Thursday, July 21, 2011

Apples Don't Fall Far

Growing up, dark references to the Day Dad Burned the Wheat Field were a staple in any safety lecture, especially one on fire. Until yesterday, I didn't learn the exact method he used.

Out in the middle of the wheat field, Dad had a cave. Whether naturally occurring or child-constructed, I'm not exactly sure. In any case, it was dark enough to require additional lighting, and what could be better than candles?

Dad and the other culprit hung out for a while, then went home, leaving the lit candles behind them.

The candles burned lower and lower. And lower. Just before they would have flickered out harmlessly in the dirt, they found the comic books lying there on the floor of the 'cave'. In a whoosh, the wheat field was gone, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

At some point between that memorable day and adulthood, Dad could once again sit down. At least he could sit down by the time I was old enough to remember.

Since Devon is so interested in carrying on family traditions, I must encourage him to learn to play the tuba. At least they don't catch fire.

Until the next conflagration,
Noni Beth

Little Fire in the Big Trash Can

Mom glanced out her window at the sound of the explosion. Or perhaps it was the border collie levitating from the ground outside, in through the window, and into her lap, that first drew her attention.

Damon stood next to the flaming trash can, making feeble shooing motions. Water...something about fire...and water...  Seizing his tiny water bottle, he spritzed the fire, all to no avail. Though he later denied it, a Very Reliable Eyewitness even saw him try to spit on it. 

It took Mom several precious moments to dislodge the levitating border collie from her lap so she could lend her aid, but at last help arrived in the form of 5+ gallons of water. Tina's water, if anyone is counting. (She certainly was.)

Mom wouldn't let Damon leave till everything had stopped smoking. Just as they drove out of sight, a fire engine rounded the corner, lights flashing. I'm sure it was all part of the street fair going on just then, and that there was no connection to the aforementioned events. I only tell it as a curiosity, nothing more.

The fireworks show that night was stunning, in our yard and out of it. Jack, John John, and our neighbors had kind of a Dueling Banjos routine going on. The neighbors would light off a round, and our boys would try and light something bigger.  

Out of all the kits, there was one small, innocent-looking firework that Jack and John John judged much too dangerous to light off. It was a little triple number, roundish, and would fit in the palm of a man's hand. The idea was to nail it to a tree, light it, and watch it spin in circles while spraying sparks everywhere. 

That little firework has fascinated both boys ever since. After an explanation of the danger, and strait warnings not to play with it, they obeyed. Until yesterday.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea about Devon, and think that he gave no heed to safety considerations. He would not DREAM of setting off such a dangerous incendiary device during the worst windstorm we've had in several months, without taking certain precautions. He weighted it down with a rock so it couldn't spin! Voila!

It must have been a delightfully naughty pleasure to watch the forbidden firecracker go off, and the near gale-force winds hid every trace of sound from my questioning ears. Devon took one more precaution, by carefully smothering it with dirt after he finished. After all, safety first.

Then he went merrily off to do woodworking projects, while enough time lapsed that he could see no common point between his disobedience and the subsequent twin beams of smoke.

You know the rest.

After being sentenced to Home Service and Community Service (for the local fire department, of course), Devon learned his lesson. He never again disobeyed, or did anything wrong. My blog crumpled and collapsed from lack of material.

Well, I don't think we have to worry about that happening, but he has definitely learned his lesson about fireworks, and won't light off any more without permission. 

This year. 

Time to sharpen the ole Pulaski,
Noni Beth


Little Fire on the Prairie

It was calm and peaceful. Most of the children, 2/3 to be precise, were gone. Only Devon remained, and he was being unusually good and quiet. Unusually quiet, anyway. 

The microwave beeped. Ah, supper! For once, I was going to have a chance to take a leisurely meal before leaving for Vacation Bible School., at last. I started across the kitchen, salivating.

