Doggy retirement

My soon-to-be 11-year-old dog has reached a point where she must retire from adventure sports –everything, save for walks around the neighborhood. Time has caught up with my pup.
Last Thursday was hot. Like Africa hot.
So I decided to take the dogs for a little stroll to the Sacramento River for a dip.
That dip turned into a major rescue operation.
Which has now led to Scully’s retirement from action/adventure pursuits.
The Sacramento River runs through my neighborhood at about 51 degrees. Last Thursday, the flow was 14,750 cubic feet per second. High, but not raging, like it is during winter (I’ve seen it as high as 65,000 cfs, which means flooding).
We get to the river near a neighborhood park, and there’s kids drinking beer at our favorite place to get wet. It’s called the channels, where river diverts from its main stem through a bunch of alder- and willow-covered islands.
Since the kids were taking up the best spot, the girls and I wandered downstream about 10 yards.
Trinity jumped in and started paddling.
Scully likes to ease into the water, but with the higher flows, the bank where we got in was thigh deep on me. She went in with a sploosh.
And started to head out into the current.
No, I’m just watching this. It is like watching a car wreck unfold.
“Scully, paddle over here,” I said. We’re standing in an eddy that’s 10 feet wide, protected by willow bushes at the tailout and a cottonwood tree at the beginning.
Scully’s now in the current, flailing hopelessly, facing me as the current has now caught her.
She’s got this look on her face like, “Shit.”
And she’s gone.
I run up the trail to past the willow and she’s now doing the drowning bobblehead. Head under water, head above water.
And I jump in.
Trinity, thinking we’re in fun mode, jumps in behind me.
A few steps in hip-deep water and I’m sucked under. I can no longer touch – and I can now barely breath in the frigid water.
I don’t often close the buckle on my sandals. One comes off. I have the leather leashes in my right hand. I go under.
Scully is now in real trouble, 20 feet from me. Trinity is paddling toward Scully. I’m yelling for both to paddle toward me.
And I’m thinking now that I’m not going to make it. I grab the floating sandal, toss it and the leashes onto a logjam and kick toward Scully.
I get her by the collar and start swimming to shore, out of the current. She’s terrified. I look back, and Trinity is now in a mess of willows, her head going under.
Trin uses her tail for major propulsion/steering. Her tail is caught in some blackberry brambles and is useless. She can’t seem to figure out why she keeps going under.
I toss Scully in some brambles on the river’s edge (where she can touch) and go swimming upstream to rescue Trin.
I get her untangled, head her in the direction of Scully, where she jumps up on shore.
“STAY RIGHT THERE,” I yell and swim the 20 yards against the current to get the leashes and my shoe.
Surprisingly, Trin did as she was told. Scully couldn’t go anywhere, since she was shaking and stuck in the brambles.
I unstuck her, lift her to shore and start brushing away five feet of cobwebs and sticker-filled brambles so I can get out.
I put the sandal down, get into it and start picking a trail through the brambles and grass.
We get back to the trail, and I’m a sticker-covered, muddy mess. There’s cobwebs and dirt and brambles hanging off my very wet shirt and shorts. Cobwebs cover my hat. My shins are a quilt of cuts and scrapes. The dogs are muddy.
Scully walked very slow, still shaking.
Trinity was waiting for the command for us to go swim again.
We turn instead for the sidewalk. And walk home, wet, muddy and dejected.
“Hey, babe, what are you doing?” my wife called and asked.
“Oh, sitting here, recovering from my rescue operation.”
“What happened?”
“Scully’s retired, that’s what happened.”
I told her the story from the comfort of a chair in my front yard. The dogs were seated very close to me.
“It’s a good thing you’re such a strong swimmer,” she said.
She still doesn’t know how close I was to becoming an ex-swimmer.
On Friday, I was sitting in my chair when Scully came up and put her dopey head in my lap. I scratched her head and she gave me a look and started to do her happy pant.
The look said, “I’m OK with this retirement thing.”

