Saturday, November 27, 2010

Post Holiday Wish

Travel safe everyone. Click to enlarge, bonus points if you can name the airport.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Square Pegs, Round Holes.

A couple of readers have asked me what planes I have flown. A few, some of them small and nimble, some of them, not so much. Yet many of them, like my favorite side arms, are like old and dear friends.

In going through some old photos, there it was. The C-23A. It was stable, surprisingly fun to fly, given its ungainly appearance, almost like flying a REALLY big Super Cub, except in a crosswind. In a crosswind it was frankly a Son of a *#(#@. We didn't call it the flying billboard for nothing, and on gusty days it took a lot of muscle to keep the sort of pointy end forward.

It was where I first met Old NFO, when I flew him to an assignment at a base in the Bay area. I was just a kid, early 20's. He was older and handsome. I was too shy to say hello, he was smart enough to notice the red hair and take a seat way in the back. Years later we've crossed paths more than once on the internet and in professional conversations, still remembering those flights long ago.

People made fun of the Sherpa. You couldn't help it. It just invited ridicule. It looked like a shoe box with wings stuck on as an afterthought. The cockpit was wide, the cabin was HUGE, yet it could haul an amazing amount of stuff at an incredibly slow speed. Awesome! But it was the first ship I was a Commander on.

But we still suffered the indignity of the remarks. . . ."hey - ya build that yourself"? "Ma'am, can you take a lower altitude, you're just kind of a speed bump for the tankers behind you".

One day, coming out of the Bay area, my copilot spotted a couple of F-4-s on our wing. We were in an area of low altitude training, and weren't too concerned, but they were close enough we figured we had better ask the controller if he was working all of us. I asked "uh. . ya know what these F-4's are doing?" to which he replied "Oh, they're just looking for something big, slow and square to use as a target".

But it was a new role for me. It was the first airplane, outside of a trainer, where I looked into the mirror one morning, in uniform, proud of what I was doing, and for whom. I earned my stripes in the copilots seat, and to this moment, I remember the day I got my qualification for that left seat.

The airplane looms into view. I breathe deep, gathering courage, as I walk across the ramp to start the preflight. I knew I was prepared, but I was nervous. I don't know a pilot that takes a checkride that isn't. I stood there on the ramp and closed my eyes, praying I'd open them and it would be over and I'd be home, lying beneath a cozy roof under the long, slow sound of rain. But I open my eyes, and there it is., looking bigger, as if it somehow grew in the night. The inside of it was as dark as space, as if marooned somewhere in the cosmos, waiting to simply swallow me up in the big black hole of failure. My hands were damp, my uniform shirt stiff, and I knew I had to make that decision, to stride forward now and show that aircraft who was boss, or remain forever still. I stood, the small, motionless form of a young woman, a hesitation in cooling space, across which blew the dense oily smell of jet fuel, laying like cold smoke against my tongue, so thick I could taste it.

Calm down now. It's just a big box with little wings on it. You know her, you've flown her a whole bunch from the right seat. She's familiar. There, I spot the few familiar scratches on the paint; she's been brushed by more than one piece of ground equipment, though not seriously, and the faint scuffs are like small laugh lines as she waits in eager anticipation of the flight. This isn't a duel, this is an old friend.

The Check pilot greets me planeside, tall, and stony faced, with a stern "well, are you ready?" to which I reply "Yes, Sir" in a voice that sounded too light, too trivial, for what we were about to do, like a leaf falling into silence , without any weight. As we board, there is no sound left, but my carefully controlled breathing and the steady drilling of insects as afternoon deepens. As I buckle in the six point seatbelt, he looks at me intently, hands at his side, an alert rapacity about his eyes, his countenance one of a great stone statue of Easter Island, but without the warmth.

Fear trickles up along my sleeve. Some of it is from the checkride itself. My advancement in the ranks is riding the line this afternoon and no matter how much my friends tell me to relax, part of me is picturing the job I'll get if I don't pass this ride.

But some of the fear is the normal fear I feel every time I crawl on board an airplane. It's not a fear that I can't handle it, but more of the feeling we all have when entering a realm that man originally wasn't intended for. I think about screwing up. I think about dying; the feeling of immortality that is the luxury of youth long having left me as I took on responsibilities not meant for children.