A slam rocked the front door as Devon rocketed into the house, shouting at the top of his lungs. "MOM COME QUICK RIGHT NOW BACK YARD FIIIIIIIIIIIIIRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

If the first part of his announcement had no effect on me, accustomed as I am to dramatic outbursts on a regular basis, the last word definitely got my attention. As I sprinted out the door I demanded, "What did you DO???????" His plaintive voice trailed after me. "Nothing! Really." He believed that to be true, at the time. I had my doubts from the very beginning. [Run to the fire.]

Sure enough, a small column of smoke tried feebly to ascend, its efforts useless against the relentless lashing of the high wind. I ran up and looked. It wasn't that big, not yet. If I could just get my tools, I could take it out myself. That pesky little word, "if". [Run to the shed.]

Couldn't find the McLeod  No Pulaski in sight. Those were my personal tools - MINE - from my firefighter days. I wouldn't have been happy to find out that careless children had run off with them any day of the week. To find out while my back yard burned was less than opportune. To find out while my back yard burned in two, count 'em, TWO places was more like catastrophe.

A hoe! Not a big one, but mind over matter conquers all. [Run to the fire.]

Chop, chop! Stupid dull useless piece of junk. Fine for potatoes. Waste of time for wildland fire. On to Plan B. [Run to only faucet, located in front yard, and turn it on. Tell Devon to call 9-1-1, in case my efforts continued to nose-dive at the current rate.]

You may wonder why I didn't go for the hose first. Naturally there's a good reason. First, our property is a long rectangle, a very common shape here. It's only 80 feet wide, and in excess of 500 feet long. The fire was headed the long way, away from the house, so it was already far from the faucet, and getting farther. Second, my hoses are dismal. I did get one new one, a whopping 75 footer - great for watering the lawn but not even half as long as the distance to the fire, as it turns out. All the rest have holes. [Run to back of house to look for additional hose.]

I picked the best of a bad bunch, the fire burning busily all the while. It wouldn't hook up, because the children had fastened a large nozzle onto the short, new hose. With the water turned on, it was too much pressure and I couldn't twist it off. [Run to front of house just in time to meet Devon and command him to turn off faucet. Run to back of house to remove nozzle and hook up hose.]

Why does that hose have to be the one somebody ran over, so it's extra hard to turn? Why can't they run over the hole-iest hoses instead? [Fasten nozzle onto end of hose, yell to Devon to turn the water back on, run to fire.]

Run almost to the fire. Even with the extra length, I am still a good 15 feet short. No problemo. I crank open the firehose-style nozzle, taking careful aim.


A tiny trickle shot nearly 6 feet before falling limply to the grass. [Crank nozzle on and off several times, gritting teeth and straining every muscle.]

A bucket! Surely that will be better than noth.....say, that other fire looks awfully close to John John's pickup. Maybe I'd better take a look...AAAAAAAAAAAGGGHH [Run to pickup.]

Shallow flames licked their way around only inches from the front tire. The edge of the fire had already crept part-way along close to the door, so rather than chance burning my ankles, I jumped in the passenger door. Good - he left the keys right there in the ignition. And just as I backed out and drove the truck to safety, the welcome flashing lights of two small attack engines converged on the property.

How nice it was not to have to run, but to walk calmly around while water flowed freely from hoses that reached all the way to the fire. And at last I had the chance to ponder a little more fully what the possible causes might be.

I carefully examined both fire areas for matches, lighters, small piles of wood that might indicate a campfire, or anything remotely suspicious. Nothing.

"Maybe he lit a firecracker," one firefighter suggested, doubtless observing the shreds still remaining from our 4th of July extravaganza.

The local fireworks guy owns several trucks, and every now and again asks Jack to run a load for him. Just before the 4th, Jack traded in one of his loads for the equivalent in mortars, sparklers, and so much more. John John arranged to procure even more, and the two of them planned a grand festival, pooling their explosives.

That afternoon, Damon went to town with Mom, carrying kid fireworks in his overstuffed pockets. During a period of down time, Mom went to the park and read a book while Damon played. 

Looking around for somewhere to set off his smoke bomb, Damon thought to himself, "Aha! I'll bet the sound will be really neato it I put it in the trash can. After all, this is the kind that doesn't make sparks."

How wrong he was.