The Few, the Proud, the Preserves

My daughter was rummaging through the fridge the other day looking for a snack.
“What’s this?” she asked my wife, holding up a jar of organic blueberry preserves.
“It’s preserves,” my wife said.
“What’s preserves?” the 10-year-old asked.
“It’s like jam,” my wife said. “And it’s not a snack item.”
“I don’t get it,” my daughter said. “Like the Army Preserves?”
“No, that’s the Army Reserves,” my wife said, laughing.
“Well no wonder,” the daughter said. “I said something about the Army Preserves and (her ‘boyfriend’) just laughed at me.”
My mom would have liked that one.

I am sick to shit of death

In the past four years, I’ve won three first-place awards for the Best Outdoor Page in the Nation by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Since 1999, when the paper first started its Outdoors pages, I’ve never placed lower than second.
And I say I like I do it all myself.
True, I am responsible for nearly all the copy. But it was my designer, Steve Jacobs, who made my words, and the photographer’s photos, sing. Those best page awards were as much his, as they are mine. He was shirt-busting proud that I included his name, as well as my own, on all three plaques.
Steve Jacobs died July 17 of a heart attack. He was 59.
His wife said he didn’t feel like eating breakfast. He was teaching an art class at the library when he collapsed. He died nearly instantly.
Steve was one of the good guys. He was always ready for a challenge. He always anticipated what I wanted and gave me more than I expected.
More than that, he was a good friend, where we could both come together to share common gripes about the business.
He was tickled when I went out fishing or hunting, because I always made sure he got taken care of first. A salmon fillet here, some rainbow trout there. A few quail to try; he even got a load of pork from the first wild hog I shot.
He once paid me one of the highest compliments I have ever received. Because it was personal, out-of-the-blue.
He had asked one afternoon if I could get him something. Hell, I don’t even remember what it was. I do know, I brought it in the next day and set it on his desk.
When he came in, he picked up the item and came over to my desk, where put his hand on my shoulder, and said:
“You’re the only person I know who always does what he says he’s going to do. The only one.”
Steve was that kind of a guy.
I will miss him.
To honor him, I will always do what I say I’m going to do.
For the rest of my life.

Aging gracefully

I am not aging gracefully.
Just painfully.
Now, lest anyone thinks I give a shit about gray hair and wrinkles, I don’t.
It’s the aches and pains that put me in a mood.
A month ago (or maybe more, I can’t remember), I strained a muscle in my forearm. Some days, I grab a water bottle or a coffee mug and a hot pain runs up my arm.
“You need to get that looked at,” my wife said.
Yeah, spend a couple hours in my GP’s office, all to tell me it’s tendonitis and to rest it.
It’s my left forearm; I’m left-handed. I can’t do anything right-handed.
For now, I’m trying to ignore it; put a little ice on it, a little Icy Hot.
So, I’m awakened this morning to the ripple of back spasms. Enough that I evac to the couch to stretch.
I’m 43. I have abused this body. I have had two knee surgeries and my orthopedic surgeon said it’s not if, it’s when I get the knee replaced.
It all just pisses me off.

Coffee headache

“Welcome to Starbucks! How can I annoy you?”
OK, they two gals at Starbucks didn’t really say that. But they did manage to annoy me.
Yeah, sure, I went to Starbucks. So sue me. My wife got a $15 gift card, which she passed onto me, the confessed coffee snob (she’s on this health kick and has abandoned drinking coffee with flavored creamer. Whatever.)
I have a Starbucks travel mug. It’s black. It’s OK, too, except that is says STARBUCKS on it.
See, I’d rather frequent the mom-and-pop coffee places; the one place where they always ask if I want the “regular” (a 20-ounce Americano, no room for cream) and always call me by my first name.
But $15 worth of free coffee is too good to pass up.
So I’m in Starbucks with my Starbucks mug at 6:30 a.m. and the girl says, “Hi, welcome to Starbucks! What drink can I get started for you this morning!?!”
“Americano, no room for cream,” I said as I put the mug on the counter.
“Would you like that in your cup?” she asked.
“Why, yes,” I said.
The girl rang me up, as the barista came over and asked, “You want that Amerericano in your mug?”
“Christ, yes, I’d like it in my fucking cup, thank you very much,” is the thought that runs through my head. "Better than drinking it out of my cupped fucking hands."
“That would be great, thanks,” I said.
There’s $10 left on the card. Maybe free coffee isn’t worth the now bad attitude I have.

