Stupid Is As Stupid Does


Forrest Gump had it right.

Sometimes it can be so obviously stupid there’s no excuse.  And if you’re lucky, you get a wake up call with nothing worse than a good scare.

Like the time years ago when I was cruising down what I thought was deserted rural highway, driving an SUV with no brakes.

There it was. My first mistake. Driving a vehicle with no brakes. But instead of telling my boss to find another sucker, I did what I was told. I was young, ignorant and a lot of other things.

And thanks to my dad, I was also not comfortable with questioning authority.

I was also getting a break from driving a tractor all day. I figured I’d drop off the SUV, have a couple of burgers and a shake, and then catch a ride with the guy I was supposed to meet up with back to where I was working that summer, a big corporate farm located in the high desert of Southern Idaho.

Sometimes the thought of a burger and shake can override all reason.

But what I didn’t expect to happen was playing chicken in a vehicle with no brakes with a crop duster that was using a straight stretch of the highway as a landing strip.

So, there I was, cruising down the highway at 60 mph, seconds from running head on into an airplane.  I had enough time to know I didn’t want to crash into the propeller. With a twitch of my hand, I dumped the SUV into the ditch on the right, careened underneath the plane’s left wing, and then with another hand twitch, I was launched up the gravel covered side of a culvert that was blocking the ditch, and flew back out onto the road.  I was still doing 45 mph.  My left arm was still propped onto the window sill.  I coasted to a stop, and pulled over to the side of the road and waited there until the shaking stopped all the while keeping an eye on the rear view mirror. I didn’t want that pilot racing up and kicking my ass.  I then crept the rest of the way to the repair shop in Idaho Falls and kept my near death experience to myself.

The wasn’t the last time I did anything stupid the summer I worked as a farmhand at Beaver Creek Ranch, but I did learn about the importance of brakes, and the value of luck.

And I still wonder from time to time how that pilot might tell his side of the story:

“Well, see, I was flying crop dusters in Eye-dee-ho. It was that summer Nixon resigned. We were using the highway right near the fields we were working as a landing strip. You know, to refuel and load fertilizer and pesticides and such.  So, I come in for a landing and this crazy sonofabitch, instead of pulling over to the side of the highway and letting me pass like any right minded Christian would do, well, he comes right at me like we were playing chicken or something.  I didn’t have enough time to get in the air. Just closed my eyes, if you wanna know the truth of it. But at the last goddamn second, that fucker turns into the ditch, and my wing goes right over the top of him.  Clipped his radio antenna.  I figure he had to be one of those long haired draft dodging hippies on drugs or something. I near shit my pants. . . ” 











The loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose


Like most people, I take some things for granted.

The sun rising tomorrow morning?  Check. Death? Oh, yeah. Taxes? Ditto. My sense of smell? Well, that too.

Until I lost it.

I’m still not sure what caused it. Maybe the nasty, lingering head cold that tantalized me with false recoveries along the way is to blame.

Or maybe it’s something else.

My doctor figured I had a sinus infection, a leftover present from that cold.  Until an x-ray and then CT scan indicated otherwise.  He’s been left scratching his head.  And because doctors can’t be left looking like they don’t have any answers, he’s recommending more tests.

I’m wondering if chasing a reason is a waste of time and money.  I’ll either get my sense of smell back, or I won’t.

In the meantime, I best get used to living in a world that’s deprived of the kind of depth, color and dimension that only smells and taste can provide.  At my age, it is just one more loss to add to a long and growing list of losses.

How we deal with loss (or not), as a wise friend once said, is what defines us in the end.  I suppose that’s true.  Not the only thing that defines us, but certainly one of them. Of course, all losses aren’t equal.  Some are barely noticed (maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are) while others can be profound and life changing.

That’s how I’ve come to view the loss of my sense of smell. I didn’t realize how disruptive it would be to lose it, how much losing it would also affect my sense of taste, and how profoundly I would miss it when it was gone.

“Gotta enough garlic in this sauce?” my wife asks.

“I have no idea,” I say but what I’m thinking is “goddamnit.”

The heady aroma of simmering garlic. I can’t imagine a more perfect smell. One of God’s great creations, the smell of garlic simmering in a pan (along with bacon and a few other dozen things I could mention) are a joy to behold.  The wonderful emotions and memories that are evoked by those aromas. . . all gone for the moment.  When I crush a handful of the fresh oregano I grow in a container near the front steps and raise the bruised leaves to my nose, I smell nothing.  When my wife comments about the hot sappy smell of pine trees as we hike along on a mountain trail in the late summer, I nod and smile, but I can only imagine how it must smell.  I missed out on the first fragrance from spring lilacs, garden roses this summer, and the rich heady smell of blackberries this autumn. I can’t tell you how much I miss the baby smell of my new granddaughter, or the comforting familiar fragrance of my wife of many years when I nuzzle her neck.

