Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Frogs


The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21


This morning I am sitting at my son's desk while the aroma of Starbucks rises from a cup given to me by an old biker friend from Texas.   So I sit and ponder this bible verse that reminds me of a story that my pastor in College Station, TX shared from the pulpit.


An old fable about a few frogs goes something like this:

A group of frogs were hopping contentedly through the woods, going about their froggy business, when two of them fell into a deep pit. All of the other frogs gathered around the
pit to see what could be done to help their companions. When they saw how deep the pit was, the rest of the dismayed group agreed that it was hopeless and told the two frogs in the pit that they should prepare themselves for their fate, because they were as good as dead. Unwilling to accept this terrible fate, the two frogs began to jump with all of their might.

The other frogs began sorrowfully shouting that they should save their energy and give up, since they were already as good as dead. The two frogs continued jumping as hard as they could, and after several hours of desperate effort were quite weary. Finally, one of the frogs took heed to the calls of his fellows. Spent and disheartened, he quietly resolved himself to his fate, lay down at the bottom of the pit, and died as the others looked on in helpless grief.

Then the other frog resumed his jumping with every ounce of energy he had, although his body was wracked with pain and he was completely exhausted. His companions began anew, yelling for him to accept his fate, stop the pain and just die. The weary frog jumped harder and harder and, wonder of wonders, finally leapt so high that he sprang from the pit!
Amazed, the other frogs celebrated his miraculous freedom and then gathering around him asked, “Why did you continue jumping when we told you it was impossible?” Reading their lips, the astonished frog explained to them that he was deaf, and that when he saw their gestures and shouting, he thought they were cheering him on. What he had perceived as encouragement inspired him to try harder and to succeed against all odds.


Your encouraging words can lift someone up and help them make it through the day. They can inspire someone to achieve higher goals and become a better person. Your destructive, careless words can diminish someone in the eyes of others, destroy their influence and have a lasting impact on the way others respond to them.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hallowed Ground

The following is a quote from Hallowed Ground Outdoors:

"Hallowed Ground Outdoors is the story about the roots of who we are as hunters.  It's the story about what drives us as outdoorsmen and where that passion takes us.  When we step into the outdoors, we have the privilege of standing in the presence of God through the power and majesty of His creation.  That makes hunting more than a sport or a hobby.  It's a calling to something greater.  And that transforms the places that we stand into something more than a cropfield or a pasture or a mountain.  It makes that place Hallowed Ground".

I have been blessed with two children who love the outdoors as much as I do.  What an opportunity I have as a father to use the outdoors to teach my kids about the cycle and value of life!  When a child goes hunting or fishing they endure the lows of waiting for animals that might not show up....and the occasional highs of encountering a big deer or a strong fish.  Recovering, skinning, and dressing a kill teaches them about appreciation and sacrifice. These are all life lessons that parallel the seasons in our faith and life, but the most important lesson is in the process!

When we sit in a tree we should notice if it is an Oak, maybe a Poplar, or whatever.  What does the bark smell like?  Seeing a deer blowing steam from its nostrils as the sun glistens off of the frost is majestic in its own right!  Including my kids in these activities allows me to remind them (and myself) that they aren't just engaging in a hobby.  They are taking part in a symphony from the greatest composer of all!  We must realize that the talks we have, the encouragement we give, and even the flat rocks we skip are more important than what we catch or shoot.  After a day of hunting or fishing we will either bring something home...or not. Learning to appreciate the "in between" rather than focusing on the result is where God will shows us peace, contentment, and fulfillment.   That is when we stand tall on Hallowed Ground!


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Val vs El Toro Loco

Enjoying a fresh a fresh cup of coffee before the kids awaken often allows me to ponder a few random thoughts.  Sometimes they are meaningless thoughts about the birds and squirrels I see or maybe reflections of  life in general.  This morning I am sitting here thinking of how my two boys have fallen in love with catching fish...any kind of fish.  It is a joy to watch them interact at a creek or river while on the quest for the next fish.  Their enthusiasm constantly inspires me!

Case's first name is actually "Brazos" which is the longest river in TX as well as the name of the county in which he was born.  The early Spanish explorers called it "Rio de los Brazos de Dios" translated as "The River of the Arms of God".  It flows approximately eight hundred forty miles through the center of Texas and is mentioned in many songs form all genres of music from Lyle Lovett to ZZ Top.  A battle between the Texas Navy and the Mexican Navy was fought on the Brazos during the Texas Revolution as well.  It is dammed in three places and runs along side nineteen major reservoirs before it empties into the gulf near Freeport, TX.  In Brazos County, TX there was one historic event that I haven't read about in a book.