Casket slogans

So I’m driving back to work and I get behind a truck carrying caskets – from the Batesville Casket Company of Batesville, Ind.
Painted across the back of the semi was “Please! Drive Carefully!”
A nice sentiment from a business that’s in the business of death.
Surly, there are better slogans than “Please! Drive Carefully!”
If only political correctness went out the window.
Like these, which I came up with during the rest of my drive:
“Please, Drive Recklessly – We Appreciate the Business!”
“See That Overpass – Hit It!”
“Your Death Helps Our Bottom Line!”
“Wouldn’t You Rather Be Riding In One of These?”
“Death Becomes You – In a Batesville Casket!”
“Riding In Style – Since 1884!”
“Alcohol + Speed = Another Batesville Sale!”
“Please! Speed Up and Pass Me on These Deadly Curves!”
“Please! Die, Soon!”
You get the point…any other suggestions?

More about bitches and wheels

This is exactly why passenger vehicles do not come equipped with machine guns, rocket-launchers or flame-throwers.
Piss-poor drivers.
Road rage.
Yeah, I had another brush with some idiot tailgater in my ‘hood. And lest you all think that I egg these people on, I had witnesses.
Lots of them.
Who all insisted I did nothing wrong.
I did get out of the car at a stop sign, however. To scream. At a woman driver.
Our story begins on the Fourth of July, about 7:20 p.m. with me pulling out of my driveway with the wife and kids. We were going to a barbecue to watch fireworks (little did the family know that the fireworks would kick off early).
I get to the end of my drive, checked the traffic and notice a silver Honda Civic about a block away. Plenty of time to get moving.
Next thing I know, the Civic is on my ass, a woman driver in her early 20s glued to my bumper, motioning with her hands for me to get moving.
The speed limit is 25 miles per hour in my neighborhood; like it is in every residential area in the U.S. It seems slow, but really, it’s not (my dad was in town recently and asked why I was driving so slow; I said I was going two miles over the speed limit and he said, “The speed limit in our neighborhood is 35 miles per hour,” which I called bullshit on).
My street is a series of curves and straight-aways; the police routinely run speed traps. I set my cruise control for 27 miles per hour and I’m golden.
If not for this bitch in my tail.
We get to a stop sign, where I turn left and she quickly follows – pulling dangerously close in front of a minivan coming from the street that parallels ours.
“Did you see that?” my wife asked. “She didn’t even stop.”
That’s OK, since I’m in the lead, and going 27 mph.
The bitch in the Civic is making gestures and riding my ass; she thinks a couple of times of passing; from my rear view, I can’t see the entire front of the Civic, she’s so close.
I roll the back window down and flash a 2 and a 5 with my fingers; she flips me off and continued to ride tail.
Until we get to the stop sign, where I have had enough.
I get out of the car, walk up to her window and yell;
The minivan has now pulled off into an empty lot, the driver telling me way to go, you tell her.
The bitch flips me off, throws it into reverse and speeds through the empty lot around the van and onto the road – kicking dust at more than 70 miles per hour.
We continue to the barbecue.
Where we meet up with the van driver (proving once again that I live in a small town).
“Honey, look, it’s Bev from the minivan,” I said.
“You know, you did exactly the right thing,” said Bev, who we find out lives just around the block from us. “She pulled out right in front of me and I don’t think there was four inches between your car and hers.”
“You know, if a big guy in a big truck with a big cowboy hat would have gotten out to yell at me, I would have apologized,” my wife said. "Not flip him off and back up in the middle of the street."
“Oh, I knew she was going to back up,” Bev said. “And if I didn’t pull off, she would have hit me.”
Our saving grace is that there are plans in the works to put speed bumps on our street to stop the speeding. I’m all for them (since I drive a four-wheel-drive that will glide over the bumps – at 27 mph) since it should stop the chronic speeding in my ‘hood.
I do, however, plan on talking to the bitch’s parents, once I find out where she lives. I’ve got the plate number.