I’ve also lost something more subtle: the way in which some memories are evoked by certain smells.  Of course, they’re still there in some hidden crevice in my mind, but there is something about a smell that can bring them back sudden, fresh and new.  I remember a few years ago, riding my bike on the back roads south of Walla Walla.  I crested a small rise, and then followed the road as it swooped down along a wet, cottonwood-lined ravine. The aroma hit me like a snowball in the face and I was six-years-old again, back on my grandparent’s Sunnyside farm, standing ankle deep in the irrigation ditch that flowed behind their farmhouse beneath the cottonwood trees that kept it shaded and cool.

Lately, I’ve started getting hints of smells.  Nothing more than sparks, but I hope they’re a sign that my sense of smell is coming back, and not just ghosts.

I guess the one thing I haven’t lost yet is hope.  By any traditional definition, it isn’t one of our five senses, but I like to think of it as a stealth sense, and perhaps the most important one of all.  And not just when it comes to lost smell.


TV via “Peasantvision”or how we got rid of DirectTV

antennaA few weekends ago, we finally dropped our satellite TV service with DirectTV.  I’d been agitating to do it for a few months. Notification of yet another price increase finally convinced my wife, Sandy to go along.

Ours is a fairly typical story.  We were paying for a bunch of channels we never watched, a handful of other channels we only rarely watched.  Prices were always inching up. Yearly cost for the privilege of having all those channels we never watched?  Nearly $1,000.

I’d reviewed the options, considered SlingTV or changing providers.  Comcast is the other option in our area, and we’d heard enough horror stories about them not to consider it.

That left internet-only options or a combination of new school, and old school. We went with the combination, “peasantvision”, TV via the antenna I installed on the roof, augmented with Hulu and NetFlix.

Turns out, the hard part was actually wading through the crap DirectTV makes you put up with when you cancel their service.  The actual conversion to broadcast was fairly easy. Here’s a summary of what I did.  Start to finish I spent about 2 hours.

  1. Start with this. Google “TV reception maps” and use one of the results to check signal strength in your area.  Check with friends and neighbors who have gone cable/satellite sober and see what they’ve done. If you have plenty of options, move on to step 2.
  2. Buy an antenna.  I paid Amazon $30 for a roof antenna. Again, plenty of choices here so read reviews and check with friends and neighbors who have already done what you’re doing.
  3. Install the antenna on the roof. For me, this was fairly easy. I took down the old dish (DirectTV didn’t want it back), and bolted the antenna to the already existing stand on my roof. I also reused the already installed coaxial cable, using a “splitter” to take the one line from the antenna and split the signal for the lines going to my TVs.  I pointed the antenna in the direction of the broadcast sources.
  4. Back inside the house, I installed signal boosters with each TV.  The coaxial lines from the antenna (formerly from the dish) then plugged into the “in” port on my signal booster. I ran another short length of cable from the “out” port to the antenna port on the back of my TVs.
  5. Last step, I then used the TV’s setup to scan for channels.  It found 49 of them. Wow.

That was it. We use Chromecast to watch Hulu and Netflix. There are other options that work just as well.  We’re now getting all the major broadcast networks including PBS, and a bunch of others.

The Tao of the Trombone


The other day I realized that I’ve been playing the trombone for nearly 50 years.  And during that time, it hasn’t just been my musical instrument of choice, but a teacher.  It began shaping me when I was ten-years-old, and continues to do its work even now. In our age of distraction, it reminds me every time I sit down to play or practice that the rewards from music-making increase the more time and attention I give to my horn. I can’t play for five minutes, flit onto something else, and have any hope in maintaining my chops, let alone improve them and my technique.

In other words, devoting myself to the trombone has taught me the value of discipline and delayed gratification, the value of hard and persistent effort over not just days and weeks, but months and years. I’ve learned that even mediocrity takes effort. And finally, I’ve been taught the joy of being part of a collective effort – a duo, trio, quartet, combo, band, orchestra and so – sublimating and blending my individual contribution into a large whole can at times produce something that is transcendent.

The goal is beauty. How many other activities can claim that?