But I am not afraid of dying, and I know that with the training training and some of the best mechanics in service, I am not going to die today. The fuel truck drives away and I know that I will see him tomorrow, and the day after, as I am ready for my command

Being in command isn't about being a good "stick" as the pilots say. It's not about the uniform or a confident ego. Being in command is about responsibility. As good as you may be, it can't be found in those days spent in the right seat. There, the responsibility just haunts the edges of your subconscious. You think. . "Oh I could do it, no big deal". Then the day comes and you're in the left seat. And the weight of what's on your shoulders suddenly hits you. It's a different way of looking at things, just as the panel you've stared at for years looks completely different; how you look at everything around you looks different as well. Every mistake, every decision, every delay, it all boils down to you, and despite the best or the worst copilot in the world; make the wrong choice, and you'll be lucky to be alive to do the carpet dance in the office of someone with a lot more shiny stuff on their uniform than you do.

I was always told as a copilot that if I needed anything, if I needed to learn, to grow, or I simply needed help, then I had no further to look then to my left. Then suddenly, there I was in training in the left seat, and when I looked to my port side, when things were going to hell in a hand basket, all I saw was a reflection. Mine.

That visage stares back at me as we finished the last single engine approach into base. At this point, after two plus hours aloft, I knew that I had passed. The exhilaration was such as I had only experienced at one time in my life, when I was rafting down an Oregon river and my single man raft flipped and I was trapped underneath the rushing water, bumping against rocks much bigger than I was. Many things could panic me - bills, dirty diapers, the mystery burrito at the quickie mart; but being upside down, under water in the cold and fading light, did not. If there was panic there, it quickly trailed on behind me in the water and I simply pushed my little raft off of me, grabbed onto a rock and pulled myself up as hard as I could. To dancing light, to precious air, and water that calmed down to quiet pools further downstream, crickets chirping in encouragement.

Here then, years later, the same feeling of just being alive flowed through me as the the gear was lowered and we too headed down into the quiet pool that was the airport. Had the Pratt and Whitney's not been making so much noise, I might have heard the crickets hum alongside the runway as we headed into open sunlight.

I had not panicked, I had held my ground and my seat, mustered my strength and pulled myself back out into the light. As we exited the overcast, flaps going to full, I glanced at the reflection in the left window. All I could see in the brightness of sunlight was the smile of a new pilot in command, the voice of the controllers, the soundtrack of the best adventure I'd ever had.The airplane is just at the edge of my field of vision. . . . . where I leave her back on the flight line where we started, checkride over, battered flight bag in hand; sweat drying on the back of my neck. I've stepped out of one seat, one world, into another and as the Check Pilot finally grinned at me and other pilots stopped by to shake my hand, I felt it welcoming me.

People still made fun of it, but it served us well. I remember just cruising along over the Tahachapies on the way to the Los Angeles basin, gazing at the new fallen snow, not all that far below us, as we coaxed everything we could out of the engines to climb a wee bit higher, like salmon fighting their way upstream, then basking in the air as the whole of the lower state came into our huge windshield. I remember sliding open the big cockpit doors after a flight, and after a particular good landing, just to see the "deer in headlights" stunned look on the guys in the back when they realized their Captain was a young redhead with a ponytail. I remember those crews, and the friendships we formed from it.

When I left the airplane for the last time, as I was leaving to go train to fly a swept wing jet, it was a rare gully wash of a downpour, big drops that somehow were being blown down off afternoon thunderstorms. It was falling heavily enough that there was almost a cotton stuffed in my ears sense to my hearing, and I could barely hear the voices of those around me, I can barely see the visage of the "motor home with wings", through the rain. I was moving on to much bigger and better things, pressurization, speed, jet engines, the lack of people snickering and pointing.

But I was also leaving something that meant something to me, the place where I first realized that courage sometimes comes with a price and responsibility has to be earned. It was probably the slowest, ugliest airplane on the ramp, but it was reliable, honest, trustworthy. It had no artifice or hidden agendas, just like the best friend you would want to have. So I blinked hard that day I flew it for the last time, so no one would give me grief about "acting like a girl". I simply gave it a crisp salute and turned slowly away, one last look over my shoulder at the big square outline of it, and in it, all that were my first years of earning my stripes, the form and weight of it, through the heavy rain, soon to be memory.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Deer Camp Culinary Creations

Are you headed out to deer camp and need something tasty for supper? Here's an idea from the HOTR hunting trip archives.

It won't win you any photography awards, coming out of the oven in the casserole dish it was about as attractive as. . . . . . . ? (you pick)

(1) Roast Spamalope

(2) The Webley & Scott Mk. IV .38 (making Glocks look gorgeous since 1887).

(3) The Florida Wild Boar or your ex spouse (often mistaken for one another in the wild)

But how about a casserole? I'm half Norwegian so we don't call it casserole. It is known as "hot dish" and has been a part of my life since childhood. What IS a hot dish, you ask? In a nutshell, in its pure form, it's the bastardized offspring of a can of cream of mushroom soup and leftovers.

