Fair Winds and Following Seas

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Storm Watch

We are expecting snow here by the end of the week, along with much of the country, which means that the hundred or so winterizing projects I have been putting off can’t wait much longer.  I’ll admit to a touch of simple laziness.  A late fall warm-up seduced me into thinking I had more time, I suppose, or at least encouraged the part of me that rationalizes doing menial tasks mañana.  But one step outside this morning, where the air has teeth, and those illusions died.  In my own defense, we have been busy.  The last three weeks have been a rock’n roll roadshow.  First, we flew to Santa Barbara to attend the funeral service of a departed friend, colleague, confidant, and fine cop, who left us much too soon.  No sooner had we landed back in central Oregon than we had to turn around and drive to Reno with a U-haul trailer to pick up the last of my dad’s effects.  And finally, this last weekend, I was invited to hunt for elk in northeastern Oregon, on the edge of the Grande Ronde Valley.

The trip to Santa Barbara was unexpected, and unwelcome.  Our good friend Dave Anduri, who was a mere 37 years old, was taken from us by the combined effects of PTSD–which is a terrible thing, and likely touches, to varying degrees, every street cop in America–and a wholesale, cynical neglect from a system that should have worked overtime to help him recover.  Instead, it failed absolutely.  I think it also failed intentionally.  There is no VA for cops which, depending on how you look at it, may be good or bad.  The VA has certainly taken its share of well-deserved lumps for its care of military veterans, but there are also many stories, unreported, of quality care and success.  My maternal grandfather, a WW2 Marine, was one of the winners.  But injured or debilitated cops–and police work is not just sitting in cars, waving at grandmothers, and writing tickets–are squeezed into a pathetic bureaucracy of medical quackery, sinister insurance underwriters, and a “Risk Management” regime that seems designed to stonewall or deny, rather than prevent and treat.  It is not uncommon for cops injured on duty, at least in Santa Barbara, to wait weeks, or months, to receive approval to see an actual medical specialist.

The first step in the city program is to visit the “Occupational Health Center”, which is egregiously misnamed, where the injured officer waits forever in a dilapidated, smelly, largely unfriendly cinderblock shack hidden under the freeway in Goleta, next to a goat farm and a tire shop.  In my case, when I wrecked my back on a search warrant service, I waited three weeks in severe pain, unable to put on my own pants, and dragging my right leg behind me like a ghoul in Night of the Living Dead, just for the appointment.  And the appointment itself was a treat, given that the “Doctor” didn’t even perform a physical examination.  He came in the room as if unsure what county he was presently in, babbled on about his old football injury from the 1940’s, and prescribed pain medication that I didn’t want.  I had to demand an MRI, and a referral to an actual physician, which he very reluctantly agreed to do–which is the rub.  The Occupational Health Center is really a kind of triage, where octogenarian washouts don’t do physical examinations at all, but scribble unseen notes to desk-jockey “risk management” people at city hall, who make, or don’t make, decisions about getting people healthy.  Oh, and they prescribe drugs.

There are virtually dozens of examples I might point too about the malfeasance of those administrators at the police department, or in the city, who allow their injured people to be treated this way, every day, particularly when they are bold enough to stand up and talk about “honor” in front of a crowd.  They seem to forget that they are the point-men for a system which is all but designed to bury their own injured in a nightmare of disinformation and bad treatment.  And that everyone listening to them use words like “honor” knows it.  My personal example is a very small one, but I am aware of many that are much worse, and in Dave’s case it was the absolute worst of all.  I saved a single paragraph in my eulogy for the police brass who, after I suggested that choosing people over policy was a good thing to do, sat scowling at me like spurned Bolsheviks.  I suppose if I had any satisfaction at all, it was in their reaction, which was so predictably obtuse it was actually funny.

I’ve gone too far inside baseball here, I realize, but I wanted to say a word for Dave, and once again for those cops, my friends and former colleagues, who can’t say anything for themselves because they will be punished endlessly and relentlessly by the politicians in their own department, the acknowledged masters of small-ball, if they speak up for themselves.  God bless you all.  Much like Dave, you don’t ask for much in return for your honest and loyal service, which is probably good, because you won’t get it from your “managers”.