Talk about pressure

OK, so, my dad was coming into town, right?
His first road trip West (although he flew out years ago to spend a couple of days fishing) and his first extended driving jag since my mom died in November.
He planned to stay a couple days in South Dakota, to watch a granddaughter get married. A couple days in Washington to visit grandkids in Sequim. And a full week’s visit to Redding.
“I want to do some fishing,” he said. “I promised some people back home I’d bring back some salmon.”
Talk about pressure. Show my old man a good time — and get him hooked up with some tasty salmon (when salmon season doesn’t begin on the Sacramento River until July 16 and I’m already up against a memory of us catching four chunky chinook to 28 pounds the last time out).
Plus, I had to break it to him that when he arrived last Sunday, he might as well mistake my adopted hometown for Hell (117 degrees — with uncharacteristic humidity — counts as Hell, right?).
I called his cell to check in June 23 — and to warn him about the heat and its affect on the fish bite. I could barely understand him.
“I’m crab fishing,” he said.
Yeah, he’s in Puget Sound, dropping crab pots for tasty Dungeness crab. While I’m mired in scorching temperatures, left to check out my favorite fishing haunts to gauge the bite (or lack thereof). The stomach juices were brewing up one dandy ulcer. The one saving grace is my dad found crab fishing, well, less than action-packed.
“It’s fun,” he said. “Kind of boring.”
Fill a crab pot with rotted chicken parts that are way south of sanitary and wait. Then haul the pots up and pick crabs. I’m feeling better about the heat. But really, who is insane enough to fish in temperatures past 110 degrees? With your dad, who is a healthy 77, but why take chances? We watched the weather and decided Wednesday and Thursday gave us the best opportunity to A) catch fish; and B) not succumb to heat stroke.
“You know, I really would like some salmon,” he said. “If it’s at all possible.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.
That left the Feather River — for a bite that has begun to wane — where the limit for chinook salmon is one per angler, per day.
Or “A salmonoid is a salmonoid,” right? I called the Big Gun of Lake Shasta and Whiskeytown Lake and asked Gary Miralles, guide and owner of Shasta Tackle and Sportfishing, to help out with my salmonoid quandary.
“Hey, the kokanee should be biting pretty well at Whiskeytown,” he said. “Although, this weather, the bite’s been up and down.”
“What’s a kokanee?” dad asked, skeptical.
“It’s a land-locked coho salmon,” Miralles said. “Best eating fish of all the salmon, I think.”
OK, dad’s on board, heck, we’re all on board Miralles’ new Duckworth boat, headed for the cold water curtain near the Clair A. Hill/Whiskeytown Dam at 6 a.m. Wednesday. The weather’s fantastic — 74 degrees (which matched the water temperature) and overcast. Not a puff of wind. And I hope the fish are fish — stupid, hungry and ready to snap at anything.
“We’ll be fishing about 45 to 60 feet deep,” Miralles said. “I’ve been having good luck there.”
Miralles readied the rods with his new, medium-sized Sling Blade Dodgers and Koke-A-Nut, Pee-Wee Johnson, Hum Dinger and Scorpion lures (all in pink, hint-hint). Two rods pop at once. Two more pop a few minutes later. Another goes, and in 40 minutes, we’ve got four kokanee to 16 inches and one rather large, but rather skinny, rainbow trout in the boat.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Miralles said. “We’ll be limited out in no time.”
Rods popped and we’re having a great time. By now, we’ve moved to the dam, where we picked up a planter chinook salmon, a brook trout that looked more like a Mackinaw than a brookie, another kokanee — and a rainbow with a Department of Fish and Game $10 reward tag secured to its fin. My first ever tagged fish.
“So what does that mean?” dad asked.
You fill out a form, send in the tag, and in four to six weeks, California’s accounting department sends you a check (and an informational brochure about the fish you caught).
“Great,” he said.
Meantime, 10 bucks is 10 bucks. And I’m a kid all over again, with the promise of a sawbuck burning a hole in my pocket.
“Let’s buy lottery tickets with it,” I said.
Dad laughed.
“Seriously, it’s my first DFG tag ever, and I’ve been fishing this state for nine years,” I said. “It’s a sign.”
And with that, the pressure faded.
Dad headed East on Interstate 80 today, back to Nebraska, with a cooler full of salmon and trout and a good tale to tell at his barbecue — and 10 chances in the California Lottery (it’s only fair to share).
“That was fun,” he said. “I don’t know much about fishing, but that was fun.”
Whew. I entertained, we caught fish, he’s at peace.
And if I’m not here this week, well, I’m fish-retired.