I had heard that many monster size Catfish called the Brazos River home, and had seen evidence along fences near the river.  Locals displayed their trophies by hanging big fish heads over their fence posts.  Valerie and I decided to see if we could catch a monster so we headed to a friend's farm that would give us access.  Here, the Brazos River cut through fields and pastures and had muddy steep banks with many fallen trees.  A few head of cattle took shelter nearby as we walked through the woods with our fishing poles.  There were feral hogs all over the river valley so we took our guard dog, "Gretta Bean" just in case.

Gretta Bean was a mighty black and tan hound that stood a full eight inches tall and measured over a foot long. There was never a slice of Granny Smith Apple or any pecan half that she didn't tear to pieces and devour.  It is safe to say that we were protected.....from apples and pecans maybe...

Val and I grew up in Tennessee near the same town and went to the same schools.  We were both as country as jelly beans but I was around cattle a lot and had zero fear of the bovine critters.  I was about to discover that Valerie and I did not share in this same temperament!  As we walked up and down the edge of the high bank searching for a place to fish, a distant bull screeched.  The screech I am talking about is the classic high pitched "whoooooooh" that you hear them do all the time.  "What in the heck was that?" she exclaimed.  "A bull" I said without looking at her or breaking my stride.  After she asked me a time or two more, I paused to reassure here that he wasn't close and that there was no danger.  I did notice that here eyes had gotten sort of big and she had taken the persona of a very paranoid individual.

After a few minutes the bull "whoooooohed" a few more times as we walked passed cows on our search for water access. By this time,Val had gotten plain old skittish.  She was looking from side to side and creeping like she was stalking a cougar or something!  Our attack hound, Gretta, was happily trotting ahead of us sniffing all things stinky.  I must say that I was amused at Val's obvious fear of the distant bull.  O Father forgive me for I could not resist the temptation to be mischievous!  I fell behind her a few steps and just kept chatting with her from behind.  When the bull screeched again she asked "Can you see the bull yet?".  I didn't answer her.  I just paused a second or two and then sprinted past her.  As I passed, I was looking backwards over my shoulder and exclaimed, "You Better Run!" in my most fearful voice.  The next few seconds made Brazos River history...

I will tell you that it doesn't really matter how short your legs are.  If you have the proper motivation, you can run FAST!  Before I even had my head turned back around straight, Val had sprinted passed me, reached down and scooped Gretta Bean up, and was melting the soles off of her shoes.  Before she reached the next zip code she turned to see if I was close behind.  What she saw was me gasping on my hands and knees laughing uncontrollably.  The bull was still off in the distance but he stopped screeching and started laughing too!  As soon as the color returned to my beautiful wife's face, she chuckled a little in between all of the threats she was shouting at me.

I don't even remember wetting a line that day.  If we did, we certainly didn't catch a fish!  What would life be without a little light hearted humor?  We need to remember to live in the "now" and try to make every single day one worth writing a story about.  If we do this, it will keep our perspective and maybe make our history books a little bit thicker!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fishing



As a young boy I always loved to fish.  While I always enjoyed fishing, I had yet to be "hooked".  One day while at our own pond.......a behemoth catfish broke my twenty pound test line!   I had fought him up to the bank where he snapped the line right before my eyes!  A couple weeks later my neighbor landed that six pound Catfish.  It may have only been six pounds, but it was a whale to me! 

After hearing about the Catfish experience a man in our church told me how to fish for Largemouth Bass.  With new tackle employed, my friend and I went down to the creek.  I approached a small log with water swirling around it and tossed my "Texas Rig" beside it.  Before I even engaged the reel, my plastic worm vanished in a silvery flash while my rod was nearly jerked from my hands!  That first Bass changed my life.  Now I was officially "hooked"!  From that day forward every time I saw murky water, I saw endless possibilities and potential.  There was simply no end to the wonder and excitement I felt with each cast of the line!  It was like a lump of adrenaline contained inside my chest that could burst at any moment...or just leak tiny shots of excitement every few minutes.  

My two boys are just getting to the age where they are able to experience those same exciting feelings of heightened expectancy!  I love to see their faces light up when they feel the tug of a fighting fish.  There is something about experiencing something firsthand that separates it from just knowing it exists.  My wife has always enjoyed fishing but hasn't been for a long time.  Recently she took the kids to the pond and just happened to hook a Crappie barely bigger than a peppermint patty.  The excitement she had couldn't be contained!  