But sometimes I get a little creative, especially in looking for something I can make at Deer Camp .

Camp Creole Casserole (recipe in the right sidebar). It's an adaption of a recipe I found in a Taste of Home Church Supper cookbook with some HOTR touches. All you need is some dehydrated beans and rice, Cajun seasonings, hominy, corn and some pickled jalapeno, cheese, meat and look, there's a bag of Fritos the squirrels didn't run off with for the topping. With a dutch oven you can cook this right over a camp fire. (and you know, it's prettier after dark, and a couple of beers. . . . . just saying).

But it was really TASTY and if you click to enlarge the picture I bet you will drool just a little bit. Best of all it's inexpensive and can be made easily over a campfire or at home. Plus no cans of Cream of Mushroom soup lost their lives for it.

Yes, those are big chunks of diced smoked ham and sausage in there, no Spam allowed.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lagniappe. 2001-2010.

Lagniappes Lair

Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains
of one
Who possessed Beauty
Without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the Virtues of Man
Without his Vices.

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown to glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor's art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth --
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power --
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on -- it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend's remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one -- and here he lies.

- Lord Byron

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the Week

"You cannot build character and courage by
taking away a man's initiative and independence."
Abraham Lincoln

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hunting Memories - Gone Hunting

The interior was shadowed and bare, the only furniture visible when I first walked in, a dust covered chair crouching in the corner as if afraid of the light.

The hunting cabin, closed up for almost a year. It was a long drive up here but worth it, I'd rather drive for hours then head to the nearest "Squatters Rights RV campground" where the closest thing to wildlife was the married couple in the next spot that drank too much tequila and had a fight.

When I found the light switch, I saw there was more inside, a couple of couches, covered by a tarp, a small table and 2 more chairs, a sink, though there was no running water, a small refrigerator and some cooking supplies. I enjoy tent camping, but by myself this was much better. Putting up a tent on my own entailed cursing and usually bloodletting unless it involves a Pop Up tent (oh good, tent Viagra). I'll go with the cabin any time when I'm on my own.

For it was just going to be myself this weekend, friends off with lovers and family, doing other things. There was plenty to do as I lifted my firearm from its case, the glint of silver easing the gnawing stillness of the lonely room.

I cleaned up, swept and dusted as best I could, preparing stew and biscuits to tide me over for the next couple of nights, some nut butter sandwiches and apple slices to have in my pack for lunches from the blind. There will time later for a table set with game, turkeys bewitched to a dark gold, venison succulent with the juice of life, the laughter of friends. Now is time for the gathering

There is no TV, there is no radio. I sit in still quiet, thinking back to the city, right now bustling, growing and dying, buildings lined with amber windows that only hint at their human secrecy to the observer in the streets. People rushing to and fro, the casual innuendo of work relationships, fleeting obligations, names forgotten quickly at tedious meetings. Above, the communal wafer of moon shines bright, surviving the directionless pull that is the city for some.

Soon I was settled in my cabin, far away from the city, the blind out far away in the woods, my footsteps back out just a memory for anyone watching. Before it was even 9 pm, I was snuggled down in my sleeping bag as comfortable as I could be. I was alone but I was not lonely, having found long ago that you can sleep next to the disinterested breath of another and feel more alone than on any night of solitary slumber.

In the morning, I could feel the chill in the air as I had a cup of coffee with my bacon and eggs, over a small campfire, my breath competing with its steam. There's a cold front coming in, and despite the forecast, I know there is a chance of not just hard rain, but thunderstorms. I could imagine the clouds gathering up like an angry crowd even as moonlight bloomed in the trees like faint blue flame. It would be light soon, time to get out in my blind and hope the storm would pass me by.
It was a long hike out. I'd not meant to head out this far away from the cabin, initially planning on setting up a blind within shouting distance of shelter, but sometimes you make that decision, one that every adventurer takes, try that new cave, explore that new trail, put up that blind out where you saw the giant scrape. Let the cowards ponder other things back in the safety of the jeep, it's time to blaze a trail that will either be heartbreak or the profoundly sublime. Acting on intuition and trusting your gut, you risk a new adventure or a 14 point rack.

And possibly a thorough, cold soaking.

The storm was not supposed to be severe. The ones that effect you deeply never are. First, there was nothing but a congealed sky, the blue turning to dark the color of cold and constant night. From the next ridge line came a rumble, or maybe that was my stomach, breakfast had been some time ago. But I didn't wish to get into the pack for the real provisions, as the sky had just spit in my face, a challenge I wasn't in the mood to take on.