In part, I suppose, I believe in God because of music. When I’ve been playing my trombone, I’ve had moments where I’ve been part of something that has been close to perfect.  At those rare moments, I’ve felt something akin to an electric charge race up my spine and been nearly overwhelmed with joy.

I suppose some scientist could explain my feelings away, dismissing it as a byproduct of some hormone or another triggered by something or other.

Bullshit, I say.

I’m convinced that those feelings are God-inspired, and in some strange mystical way, at those moments, I’m within shouting distance of the outskirts of heaven.

What I’ve also discovered is that music isn’t the only way to get there.   I’ve had the same feelings of joy rowing in an eight-man shell, racing across Lake Washington’s bone smooth water in the pink light of early morning, oars rising and falling to a cosmic rhythm. It is still a mystery to me how playing a trombone can be like rowing a Pocock-built racing shell or climbing a mountain.

I have some ideas, but there’s also joy in contemplating the mystery.







After 17 months, Gracie is done. finishedwherry

And here’s what I started with:



Unlike the celebrations and inaugural launches I’ve seen on YouTube, the inaugural launch of Gracie was low key as fitting a high functioning introvert like me.  Just Sandy and me. No marching band. No champagne. I backed my truck up to the boat launch at the Port of Kingston, pulled her off the bed extension and set her gently in the water, locked in the oars, responded to a few comments from  some fisherman, took a few photographs, and then I was off, pulling out into Appletree Cove.

It was a big moment.  And yet I felt terribly out of sorts. On one hand, I had been working hard to get her done and out on the water before summer was completely  gone. But “done” meant I had to say goodbye to a routine that had become as anticipated as a greeting from an old friend.  When I wasn’t working on my boat, I was often thinking about what I was going to do next, and when I was about to attempt something I’d never done before – and I had plenty of those with this project – I was wrestling with how in the hell I was going to do them without committing an error so egregious it would ruin everything.  The project was very nearly all consuming at times, but more importantly, it was real, unlike so much of what I do.  In other words, it’s hard to sink your teeth into web-based training courses, but my boat was something I could quite literally bite, and I certainly breathed enough of her dust when I was sanding to make darn sure she was part of me in a way that wasn’t particularly healthy.

Enjoy. It’s a fairly common word with a less commonly used worked, joy, buried inside.  But that’s the word I would use to describe every moment of this project. It was a joy from start to finish, and now I’m experiencing a different kind of joy when I take it out on the water.

Delayed Gratification


One final coat of sea green polyurethane was the exclamation point to finishing the exterior hull of my wherry.  Now, it’s on to the interior with another coat of epoxy needed followed up by four or five coats of varnish.

I think the sea green adds a nice accent to the white planks below and the warm mahogany rail above.  The mahogany is a little dirty right at the moment, but once I clean up the white primer and finish with the varnish I think that line will be nice and clean looking. It helps to have a color expert as a wife!

I’m sure I’ll have a heart attack the first time I scrape the hull over some rocks or run over a piece of driftwood, but so it goes. I can’t imagine a worse fate for a boat than to be stuck in a garage or storage unit year after year. In other words, Gracie is meant to be rowed, and rowed a lot, and the best gift I can give my wherry and myself would be to row it so much I wear her out.

So, the exterior hull was initially covered with three coats of epoxy.  I followed that up with three coats of primer, and finished it off with five coats of white Interlux Brightside polyurethane, and four coats of Interlux sea green.  There was a couple of hours of sanding required after each coat except for the last one.

This project is many things but certainly an exercise in delayed gratification. But that makes moments like this all the sweeter, and the anticipation is growing for that first time I slip her into the water and head out across Appletree Cove.

Sandy is suggesting we have a christening of some sorts and invite everyone who has been following my progress. I suppose that would be okay,  though that’s not really my style.

But that’s next month. Now it’s time for a Black Butte Porter.

Or two.



And now painting

wherryAh, the clarity that comes from painting.  Imperfections unnoticed by eye or fingertip are revealed and I am once again thwarted by the sore fact that perfection is but a Siren’s song never to be attained this side of the veil.

That doesn’t, however, prevent me from continuing to throw myself against that particular rock. I can do nothing else. It is in my nature.

But after four coats of primer and three coats of white polyurethane, I must admit that my wherry looks pretty darn good.  I have two more coats of white to go, followed up by four or five coats of sea green on the top plank.  And then I get to flip it over and finish the inside with one more coat of epoxy and four or five coats of varnish.

Maybe an August launch?  That is one hope, anyway.