We all have a tendency to become overworked and complacent to passions we once had, but thank God for reminders!  I am glad that God never loses his excitement for His children!  Luke 15:10 says: "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents".  It is my belief that God is in heaven with a huge ball of adrenaline in His chest.  He is throwing hints at each one of us waiting for us to catch hold of His vision for our lives.  He wants an explosion of excitement so He can show up and supernaturally make the way for us.  His blessings are already there but it is up to us to grab the string and rip the sack open!  "Behold, I will do a new thing;  now it shall spring forth;  shall ye not know it?  I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert"  (Isaiah 43:19)  Oh Lord, help me to see myself and my possibilities through Your eyes and not my own!



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

God's Knees are Bruised!

As soon as I realized this I was mortified!  Especially because I know that I am to blame for this atrocity!  How did this happen?  To answer this, I must start off to say that for a while my family has been in a time of transition.

In true manly man fashion I have been re-checking where I am in life at this point versus where I think I should be...and so this behavior has replicated itself in my prayer life.  I constantly "weedle" God, trying to wear Him down to a definite response.  Of course this has had no effect so I recently formulated a plan.  My next prayer sounded something like this:  "God, I haven't heard Your answers to my questions....so until You answer me, these are my plans for what I am going to be doing."  Folks, this is just plain silly.  There is no other way to describe it.

I do believe it began to thunder....I could almost hear God cackling up in the sky as He began to laugh hysterically at my plans!  The thunder must have been Him slapping his knees while he hee-hawed and giggled at my silly ideas!  I guess He appreciated a good laugh because He immediately prompted several things in my spirit, such as:

Isaiah 55:8  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future"

Mathew 6:28  "Can any on of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

So there you have it.  If God's knees are in fact bruised, I am to blame!  We must all learn to embrace and learn from the seasons in our lives.  Sometimes no answer is "THE" answer.  Maybe when there is no answer, He is waiting for us to master the small things so that He can lead us to the big ones!




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Above Average

I have been absent from competitive cycling for several years now but recently I have found the time to start grinding in some base miles.  I haven't made any racing plans but I know the importance of laying a base down in case something changes.  The base miles are what make it possible for a cyclist to launch into full "assault" mode with little or no ill side effects of over training.

Am I just average?  I can't escape reality no matter how much I wish I could.  A few years ago, I was lean and pretty mean, entering 24 hr endurance races solo.  Now, I am grabbing granny gear like chocolate pie on the buffet just to keep rolling!  While my primary reason for riding is just because I love to do it, I confess that I truly miss the "superman" feeling of being in better shape.  In due time I will feel like Super Man again, after a couple thousand miles of sweat have paid their dues.

My last ride was thirty one miles and took a couple ticks over two hours...average at best.  As I rolled up the driveway with one of my lungs dangling out of my mouth, my two young boys shrieked "Daddy you're back!".  They squealed in excitement and sprinted to hug me bundled in their thickest winter clothes.  At that moment, they hugged every bit of pain out of my body.  My house could have been burning behind me and I wouldn't have cared. The joy and satisfaction my two boys bring to me are indescribable!

Any man who hasn't embraced his role as a father is missing the boat!  As a father, a man needs to lay down the "base miles" for his children as Christ did for us.  How else will they be able to respond to the seasons in their lives without missing a beat?  God gave us His son to set the example. I want my boys to be mentally aware and hard wired to act and react to life in a Godly manner.  What better way is there to teach this but to lead by example?   It can make them tougher than a pine knot and steadier than a rail when their time to launch into "assault" mode arrives!  As a biker, being average is acceptable.  As a father, not even close!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Val's Scary Fish

Take a moment and picture your version of a perfect day of fishing.  It probably involves beautiful scenery, a perfect day, and an image of yourself fighting with a big fish.  To be completely honest, I don't know how many...if any...fish were caught on this particular warm summer evening.  My wife Valerie, Daren, and I were fishing in a flat bottomed boat in an old isolated gravel pit pond.  This was a peaceful place away from everything, and it contained an abundance of  bass along with the occasional big catfish.

We fished for a couple hours casting for bass while each of us had a catfish rig hanging peacefully off the side of the boat.  To display an accurate picture of how "professional" we must have looked, we always kept our trusty .22 rifle in the boat to shoot the bigger fish as soon as they surfaced.  This kept them from getting free or snapping the line during the fight to get them completely in the boat.  Daren was barefoot of course, and wore his usual frayed, scissor shortened Liberty brand overalls.  His paper sack of "flea market wonder" fishing lures was present.  Valerie was a beautiful sun tanned country girl with sunglasses and shorts.  Insert mental image here: Val-- "country music video girl casting her line" in slow motion.  As for me, I am telling the story, so I was naturally the the smartest one in the boat.  We'll leave it at that.