After Santa Barbara, it was Reno, and a stop on the way home at the Old Home Ranch to visit the folks, and to spend some time riding a good horse.  There is no therapy like a horse, and since I had hauled my slick-fork all the way from Oregon, I needed to get up and get the cure.  We had a good visit, and next morning bombed back up the road to Oregon, dragging a U-haul full of my dad’s library which, now that it is home and we have broken open some of the 50 odd boxes, is proving to deserve a separate post altogether.

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The Elk Grounds

And finally, I spent the last few days in northeast Oregon, near La Grande.  As you know, readers, I have been punching the clock in the woods, trying to stock the ranch freezer with some meat for the winter, and so it was with delight that a good friend invited me along with the promise of a landowner’s cow tag and an almost sure-thing, if that exists, elk hunt.  The call came in on thursday morning, when Zoro, Guru of all things Elk, said we had better hurry out-east because he had 400 head of elk on his ranch, and there was no telling how long they would stay.  By thursday afternoon we were blitzing east through Dayville, John Day, and Baker City, making the hard left north toward La Grande, to get to Zoro’s place in the shadow of Mt. Emily.

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The Promise

Next morning, we were up early and out, tromping through the woods, crossing paths with a fox, through the gate and out onto a full section of property that could not be more perfectly prescribed for hunting elk.  Timber stands on three sides, with a lush grassy swath in the middle and a rocky bluff make up the hunting grounds, and within minutes we could see the elk, 700 yards to our south, bedded down at the edge of the timber.  But the wind was wrong, blowing steady from our back, down across the valley and up again into the trees.  We could see the elk scenting us, becoming restless, and watching.

So we waited for the sun to rise, the earth to warm, the wind to switch again.  And it just kept not cooperating.  Rich and I sat in a pile of granite, watching the elk, waiting, watching coyotes trot through the tall grass, and were surprised when a plush-coated coyote trotted to within ten yards of us before realizing we were there.

In the interest of sparing you a long and largely boring Nick Adams story, I will cut to the chase.  After a full day of stalking these elk, who alternately confounded, frustrated, and delighted, I was blessed to have a shot on a large cow at the very end of the day.  I took it, thankful for the opportunity, and was stunned by how big she turned out to be.  She was every bit of 600-650 pounds, and will likely give us several hundred pounds of lean, healthy protein.  It took four grown men a herculean effort to load her onto the 4-wheeler for packing out, and a similar effort to get her hung in Zoro’s shop.  I will say this for the old girl, she did not leave without fighting for her life, and her heart, now soaking in buttermilk, was as big as a football.

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Too Heavy? The Author (l), and Zoro, Elk Guru and Wildman of the Grande Ronde Valley, OR.

The next morning, after sunrise bacon and eggs in a ranch kitchen overlooking the stunning expanse of the Grande Ronde, we drove home to central Oregon, a large and beautiful elk in the back of my truck.  We drove up for a brief business stop in Pendleton, and then down again through some of the most beautiful country I have seen anywhere.  We stopped for an hour on the 395, north of Mt. Vernon, where 4-500 elk were bedded at the edge of the timber, and sat scanning the country with binos, counting gigantic bulls we could only see because their racks towered out of the tall grass like satellite antennae.  Back home at last, we hung her in Jack’s shop, and in a few days we will gather again to cut and wrap the old girl, who gave us her life so that ours might be a little better.  I am thankful for that, and deeply humbled once again by the opportunities that good friendships can offer at unexpected times.

And as I write this, I am reminded that today is the Marine Corps birthday.  I am honored to have served in that outfit with some very fine people, and I will always look back at my time in the Corps as the hinge point in my life, upon which everything else will forever swing.  The Corps taught me many things, formed friendships that are made unbreakable in the forge of shared suffering, and shaped my character profoundly.  Years ago, I stood in a change of command ceremony where the incoming commander said something beautiful.  He said, “It has been said that as long as there is a United States of America, there will be a United States Marine Corps.  But I pledge to you today, that as long as there is a United States Marine Corps, there will be a United States of America.”  That is the very soul of what it means to serve in the Gun Club.  And just as I write this, I have looked up to see that it is already snowing.  The first snow of the year, and days ahead of schedule.

Semper Fi, Marines.  And for Dave Anduri, who was one of us:  Fair Winds and Following Seas, brother, you are profoundly missed.

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