Part II, to be continued in the morning. I am very tired, for some reason.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Fugitive

I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I can either have a high-class blog, or I can write about my real life. On most days, the two are mutually exclusive. 

Friday, I was happily folding clothes on my bed when Devon's head popped up in the window. "Oh Mo-ooooooom," he squeaked in the high-pitched voice he uses when trying to be funny, or when embarrassed, "Someone locked the front do-oooooooooor."

We had a brisk little discussion, in which I pointed out to him that no other children were here but him, I had not locked the front door, and unless he was willing to accuse Clancy or the cats, he must have locked hisownself out. He insisted that such a thing was impossible. "Well, then shame on Clancy."

I walked out and unlocked the front door, went back to my laundry, and didn't think any more about it. Had Dad not been pulling up in the driveway right at that moment, we would never have learned...

...The Rest of the Story.

As Dad drove up, he was understandably startled to see a thin, spare, bright white streak as it scuttled from branch to twig in a vain attempt at concealment. (Even an enrolled member of a Native American tribe gets pretty pasty up here.) Like a flash, it dove across the final stretch of lawn and in the front door.

Clad only in its underwear.

Personally, I think the Caped Avenger needs a new costume designer, or at least a cape. That qualified as a wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions. Standing in the living room, it was possible to piece together a portion of the story. Wet swimming shorts lay in the middle of the floor, right where their owner had dropped them. The undies were dry, so it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Devon had gotten wet, changed, and then gone outside. But why? That was the one thing for which the physical evidence offered no clue.

I'm always scared to ask the 'why' question. Every time I ask it, I get an answer. But I had to ask anyway. I knew you would all want to know.

"Devon, why did you go outside in your underwear?"

"Because I needed to put my three dollars out to dry on the bumper of the trailer."

"So you couldn't have put the money out there once you had pants on?" 


This brings to mind another story of long ago. Hmmm. Not all that long ago. It involved a small girl, and to protect her identity, we shall call her Roni Neth.

Young Roni lived in the lovely and placid town of College Place, WA. Her favorite hobby was to ride her Hot Wheels (she called it her motorcycle), up and down the street.One day, for no apparent reason that she can remember, she removed every last stitch of clothing and raced down the street on her motorcycle, wild and free.

Her daring ride came to an abrupt end when an elderly neighbor stopped her, frowned at her - can you imagine it, actually frowned at that sweet angel who was VERY shocked to be treated thus - and told her to go home and put on some clothes. Philistine!

Much affronted, she did. 

Which just goes to show that Devon comes by it honestly, or that is to say, he would have come by it honestly had any of his ancestors ever done such a thing. Which they haven't. They would never be so uncivilized. Um, um, there's a first time for everything, I always say.

The very dainty and delicate,
Noni Neth


Friday, July 1, 2011

Westward, Ho! Day 5

June 30

This day started like all the others. Up at 7:30 wishing we’d been able to go to bed earlier the night before, staggering into a restroom to freshen up, checking our load, and listening to a Lewis Walton sermon for worship as we drove down the road.

The night before ended about like you'd expect, too, with yet another commodious adventure. Staggering into the restroom late at night, and barely more than sleepwalking, I just wasn't prepared for what happened. It was one of those automatic toilets, so I had my eye on it, but it lulled me into a false sense of security by not flushing automatically. Until the very instant I stood up.

When I awoke fully a moment later, I found myself pressed flat against the metal door, my feet still running in place. How I miss my own bathroom! (I may have mentioned that before.)

Anyway, driving through the mountains, we were amazed by the profusion of spring wildflowers that blossomed in what really should have been summer. Jack stopped at a little scenic circle and allowed me to take a profusion of photos. As he said, “After all, it’s your birthday tomorrow.” That became his excuse for everything today. Unwanted leftover food or drink? Hand it to the wife. “After all, it’s your birthday tomorrow.”

Approaching the borders of Yellowstone, I reminded him (ok, borderline nagging) that if he saw a bunch of people pulled over, he should stop and let me take photos of whatever they were looking at. After all, it’s my birthday tomorrow.

