equipment that could do a great deal of harm if not used responsibly and respectfully.

At an even younger age, my dad would take me out in to the woods and we’d shoot a .22 caliber rifle and knock over cans.  My dad was a very good shot.  I was not.  But when I would hit the can and when I did get better with practice, it felt good!  I was certain that when I did go hunting, whatever I was after would be in trouble!

I think the first time I really got to hunt, I was using a .20 gauge shotgun to shoot at grouse.  I say shoot AT instead of shoot because I don’t actually recall shooting any grouse myself.  It seemed like I’d wait too long, the grouse would hear me or sense us and take off and I couldn’t shoot anything in flight to save my life.  Or, I’d shoot and the bird would simply take off as I’d miss altogether.  Whatever the reason, the grouse were not in a great deal of danger from me.

Similarly, the chukkar were fast and kept their distance, seeming to know what the effective range of a shotgun was better than I did.

The big goal for all of this was to get to go with my Dad on the yearly elk hunting trip.  It meant I got to miss several days of school to go.  And I would get to hang out with the guys and that, by extension, would make me one of the guys and that would be a good thing!  Now, I was probably 13 and then 14 when I went on these trips, so being one of the guys was a big deal for me.
Missing school wasn’t a problem because grades weren’t a problem so my Dad was happy to write me note to excuse my absence.

One of the parts of the process with the elk hunt was that each member of the party could put in for a cow tag.  Typically you could only hunt the male elk (the ones with the antlers), but if you managed to have your tag drawn, you could shoot either a bull or a cow, greatly increasing your odds of getting to shoot an elk.  My very first year my name was pulled and I won a cow tag!

I was very excited because this seemed like it would mean that I’d get a much better chance to shoot an elk, which seemed to be the point of the whole exercise.

But, once I had the tag, it was made clear to me that the use of that tag was a bit more open.  Effectively, the way our group of hunters operated was that if one of the members got a shot at a cow, any of them could take it and the person with the cow tag would end up with their tag on the elk even if they didn’t pull the trigger.  I wasn’t sure this was entirely fair, but it seemed to be the expected way of things.  It was my first year, so of course I just kept my mouth shut and went along because I was not “one of the guys!”

I really did enjoy the hunting trip, but not really for the hunting.  I liked being able to spend time with my Dad.  I like missing school in the fall.  I liked the idea of being one of the guys.  I liked camping and I like being in the outdoors.  There was lots of food and not a lot of vegetables.  Beef jerky, soda and snacks were consumed in large quantities.

I learned the only joke I can tell in its entirety but almost certainly won’t.  The joke is stuck in my head more firmly than actually useful things but it’s mostly by virtue of the setup and the punchline which for my fourteen year old brain was incredibly gross.

Well, I guess you’re here so I’ll write down what passed for the best and the worst joke I can never seem to get out of my brain, probably for the rest of my life and it is a hunting joke, so I guess it’s relatively germane to the subject.  If you’re easily grossed out, I’d recommend scrolling down past the next line break.  Here we go.


A couple of guys are out deer hunting. They’re near the top of a mountain and they decide to split up, each heading around the mountain in opposite directions. If either shoots a deer, the sound of the shot will bring the other around the mountain top to help clean the deer and haul it back to camp.

So, they split up and head out.

The dimmer of the two walks for about a half hour and decides he needs to take a dump. Coincidentally, because the alternatives were worse, he manages to find a hollow stump in to which he can do his business. He takes down his pants and starts but then, because they’d been up very late the night before drinking and not getting enough rest, he falls asleep in mid-poop.

His buddy, on the other side of the mountain, spots and shoots a deer. He waits for a bit for his friend to show up to help clean the deer but he doesn’t show up. Irritatedly, he starts to drag the deer in the direction his buddy should be coming from. Soon, he comes upon his partner who is still in mid-slumber with his pants around his ankles, mid-poop.

He’s really upset now so he promptly guts the deer where he found his buddy and proceeds to slip the guts in to the empty stump, past his buddy. He thinks it’ll be absolutely hilarious when his buddy wakes up looks down and sees this pile of guts!

Chuckling to himself, he takes the cleaned deer and starts to haul it back to camp.

About a half hour later, his buddy shows up with a bemused but somewhat pained expression on his face.

“What happened?” says the first hunter.

The second replied, “It was the strangest thing. I was taking a dump up on the mountain and I fell asleep. Something must have gone horribly wrong because when I woke I had apparently pooped out my guts!”

“Wow”, says the first hunter, “What did you do?”

“Well”, he says, “With the grace of God and a good stiff stick, I got them all back in again!”


I have no idea why that, more than any other joke I’ve heard over the years, refuses to be forgotten.  The one joke I can easily recall if someone asks me to tell a joke is a joke I will NEVER tell.  Sigh.

But, this is about hunting.  Sort of.

That year I didn’t get to shoot an elk, cow or bull.  The cow elk was shot by someone else in our party and my tag hung on it’s ear.  That elk was enormous.  I felt badly for it.

I never shot a deer either.  It was probably a combination of not having a good shot and/or just not seeing them.  I was not a particularly quiet hunter nor was I very patient.  But, that was okay.  I got to go camping with my Dad, I got to shoot targets with my .22, I got to eat with the guys and be, more or less, one of the guys.  That was more than enough.

I did shoot a few birds over the years and that was okay with me.  I didn’t like cleaning them, but it was part of the process.

In fact, in my whole life I believe I’ve only shot one mammal and after that I lost my desire to shoot anything living and haven’t in all my adult years.

I was 14 or 15.  We were up in central Washington, more or less in the middle of nowhere.  We were driving down a road looking for chukkars but, unsurprisingly, they tended to vacate the roads when they heard vehicles coming so there wasn’t much to shoot.

However, at one place where we’d gotten out, my Dad spotted a rabbit over near the edge of the road.  He nudged me and told me I could shoot that.  At the time I had a small .20 gauge shotgun and the rabbit wasn’t that far away so it would be a relatively easy shot.  I was very nervous because this was the first animal (for some reason birds didn’t cause this same reaction) that I would shoot and I was shaking a bit.

I took the shot.  If you’ve never shot a shotgun before, they are loud and they kick, so there was the expected loud *BOOM* from the shot.  And then I hear the sound.

I’ve never heard anything like it before and I’ve never heard anything like it since and I hope I never do.  The rabbit was wounded and it was screaming.  It was hurt and I’d only wounded it and not killed it.  It was hurt and it was screaming in pain and I didn’t know what to do!

My Dad told me I needed to take it out of it’s misery.  I needed to kill it.  But, I couldn’t!  I was imagining what it must be feeling, how I’d hurt it, how I’d caused it to be lying here on the side of a dirt road bleeding and screaming and I was paralyzed.

In the end my Dad did put the rabbit out of its misery, finishing the botched job I’d done.

That was the last time I tried to kill an animal.

I recall going hunting with a friend later, perhaps after college.  It was deer hunting.  I enjoyed, again, the camping and the camaraderie and the food but I wasn’t REALLY there to hunt.  One of the two mornings I did get a chance to shoot at a deer from a fairly long distance.  I purposely shot high so there was no real danger to the deer.  I scared it and it ran away and I was fine with that.

So, I didn’t and don’t hunt as an adult.  I didn’t teach my kids to hunt, didn’t require them, as my Dad had, to attend a gun safety course.  I do think it’s important to be respectful of guns and learn how to use them safely and effectively, but I’ve no interest in hunting.  For me, that ended as soon as I heard the consequences of my actions on the side of that dirt road thirty years ago.


[box type=”shadow”] Note: Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfsregion5/ and licensed via Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). For more info, see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/[/box]