As the evening sun sank into the horizon, we all knew that we had time for only a few more casts before we had to pack it up.  Daren was switching lures every other cast at this point trying to surprise any wise old fish with something weird.  While rustling through his paper sack, he noticed that he had a toy rubber snake inside.  As he gestured and showed it to me, we engaged in a silent conversation with our eyes and hands while Val gazed at the sunset over her fishing pole....

Daren baited his catfish rig with that rubber snake.  He let it sink to the bottom and must have waited for fifteen more minutes for "dusky dark" to arrive.  Then suddenly, he sprang up from his seat, shaking the boat, and shouted "Got a big one!"  He really played up a fight by making his rod dip into the water and dart from this direction and that.  The whole pond had erupted with excitement!  We were all whooping and shrieking with anticipation!   As he reeled the line in closer, he caught a glimpse of the snake and knew it was close enough.  "Grab the line Valerie!" he barked as it seemed to pull his rod toward her side of the boat.  Excited, she leaned way over the boat's side and reached for his line.  At that exact moment, Daren jerked the snake up out of the water and began shaking it right in front of her.  "Snake!" she screamed as she scramble backward.  I don't think at this point she would still appear like the "romantic country music video girl" from earlier.  In fact, I'd say that my wife actually levitated above that boat for an instant while still managing to kick over everything within eight feet of her short legs!  In an instant, Daren had to drop his fishing pole, and literally football tackle her to keep her from jumping overboard.  During the commotion, he had to bear hug her for a bit longer to keep her in the boat!  Me?  I was already slumped over from oxygen deprivation from laughing so hard.

Her eyes were bigger than silver dollars, and after she realized that it was a joke, came her barrage of swats and threats...like "I am gonna keeel y'all!", and "you just wait!"...."it goes both ways!"...etc.... Of course she was shouting all these threats between long flurries of laughter.  I will never forget the simultaneous look of terror and surprise on her face!  The sound of Daren's raspy laugh mixed in with our own will be ingrained in my memory forever.  I am sure that the laughter continued long after we left as the bull frogs and the mud turtles compared their own accounts of the event.

God puts us all here for a reason.  If we seek after Him and live according to His will and purpose for our lives, random funny moments like these can come about so easily.  Casting our cares on Him enables us to live with a "carefree attitude" that makes life less stressful and more memorable! Don't worry about tomorrow, just have some fun today and make some good memories.

 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Long May You Ride

Most of my stories are meant to be either funny or inspirational.  This one is a retrospective of a good friend who is no longer with us.

As I was growing up I was the "baby" of the family.  Being the "baby" meant that I was the third wheel when any of my three older brothers would go horseback riding, tromping through the woods, fishing, or shooting guns.   They were all great about wanting to include me in their jaunts.  Even their friends were were very accepting of having me along.  One such friend was a neighbor named Daren.

His parents and my parents were great friends so naturally he was one of the crew.  At different times throughout the years, he sort of became "hang out" buddies with two of my brothers.  I could write an entire book on some of the crazy and hilarious pranks he and my brothers pulled while in high school.  As time went on, my brothers all went to work or college and Daren stayed around.  I can remember one or two summers where Daren, Slick (another neighbor), and I would load up into his classic 69' Chevy pickup and go fishing from sunrise till after dark every day.  We'd show up at 9:30 pm at my house and start cleaning and cooking fish.  Then we'd eat and talk till my mom would be nodding off at the table!  The next day we'd leave early and do it all over again.

Daren was extremely witty, so much so that our conversation would already be over, before I would actually "get" the joke or pun he'd just made.  Anyone meeting him for the first time would always be entertained by having a conversation with him.  He was also a natural born leader.  People would gravitate toward him and just sort of go along with whatever he was doing at the time.  Some of the biggest church-youth group shindigs I can remember as a kid were a result of his coordinating.

On the other hand, when he wasn't taking me fishing or participating in the youth group at church he gained a reputation as the ultimate party animal.  Being crazy, driving fast, drinking, pulling pranks etc....were his calling cards.  He had also gained a reputation as a person with "sticky fingers".  People would warn me about running around with him because he had been accused of stealing antiques out of old home places and barns.  These accusations were valid.

As I got closer to graduating high school, Daren had put in an antique shop in town and had been trolling around on an old Huffy bicycle.  He often rode by our house, stopping in to eat with us on occasion and began prodding me to get a bike.  As a result of his nagging I eventually went with him to Walmart and brought home a Murray mountain bike.   I figured I'd need one for college later anyway.  Minutes after we got the green Murray unloaded, Daren and I were riding down a country road.  I remember being amazed at how a bike with gears made it easy to cover lots of ground!  A few days later, we had my next oldest brother along...then again and again.  Soon after this, we began attacking logging roads and ATV trails.  Little did I know then that this would change my life forever.