The animals sensed it before I had, the forest going silent. The only whitetail I had seen all day was there and gone in a blink of an eye. In just the instant before he saw me, all the light in the sky remaining gathered on him, then he disappeared into shadow. He was there, then he was only a specter of hide and hair.Then nothing but longing, followed by a clap of thunder that echoed somewhere deep inside.

I should have gone back, but I didn't want to. I only had two days to hunt. I didn't want to pack up the cabin and head back to the city. For a couple of weekends each year, the woods are mine, brief moments of time away from the drudgery of pavement and obligations. Time away from loss and explanations and time in a biohazard suit that doesn't allow me to breathe. Those moments in the woods are necessary moments stolen and taken back to reside in what, outside my home, is often a cold, windowless place.

There's nothing else like it. That unforgettable sense of openness, of hot and wet and cold and warm hands on skin, pulling off clothing, fresh flannel, hot stew, warm coffee, renewal. The profound and brooding woods, that live quietly in me as I bustle around in sterile wear, the look of the hunter in my eye behind the safety glasses, not visible to those around me, the fire hidden deep inside.

So I stayed out longer than I should and getting caught in a cloudburst was my cover charge. It wasn't a dangerous storm, even I knew well not to head out into the tall trees during one of those. It was the short squalling tantrum of a baby cumulus that would throw its fit against a tired Mother earth, then just as quickly cry itself into sleep again.

Even so, any thunderstorm out in the open is dangerous, so I found shelter as best I could, avoiding the tallest trees, with lightning cracking within a few miles. The poncho is quickly pulled out of the pack and donned, another to cover my rifle and gear. I settled down to wait, rivulets of water running down my face, thoughts retreating like tide, exposing a bare landscape of fire and blood, rock and water.

I thought of my first whitetail hunt, taught the craft by those that loved me, passing down a tradition of survival and preparedness. I field dressed the animal with coaching but no hands on assistance, there in the fading light, my bloody hands consecrating to us that which was, by God's will and man's patience, accepted as a gift. I grew up that day, in more ways the one, having learned and watched and waited, until I was ready to handle my firearm, ready to use it as a responsible steward of the land, looking at the deer on the ground, the first worthy blood I had been worthy to take. Sacrifice with grace, for which we are both thankful and repentant.

The rainfall soon snubbed that recollection, memories growing quiet in the tears of the heavens.

It would be a brief outburst so I stayed still, and quiet, there under a tree whose leaves were torn fabric against the rain. I did not want to give away my position should there be any chance of a hunt once the storm passed. I simply waited, watching closely the landscape, golden leaves waving up to the clouds that gallop past, tails flicked up with the movement. I've lived long enough to know that it will pass, learning about weather from hunting, and from flying.

It's knowledge I wouldn't give up to take myself back to my youth again. For I wouldn't be twenty-something again for the world. I have no desire to relive that time when you've not gotten through all those troubles that will take you to where you can take a few weeks off from work, head outdoors and sit in a tree blind, tasting the peace and savor of freedom.
But Mother Nature is never easy, and I've camped under the open stars watching the fireflies twinkle (holy smoke! Those are BATS!), by choice and sometimes by accident. You do your best with what you have, and you hope you make the right decisions. Sometimes the decisions seem to happen by themselves, as if found at the end of an invisible chain, somethings they are long drawn out thoughts, held in the hand and dreamt of in the night before taking human form.

In this case, the "right decision" led me to seeking shelter away from the tree stand, semi squatted on the ground on a tarp under the smallest trees I could find, as far away from the tall trees as possible. My non essential gear is wet and I think the bats carried off the horses two days ago. The ground is cold and my food is cold and everything edible may well be soaked except that one last plastic wrapped sandwich. And you know, I wouldn't trade this for a day of meetings for anything in the world.

There I waited, as the sun slowly reappeared, waiting being my only option, watching a seasons worth of tracks blotted out by the unhurried Sunday shower. So many tracks gone but not forgotten there in the annealing lightning, the silent footprints of ghost deer, my shadow on what was once their bed, my vision on a landscape their eyes had already lost, hidden there under a tree.

From above a growing patch of blue and in the retreating army of cloud, a brief, violent crack. Was that lightning, or a blackpowder rifle there up in the hills? There was no telling, but the sound broke an awkward pause in the day, and the landscape breathed again. A bird twittered, and from below me, squirrels argued politics The dome of perfect blue settled back over the earth, the breeze gentle and uninterrupted by moisture. I smiled, and quietly got back up in my blind, slumping back against the tree with the posture of survivors at the end of a crises. The storm has passed.

