The Blue Heron

Barb and I set out on our Tandem Two’sDay bicycle before sunrise one June morning of 1989. Our goal was to enjoy ham and eggs and a biscuit at a cafe 14 miles from home.

Not yet in the groove, as it were, we were both deep in thought rather than conversation. We’d traveled about four miles when we came upon a blue heron feeding in a roadside stream. He failed to notice us until we were about ten years away.

Unfortunately, the vegetation made his escape difficult. But he soon made enough room for his wing span and beat a hasty retreat across a grassy meadow, croaking like a frog.

And we had something to discuss.

The Furlough

by Scott B. Laughlin

Copyright 1996

Most young men seem willing to go

Right to the line howbeit they know

‘Twas no different for Marv and me

Adventure was for both I and he

It began in the spring of fifty-eight

That we took leave on the same date

And set out for a Missouri farm

Practicing curiosity and charm

Our furlough sped past in a great flash

As did most of our borrowed cash

A week later we met in Rich Hill

With between us a five-dollar bill

We wiped the tears of our Maids’ dread

Then toward Carolina we both sped

If late returning to base we were

Trouble for us would surely occur

But we signed in just in time

With but a penny and one thin dime.

Word Power

In a novel I’m reading two young British men travel to Spain in 1937 to help win World War II. Condition are poor and they both often go without basic needs. Hardly a page passed but what one doesn’t suggest having a cup of tea. The other agrees and suggests two lumps of sugar, or “I’ll get the spoons.” Of course there is no tea, nor is there any sugar or spoons.

When the older one returns to London he uses the key to his parent’s house and let himself in. His father weeps with joy at seeing him. When his mother comes down from upstairs she says: “Son, you’ve lost so much weight. You must be starving. I’ll fix you something.” “Mum. I’ve been starving for a year. A few more minutes won’t matter. I would rather have a cup of tea.”

I didn’t anticipate the last statement. I put the book down and brewed myself a cup of tea. It has never tasted better.

What About the Question Mark?

My wife and I read a chapter in the New Testament every morning. Well, actually, we have it on iPad. We listen and follow along. This was how I noticed the first letter of the first word following a question mark is always lower case. At least I haven’t found one that wasn’t. In the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal. But I wondered what kind of rules were scholarly people were following?

I’ve asked a number of folks claiming to have earned English degrees. No one provided a satisfactory answer.

Last winter while poking around our local library I came across a book that provided an answer. The correct answer? I can’t be sure because the event in question occurred more than 700 years ago. Everything is hearsay, kind of.

Apparently, before Aldus Manutius, a Venetian editor, arrived on the scene manuscripts had little punctuation, if any at all. The written word must have resembled Jack Kerouac’s initial draft of On the Road: one word after the other until it was finished. The translation of the New Testament may have been what set the project in motion.

When he was finished, Aldus Manutius offered four punctuation characters: colon, semi colon, comma, and period. The question mark was not addressed. Therefore, the first letter of the first word following a question mark did not warrant an uppercase, as it does today.

The Gin Bottle (fiction)

Image Borrowed from the Internet

Walter and Maud are settled on 25 acres located about six miles inland from the Pacific. Maud tends to her chickens, her garden, her canning, and her quilting. She’s content as long as Walter harnesses James and readies the buggy for a Saturday trip to town. However, the coastal winds tangle her hair and makes her eyes smart. So she keeps tabs on the Coast Guard’s Storm Horn. When she hears it sounding she knows a gale is blowing. She stays home, unless she’s out of pectin or vinegar or something equally important.

Walter is a logger. Working with a partner on a two-man cross cut saw. The job is demanding, but the pay is good. His only hobby is playing the banjo for the Saturday night dances at the grange. Most often, that one trip to town is plenty for him. But he on Maud’s beckon call.

By chance, Walter discovered that a partially filled a gin bottle can replicate the Storm Horn. Hence, Maud stays home when she hears it.

One given Saturday, after hearing the horn, she has given up her Saturday trip. However, she is out of everything – flour, baking powder, sugar. She must go to town, storm or no. Donning a heavy coat and scarf, she heads out to tell Walter to hitch James to the buggy.

As she rounds the corner of the barn she finds Walter blowing on the gin bottle.

57 years

Today marks 57 years for Barb and I. It was the day she became an air force bride.

Tomorrow marks the first time she saw Mount Shasta as we motored toward Beale AFB. He reaction is still as vivid as the mountain itself.

Parade-Style

I bought my first motorcycle in 1957 while stationed at Charleston AFB, South Carolina. That was my first of 11 machines in 52 accident-free years. But I’ve had some very close calls, one being blowing a front tire at 70 mph.

In 1980 or 1981 Barb and I rented a room for the night in Challis, Idaho. Everyone was still talking about a group, a club, riding parade-style that very day. Someone experienced a problem. It became everyone’s problem and two riders lost their lives that afternoon.

While it’s exciting to ride parade-style, many things are left to chance – a small chunk of dirt in the fuel line, a flake of carbon shorting out a spark plug, a flat tire. And that doesn’t address the human factors – a bug in the eye, a hornet in someone’s jacket, or the guy coming from the other direction.

No one has provided an answer for why the seven marines were killed in New Hampshire Friday. But I’m assuming they were riding in military formation. Someone experienced a problem and in the blink of an eye it became collective.

Millie (fiction)

Image Borrowed From the Internet

I’d driven to the Humbug Mountain summit for breakfast one Saturday morning and I was headed into the Humbug Cafe when a covey of old men caught my attention. I was younger than most by decades. Still, curiosity pulled me to the thicket of Port Orford Cedar where found an ancient steam shovel. It was a hulk of rust, but on the side of the cab I could still make out the name “Millie”. Obviously, few could remember the last time Millie had seen a head of steam. But I was drawn to the owner, a bearded man in his late eighties, Clem Bridges. He was stooped and spoke with an thin, airy voice. His description of how he used this old girl to carve the first traces up the north face Humbug Mountain, a path that would later become US 101, was riveting.

We cut our wood from the right-of-way – cedar, fir, alder. Water was more difficult. It was fetched by horse and wagon from Pistol River ten miles north. The eight and ten percent grade used up a remuda of horses before we were finished and parked this old girl here,” Clem explained. “But that was actually the easier part. In many places we had to lash the shovel to stumps with cables to keep her from tumbling down the 1700 foot slope into the Pacific. We had our moments,” he added.

After awhile some followed Clem into his cafe where he promised them pie and coffee. Others got into their cars and headed down the mountain. I waited. After everyone was gone, I grabbed a handrail and pulled myself onto one of the tracks. In the silence I peered through the opening at the boiler and firebox. The levers controlling the cables were rusted fast, unmoved from where Clem left them when he parked Millie here.

The ocean breeze moaned through the cedars as I closed my eyes in an effort to relive Clem’s adventure. I’d liked to have been here.