After I got married I began to see less and less of Daren.   My wife and I spent several years out of state and when we returned he had really "fallen off the deep end".  He had really been doing this for a while and we had just chose not to associate with him.  More often I would hear of him "almost getting caught" stealing.  He'd be at church every Sunday for a month, then he'd stop coming again.  I would frequently see him out somewhere stoned out of his mind.  It reached a point to where hes was not welcome in most places.  At times he'd show up at my house or my mother's house wired up and talking at 110 mph about his plans....then he'd vanish.  One evening recently, he finally was freed from his demons by a ditch bank on the side of a highway.

Before his death, he had burned almost every bridge he had ever crossed, hurting lots of people along the way.  There was no denying that he had stole from half of the community.  People seem to focus on these points as they were the most prevalent parts of his existence over the last ten or fifteen years of his life.  While I do not condone his behavior in any way, I'd like to point out a few of the things he influenced in my life.

First of all, he taught me at a young age how important it was to appear confident even if I wasn't.  He taught me the proper way to hold a fork and spoon.  He was an excellent fisherman and the quickest shot with a .22 rifle I have ever seen in person.  Through his actions he showed me how an upbeat and optimistic person was a welcome addition to any group of people.  He was a free spirit and always willing to try something for fun.  Once we positioned our flat bottom boat atop a steep gravel bank beside the river since there was nowhere to launch the boat.  He got in, grabbed his seat and ushered us to push him off the bank.  With a loud roar he hollered as the boat skidded down the bank...all to come to a halt just before the water's edge!  This was followed by lots of laughter and a good day's fishing and joking.

I know that Daren is in heaven now because I know that he accepted Jesus into his heart.  Many of his actions here on earth were contrary to a Godly existence, but he had "everlasting life" like anyone else who believes in Jesus's name.  Daren lied, cheated, and stole from lots of people during his life but he also left a few gifts along the way.  In my life, the memory of his wittiness and raspy laugh will always make me smile.  He was the best fishing partner I have ever known and I can't remember a single time that he wasn't fun to be around.  He lives on in my house when I show my kids the silly "Chicken Scratch" and "Tater Dig" dances that he used to do to the beat of loud music.  Sometimes, while talking to people, my inner monologue still wants to use some of his sayings...but they might not be so appropriate most times!

Lastly, I have Daren to thank for introducing me to the sport of cycling.  It is the consequence of this one thing that I have made some of the most cherished and worthwhile relationships in my life.  Some people who have had the most profound influences in my life have came into my life because of the BIKE.  I never feel  more free than when I am watching the horizon and feeling the wind in my face from a bicycle.  During the years since he begged me to buy that cheap mountain bike, I have joined groups, sweated, hurt, laughed, competed, and stayed physically fit on the bike.  Yes, there have been stretches when I have not ridden my bike for months on end, but it is always there.  And now, as a father I have two boys who ask me all the time to take them riding!  I only have one answer for that question....YES!  My wife loves bicycles too!  Isn't it funny how something that might seem insignificant now can turn out to be very significant later?  I pray that I affect people in a positive way that might change their lives down the road too.  Daren was a hard friend to have, but a friend he was.

So to Daren, I say "Thank you my friend.  Long may you ride!".  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Thanksgiving Pondering....

Usually around the Thanksgiving holiday in November people start talking about all the things they are thankful for.  I hear people say all sorts of wonderful things such as their "church families" to just being thankful for "life", a "dog" or a "dependable car".  Often, people use social media such as "facebook" to list things they are thankful for each day during November.  Personally, I think this is great!  A person who lives with a thankful heart is definitely a happier person!

While I can appreciate these acknowledgements of being thankful,  there is an underlying blessing that some probably miss.  A person who is thankful for money, a dependable car, or any other inanimate object are really not thankful for the specific item.  They are really thankful for the peace that it brings.  Money is just paper and metal.  Cars and houses are just boxes for us to drive around or live in.  The peace that those things offer us is the real blessing.  

Above all other things, I am thankful for PEACE.  I am thankful for the peace in my heart knowing that Jesus died for my sin.  Since I know this I don't have to ponder the hereafter.  When His word tells me that my hairs are numbered and his plans for me a nothing but good, that gives me supreme peace of mind!  Knowing that I am the "head and not the tail, above and not beneath", and that "no weapon formed against me shall prosper"....folks, that is peace smothered in gravy and served with imported coffee from heaven!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

It is already Fall!

