Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 16, 2013

Thoughts on the good ‘ol times

Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — About the time you think you could survive from living off the land, and with the economy as it is, that might be a possibility, you pluck a handful of something and eat it.

Then, you hand a few to your dog and he spits it out. Just goes to show that it’s a good idea to either trust the dogs’s judgment or carry a stomach pump.

Suffering from mid-winter doldrums, I was sick of TV ads for drugs that spend 15 seconds describing the reason to use them and 45 seconds in warnings about nasty side effects, followed by legal firms trying to convince us to file suits against everyone for everything.

Desperate for any form of entertainment I decided to either go into hibernation like a bear or don a loin cloth and a turban, assume a yoga position and replay some pleasant past experiences. Since I feared a possible lawsuit from Judy for loud snoring while in hibernation, I chose the loincloth and turban.

Some years ago, while on a trip to the southwest, Judy and I spent an enjoyable time with friends who own a beautiful home nestled in the foothills of the Superstition mountains. Surrounded by a typical Arizona desert region covered with legions of saguaro, ocotillo, hedgehog, choya and barrel cactus, I got into trouble within hours of our arrival.

I’ve always loved the desert. There is something serene and a little foreboding about vast expanses of uninhabited territory that offers challenges and adventures. Our hosts were surrounded by square miles of adventure. As we walked into their living room, I looked out their glass patio doors at the panorama of  rolling foothills, the not too distant mountains, and a coyote eating dog food out of a pan just outside the doors.

“Uh, Bob, your dog got loose”, I said. “And, it’s looking a little scruffy. Maybe you should feed it some biscuits and gravy once in a while. It will never make it to an AKC dog show looking like that.”

“You think he’s scruffy, wait ‘til you see the ruffians he hangs around with” replied Bob. After the coyote left, dozens of quail arrived to eat the seed put out by Carol. I caught myself sub-consciously scratching my trigger finger as the flock grew larger. Since they both enjoy animals and birds, I was hesitant to suggest that it would be simple to plan the menu for supper that night. Instead, I asked if it would be alright to do a little exploring in the hills north of the house.

“There are three rules to follow”, said Bob, “First, watch for rattle snakes. There are a lot of them out there. Second, don’t touch the choya balls. Third, don’t stay out after dark”.

“What’s a choya ball?”

“A round cactus ball covered with wicked spines that choya cactus spit off. They’ll stick to you like an unemployed brother-in-law.”

Forewarned and anxious to experience the wild west I headed for a large ridge to the north while keeping a sharp eye out for choya balls. Within 10 minutes I found one in my path. A two day old kitten could have stepped over it, but I decided to brush it out of the way. It stuck to my finger. I shook my hand and embedded the @#^%$ thing in my palm. Finally shaking it loose, I picked spines out of my skin for a few minutes while trying to remember what else I had been told not to do. At the rate I was going, I’d probably have a rattler attached to my bum within the next five minutes.

As the sun set behind the peaks to the west, a giant moon rose from behind the eastern range. I’ve always loved to roam in moonlight, and with a scene of cactus covered desert being lit with a soft glow I forgot rule number three. After an hour of blissful ignorance, a fall that bloodied my knee and a few more cactus spines adorning parts of my anatomy, I returned to the judge and jury and a conviction that revoked all my desert roaming privilieges. The sentence might not have been so severe if Judy hadn’t been outside calling for me and almost stepped on a tarantula. Husbands, takes some advice. Say nothing but “yes ma’am” and “no, ma’am” to a wife who tangled with a giant spider on your account.

“The next time you disobey the rules, the only sympathy you’ll get will be from the paramedics who have to pry those rattlers off your leg”, she growled.

Later, I was introduced to a gentleman who fit my image of the complete outdoorsman. Don was a wiry, soft spoken man, originally from Montana, who had been a rancher, a bull rider, and an expert on desert survival. He described what was edible and how to find it, and that finding your directions was as simple as reading the cactus.

“You’ll notice that barrel cactus leans toward the south and ocotilla leans toward the west. Would you like to go out with me tomorrow?”

If he had asked me to judge the Miss Bikini U.S.A. contest I wouldn’t have accepted faster. The next day he and his dog arrived in his old pickup and we began the bone jarring ride back into the foothills, his dog sitting on my lap while my head ricocheted off the roof panel as we bounced over terrain that reminded me of my driveway. Suddenly he stopped and pointed out the window at a group of about twenty five wild javelina that ran across a small clearing and disappeared into the undergrowth. “Are those things as mean as I’ve heard?”, I asked.

“Naw”, he replied. “Not until you back ‘em into a corner.” I imagined having eggs and trying to carve the ham off one of those little buzz saws.

Walking up a dry wash Don pulled a handful of what looked like small, husky nuts off a thorny tree. “A handful of those have all the nutrients to keep you going for a day out here”, he said. After that it was something that looked like a small bean pod that tasted like a small bean pod. Whatever that tastes like We spent the next few hours walking and I listened as Don pointed out the requirements of survival in the desert. Of course, I forgot most of it by the time we returned, but I now figure that with a GPS system to point out the location of the Golden Arches and White Castles in the vicinity I could stand a chance to survive with only a few rattle snake bites and choya ball spines to pluck out. Hexk, I could even get lucky and have a coyote of my own.