I pull my firearm out from where it's been kept dry, for no amount of fire or rain can challenge what is stored in a hunters ghostly heart, and my firearm has seen me through both, with neither pity or scorn for the travails. We waited, the Winchester and I, and waited some more, hoping that with the clearing of the air, man's smell washed from the area, a few deer would roust themselves out before dark.

All things come to he who waits. And she.

For there, with the sun just starting to yawn and dip in the sky, a buck passed by. He was young, still with much life ahead of him. Not a fat doe, but a youth, a skinny forest hooligan, tempting fate by being out past his curfew. But I was beginning to shiver, a sign I needed to get back to the cabin, and soon. Yet, this is what I came out for, I told myself and I raised my weapon. The squirrels paused, and for yet another moment that day, the forest missed a breath, my hands coming up, shivering stopped, only blood and desire and life pulsing in my ear, my own breath waiting, trembling, held in as the my finger draws back.

And I gently released it, the little buck bolting off into the shadows. I'm hunting alone. If I taken the shot I'd get a little bit of additional venison to add to the freezer but there is a good chance with the location combined with onset of dark, that I won't be able to get help in time to get him out of there before all light was gone. Like the deer, I will run out of life that can be lived long before I've exhausted every possibility of that life. Especially if I get pneumonia again, this time from being stupid. It wasn't worth it for what at the most would put 40 pounds of meat in the freezer.

We all take paths that seem exciting at the time, as we travel the wilderness of a heart, of a landscape. Everything is as it seems to be, you're not mindful of the dangers. Yet sometimes, the sky clears, you look carefully at where you're at, and realize the wisest thing to do is to walk away, clean and with as little blood as possible.

As I headed back in to the cabin, I checked the fire I'd started that morning to cook my breakfast. I'd checked before, it only takes a spark to start a forest fire, though it takes an entire box of matches to get a campfire going. But I checked again, anyway, even though it rained, moving one of the rocks that contained it away. The rock was still warm, not enough to pull my fingers away, but enough that it possessed a luminance heat, not the sort that would burn, but a slow steady warmth that the dying fire may scorn, rain would dilute, but only time could truly deplete. I picked it up and held it in my hand, feeling it cool. Not everything of strength and density is cold. Watching a drip of water fall to the ground I thought, even a stone can weep.

They say that the waters of the Lord can wash away sins, that mountain water cleanses the earth. But what of weakness and regret? What of that one moment of pity for that we are about to diminish, there in that cracking moment when something ceases to live. That moment there between speed and splendor and the casting off of a shell casing. I live off of the land, and as such, by need or necessity, I've taken life to survive or protect. Yet tonight, I could not, for reasons beyond the logical ones.

The rain was letting off to thin drops that trailed like dew upon my brow, but it was almost pitch dark before the trail led me back to the cabin, with thoughts of warmth and food, refreshing tonic to my brain, the smell of kerosene and leather bringing heat to parts of me too long cold. I peel off my damp clothes, a strand of long hair plastered to my breast like warriors paint, hands gathering wood and tinder into flame, fingers still damp with glistening drops.

Another crack of thunder splits the night, and somewhere tonight, blood, hot and dense, bringing both pleasure and pain, will soak into the ground, starting the cycle of life again. From the woods a cry of an animal lingered long on the air, leaving on the breeze the thin echo of regret.

I pour a glass of whisky, and raise a quiet toast to the one that won't get away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's that Time. . .

It's that time.

The official pilot check up. My regular female type doc is also a Flight Surgeon so if she has time I can combine them both. First Class pilot check up. EKG, blood work, full physical. The blood work is in. Total Cholesterol 104. BAD cholesteral 29. BP 105 over 58. (It's the bacon, I'm telling you folks). Now all that's left is the physical part.

Heart, lungs, and a quick check of the Muppet if she has time (otherwise it waits for the official female check up) and I'm good for another year.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

True measure

The true measure of the patriot is steadfastness. We all have small moments of wanderlust in us, tearing off on paths that others may not follow, testing limits, testing ourselves. We act out of strength just as we act out of weakness. That is the nature of man. Yet when we strive to hold true, to stand firm to our beliefs as free men, as a group, to carry our weapons and defend our land, despite our differences, the weak become strong, and the wandering hold together as one. For then we are united in something much greater than the elemental whims of man. Together as patriots we are much more of the courageous and less of the selfish, we are brothers in arms.
- Brigid