When I started this blog, I intended to post with some form of regularity -sometimes for fun -other times to serve as a timeline/journal of our new life in TN.  It is approaching two years since our return home to Tennessee and the soon after birth of Eric Colt Barber!  Time really flies when you are renovating a property and raising a young family!  It is the beginning of September, 2011 and I still have several projects to get done before rainy season.  Most importantly, I need to finish repairing and painting the exterior trim and put on new shingles.  When winter arrives here in this part of the country, it rains and stays wet till spring! 

Our house belonged to my grandparents on my father's side.  I estimated that I would have it finished by May of 09'.  It is now September of 2011 and still needs one bedroom, one bathroom, the hallway, roof, exterior paint, and several yard projects to have it up to "maintain only" status.  Let me just say, it has been a ride!  Sometimes I become frustrated and overwhelmed with all of the projects only to have my wife remind me of how bad it really was when we started!  After seeing a few old pictures, I am over all the frustrations.  I guess we really should have torn it down and started from scratch!  Oh well, now we have a sentimental home with lots of character. 

On all the pretty days, I spend my time with a pile of axes, chainsaws, shovels etc... and a tractor.  Over the years, under growth has taken over some of the smaller decorative plantings, old tree stumps etc...  Those of you familiar with this blog will grin at the fact that I am still using "Old Blue", the infamous Romanian tractor, for box blading, discing the garden, pulling stumps, etc....  I usually end up with a sore left quadriceps from mashing the 75 lb clutch pedal that requires me standing to mash, sore shoulders (from no power steering), and an aggravated crick in my neck.  The crick I believe originates from sleeping in a contorted pile of little Barber boys who slip into mommy and daddy's bed during the small hours.  To defend that old tractor, I will say that it now has a fresh engine and a few other updates.  It is utterly dependable, but will leave you feeling abused after every session!  When possible, I usually grab the 8N Ford...now THAT is a fine old tractor!

Case and Colt are growing like garden weeds, Val has her "dream job", and I am staying home with the boys and renovating the house for now.  We are always busy, but making lots of memories along the way.  We put in a huge garden this year which I will cover in a future writing.  Deer season is looming over us, and already I have decided to sit out bow season due to time constraints.  I will be gun hunting this season with my polished stainless 4 5/8" Ruger New Vaquero chambered in 45 Colt.  It has beautiful burl wood grips and a Bisley hammer.....I guess I'd better get to work now!  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Run-Away Flatbed

Once while Ben and I were tooling around his parent's farm, we spied an old truck.  It was a big two ton  cab-over flatbed truck that was hiding in the tall weeds behind a farrowing barn.  "What's the story on that old truck?" I asked.  "Dad used it a long time ago to haul stuff" he replied.  It was sitting there all by itself, kind of peacefully aging in what seemed to be its death bed.  As curious teenage farm boys so often do, we decided to venture through the weeds and investigate.

As we climbed over the front wheel and plopped down in the dusty vinyl seats we could smell that unique "big truck smell".  I won't say that it is a particularly pleasant smell though. You might could imagine the old farm truck.  It would have certainly spent long days sitting beside dusty fields, occasionally getting rained in.  Also, the dust, corn feed, and grit from years of use had formed a thin crust on the floorboard that crumbled under our feet.  All of these things plus old potato chip sacks and coke bottles combined to have that distinctly pungent "big truck smell".  Neither bad, nor good, it is just distinct.  As our nostrils filled with that smell we gazed at all of those gauges, levers, and buttons.  How invigorating it would be to be able to drive such a monster!  Bear in mind, that we were probably not even fourteen yeas old at this time.

We admired the wagon wheel sized steering wheel and crooked gearshift while noticing how high up we were.  You could see everything from up there!  It was then that one of us noticed the key in the ignition.  "Do you think it would start?" I asked.  "I know one way to find out!" chuckled Ben.  With no further discussion of the matter, Ben reached over hastily and turned the key.  The next thing we knew, the big ugly beast roared to life as if it was thanking us for one last shot at glory.  There was no pumping the accelerator, spinning the starter, or anything...just VROOM!  We were dumbfounded as we looked at one another with our eyes bigger than half dollars.  The old rascal was saying "Point me somewhere and lets GO!".

Seeing as it was Ben's tail on the line, and not mine, if someone were to be displeased about us hi-jacking the old spook, I hoped he was gonna try to drive it.  I gave him all the encouragement he needed simply by being in the passenger seat.  Ben was not a person in need of  ANY encouragement about things like this.  He is the very definition of "shoot first, ask questions later".  I could really envision him shooting a case of ammo into the woods and then walking in to see if he hit anything.  From watching his dad drive, he knew how everything worked so it was no more than half a second before the surge of granny gear slammed my head backwards.  We were off! 