That reminded me of what our friends told us yesterday. During a trip through Yellowstone, their family stopped beside the road so the father could get something out of the trunk. An eager carload pulled up next to them. “Whatcha looking at?” they asked excitedly. Silently the father thought to himself, My Fritos, you morons! Aloud, he said, smiling, “Oh, just getting something out of the trunk.”

There’s not too much else to tell. We’ve been headed for home like a barn-sour horse. Since we have done so little adventuring ourselves, let me share a few excerpts from an interesting free Forest Service resource, “The Great 1910 Fires of Idaho and Montana: Day Trip Guide to Historic Sites in Idaho and Montana”. Catchy, I know. You could almost make a song out of that title. Anyway, it had some interesting stories. You can read the rest when you get your own copy.

On August 21, 1910, R. Engle’s crew was working the Tuscor Fire, one of the many fires of 1910.

“This fire was up Swamp Creek about 10 to 12 miles from its mouth. Ranger Kaufman, who was in charge of the fire, was working with a crew along the Clark Fork River at the mouth of Swamp Creek. In the afternoon of August 20, a strong wind sprung up and scattered the fires in all directions. Realizing the dangerous position of Engle’s crew, Ranger Kaufman sent a messenger to Engle, directing him to come out at once with his crew.

Engle got this word late at night August 20 and started out in the morning of August 21, following the trail down Swamp Creek. Getting down within four miles of the river, they met a fire coming up Swamp Creek. This was a fire which had come over the divide from Idaho the previous night and was, up to this time, entirely separate from the fire on which the crew was working.

When Engle with his crew met this fire it was too large to pass through, so Engle took his crew back up Swamp Creek from whence he had come, expecting to cross over the burned area through the fire on which he had been working, but on reaching a point where he had expected to pass through the fire line, he found that the wind had fanned the fire into a raging furnace.

Finding that they were cut off from the valley, Engle took his crew on further up Swamp Creek hoping to reach a large body of slide rock located there. They were soon overtaken by the fire coming up the creek and made a stand on an open slide rock side hill, several of the party digging holes in the slide rock for further protection.”
                ~ 1942 Elers Koch,
                   Lolo Forest Supervisor in 1910

All but four men of the 25 man crew survived. Some were burned and nearly all blind from smoke and heat by midnight on August 21, 1910.

Bull River Guard Station was built in 1908 by Granville “Granny” Gordon the first ranger of Noxon District located then on the Cabinet NF and now part of the Kootenai NF [National Forest]. The cabin was home for the Gordons and their daughters who had a reputation for their gracious hospitality.

When the 1910 Fires roared thru the country, Mrs. Gordon prepared for the worst by soaking gunny sacks in a tub of water. If they had to escape the fire, they would wrap themselves in the gunny sacks and race to Bull River to wait out the fire. As the fire closed in on ranger station, it shifted direction and swept up Pilik ridge sparing their home.

All peculiarities in grammar and punctuation, as well as omissions of articles, have been faithfully reproduced. After that announcement, even if I did have a small typo of my own, you’ll never know, will you?

We turned out to have one more incident. I guess it could be called an adventure, if by adventure you mean working really hard, getting filthy, and not having any fun. Jack had two pallets that had arrived for delivery on the 28th. Ironically, although people all around the world know what I was doing the 28th, our delivery driver had no clue, nor did any of the townspeople he asked.

Today the pallets were in Glendive, and the driver was just going off shift when we passed through. What could be more perfect? (A lot of things, let me tell you!!!) We had to offload the back half of the trailer, slide one pallet on, unwrap the other pallet and stack the little boxes all over, and then figure out how to fit all the other stuff back in. Not to brag, (ok, to brag a little), I could have fit in even more stuff, if we had more stuff to put.

We ate supper, and Jack drank a whole root beer (Henry Weinhart’s, no less), but only saved me one tiny sip. “Because it’s your birthday,” he beamed as he handed me the empty bottle.

Two hours from old,
Noni Beth

PS We just got home, and they burned down the town while I was gone.