For a few minutes we circled the farrowing barn, drove through the weeds, and over big bumps in awe of how high up we were.  This big old truck would go anywhere you pointed it with those big tires!  Ben and I both were avid ATV'ers, so it wasn't long before we were bored with this spot.  Nearby was a drive that would take us deeper into their farm.  It promised to lead to bigger and better ways for us to be manly truck drivers.  Up to this point, granny gear was about as fast as we had gone.  We would power up the little embankments around the barn and let the engine slow us down on the return. 

Once we got to the main road, in typical "Ben Fashion", he floor-boarded the old monster, and then found another gear.  It probably wasn't second gear either, because I remember it being much much faster than granny gear.  The truck was doing us proud while celebrating its new found freedom.  It throttled up and was humming along at about ten miles per hour when all of a sudden a clump of wires dangling from underneath the dash began to move...a lot.  He motioned for me to look at it since the engine noise was too loud to talk over.  As we were looking more under the dash than at the road, we noticed that it was a BIG SNAKE shaking those wires!  At that instant, it thrust itself downward into the floor board and went crazy!  I don't remember seeing Ben even try to stop before he flung his door open and jumped out!  Well, I wasn't about to sit in a truck being driven by a chicken snake, so I jumped out too!  Once I got off the ground from my little tumble, the rear of the truck was passing by, leaving nothing but thin air between Ben and I. 
We couldn't really say anything other than some colorful words we wouldn't want our mothers to hear.  We trotted behind the runaway beast in panic.  Thankfully, it was only seconds before it edged into the ditch and died.  No one was coming down the road, and no one got hurt. Whew!  As soon as the adrenalin began to subside, we began to laugh hysterically.  Then we began to ponder what the consequences for Ben would be when his dad got home.  "We could get back in and park it back where it was" I said.  Ben replied "If we get back in YOU ARE DRIVING!".  Needless to say, I had no plans in my near future of re-entering that cab, so we just left it there.  It was crooked, in a ditch, on the side of the road. 

Soon, Ben's father returned home from work.  After being informed of the day's events, his dad laughed in his usual subdued manner.  Charles Wayne's little chuckle, Ben and I learned throughout our young years, had the unspoken words, "did you learn anything?" concealed inside.  It turns out there were no consequences for our adventure, and his dad returned the beast to it's hiding place.  Although there were many other joy rides, none had chicken snake doing the driving.  Memories like this remind me of how blessed I was, even before I realized, to grow up in the country with loving families and friends all around.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Staying on Task!

Did you ever hear of "Murphy's Law"?  It is the old saying; "anything that can go wrong will go wrong".  I generally scoff at such blankets of negativism spoken over an activity but I can't deny that I give Mr. Murphy a margin of respect.  I usually try to minimize his presence by planning for the worst and hoping for the best.  Recently, I discovered a clause that should be added to "Murphy's Law". It has to do with staying on task.

My in-laws were building a new home so I volunteered to mow their construction site with our newly acquired tractor.  This grand old tractor was acquired to replace two smaller tractors and was to be the saving grace of our property.  It turned out to not be so grand after all.  I won't go into mechanical details, but suffice to say that this blue tractor was more "tired" than we originally thought.  To be efficient, I planned for the mowing to take more time than I deemed necessary and fired up old Blue.  Then I headed eight miles down the highway to be a good son-in-law. 

Things went smoother than fresh butter running off of hot corn bread. I clipped along in high gear and arrived at their home-to-be in thirty minutes.  It took a couple hours to mow the grassy lot, visit with "Papi", and head back for home.  This was demonstrating to my wife that I was "the man with the plan".  I was staying on task to boot!  She had expressed doubts about me finishing early enough to work on our renovation project.  She never actually "said" anything to express those doubts.  It was more of a "look" on her face when I announced my plans for the day.  A woman truly does have a special type of intuition. 

My brother owns a nice deer hunting spot along the way and had recently mentioned mowing it. As I clattered toward home on the blue beast, I could see his deer property across the way.  The road leading in was very grown up!  I wouldn't want to drive my truck through all those weeds!  So I made a sharp turn into the easement intending to mow one swipe going in and one swipe coming out.  This would create a ten foot wide "driving" path. It shouldn't take more than ten minutes, if even that!  From this point forward, it would be safe to say that I was officially OFF TASK and might as well have invited Murphy to come ride the tractor with me.

Eagerly, I shut off the engine on Blue so I could engage the PTO and start it up again.  If you are not familiar with tractors, you should NOT have to kill the engine to engage the PTO...Blue will sound off a gear grinding symphony if you don't take this extra step.  Despite this inconvenience, Blue roared right back to life with the bush hog singing.  I started mowing in "granny gear" just to be safe.  Slowly I mowed along the easement leaving a clean path behind the tractor.  About fifty feet into my off task endeavor, Murphy arrived.  There was a deep wash-out hiding in the weeds!  Before I saw it,  my front wheels fell into the wash-out, hitting so hard it rattled my teeth!  My feet flailed off the foot boards as the tractor's front end hit bottom and bounced up and down.  Before I could stop the madness, the rear tires caught traction mashing the front wheels into the soft dirt on the other side.  This caused the steering wheel to spin like a tazmanian devil in my hands. In just a couple of seconds, I saw Jesus, got beat half to death, and had my achy back re-adjusted!  I eventually pressed the clutch and got the fiasco under control. Then I eased backwards out of the mess and it seemed that the only thing damaged was my nerves...

I could hear my inner voice pleading that it would be best to quit now and drive home while I was ahead.  After all, my brother planned to mow it himself but who really listens to that silly inner voice anyway?  In true manly-man fashion dodged the wash-out,  and mowed all the way down and back again.  Voila!  It seemed I had just given Mr. Murphy a bloody nose...then I tried to make the right hand turn to get back on the highway.  Blue "veered" in that direction, but he sure wasn't "turning"!  Well Dang!  Dumbfounded, I dismounted and walked around to assess the problem,  The "steering arm" is a long (straight) steel rod connecting the steering gear box to the front axles enabling you to turn right and left.  I had bent it into a "C" shape like a archers bow! I now had a friggin' tractor that would turn left, but only "merge" right!

This story ought to end here with me phoning in some help and repairing the tractor on the spot.  It doesn't.  There is an unspoken "code" among "good ole country boys" like me that connects pride to ego like an umbilical cord.  This "code" is the idea that getting something that you broke home without help is the true mark of an intelligent man.  As long as I was driving down the road, veering is all I really needed to do anyway!  I joyously wobbled toward home in high gear and ALMOST made it there before Blue's engine began to sputter.  Noticing that I was going to be stranded,  I veered into the ditch to avoid blocking traffic.  A few minutes and a phone call ascertained that the jarring impact from my little episode had dislodged some trash in the fuel tank.  This trash had sucked into the the fuel line, clogging it!  In a few aggravated minutes, I jerked the rubber fuel line off and blew into it with my mouth to unclog the line.  There's nothing quite like the taste of good old diesel fuel in the mouth....Yummy. 

It worked!  In a moment I was hitting the starter button!  In case you haven't run a diesel engine out of fuel.....don't.  The entire fuel system usually needs to be bled out in order for it to start up again. A passing neighbor saw me grinding on the starter and took pity on me.  He was carrying a can of ether!  Ether is a highly flammable gas that many people consider unsafe for use around engines.  It has been known to cause air cleaners to explode!  Angry enough to be totally care-free by this time, I told John to spray it into the breather until Blue started or we both fainted from the fumes.  Eureka!  Now I would finally get home.  Thank you Jesus!  This tale really ought to end here, but sadly, it doesn't.  Murphy wanted to help me repair the tractor!

Early the the next morning I took my three year old son "Case" outside with me to witness the repair.  To a redneck the word "repair" is a relative term.  Repairing the steering arm for us was going to involve a sledge hammer and a tree stump.  After removing it I laid the steering arm on the stump and knelt beside it.  Then I began to pound it.  Picture the game at the circus where you try to ring the bell by using the big hammer to hit a pad.  This beating with the hammer made me feel all hairy chested like I was getting back at someone.  Suddenly, I felt a fire ant bite me on the arm but when I looked down to brush it off....I saw four million MORE ants on me from by boots to my shirt collar!  The stump I was using for an anvil was their home!  Case, ironically named after high quality, American tractors, really enjoyed my skat dance.  He giggled as he watched me running, swatting, wiggling, and shedding clothes while singing a medley of garbled words!

Eventually Blue got repaired and this is where the story ends.  My son, who is named after a good tractor, witnessed cheap entertainment while watching me fix a Romanian hunk of steel.  Murphy's Law is like a snowball rolling down a hill.  It has a way of starting small and getting larger as it continues.  Getting off task must be one of Murphy's favorite triggers....as I have discovered on numerous occasions.  Stay on task! Plan for a few hiccups and Murphy will watch you from the shadows.  Get off task or ignore a woman's intuition and prepare to get snowballed!