Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The creek did rise

Spring runoff is in full swing. This is the Big Hole river about 25 miles from here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

 I posted this two years ago on this day, but I thought some of you who weren't reading my blog then might like it. I was fortunate enough to spend a fair amount of time with the Admiral when I was a callow youth, dating his daughter, and more after we were married. I remember the first time I met him; I had been ushered into the library at the Superintendents Quarters at the USNA, standing nervously looking around at the floor to near-ceiling bookshelves, the old leather armchairs when he came in. Tall, spare, and with gravitas that simply radiated, gold bars up the sleeves of his uniform, 12 rows of ribbons. I was probably near-incoherent, not in the least by the fact I was an E-2, the next to lowest enlisted rating, he was an Admiral, nearly the highest officer rank. He put me at ease, chatting until his daughter finished getting ready for our dinner date.

Often things written with the subject of Memorial Day tend to be hagiographies of people or generations. They remind us of the shoulders we stand upon, and the sacrifices made on our behalf. This is well and good, and as it should be, we need to be reminded of the ground we walk upon, and how it came to be.

I wonder it this makes us see or perceive people one-dimensionally, and think that we are seeing the person as they were. I suppose there is no harm in this, except it may not encapsulate or show a complete picture. Also, it may turn out that the true picture is not as pretty as it seemed. Or it may show that the individual had facets that didn't fit the mold. Here is someone who I think fits that description.

Draper L. Kauffman, VADM, USN Ret.  (1911-1979)

Draper Kauffman came from a military family, his father rose to Vice Admiral during WW 2. Like his father he attended and graduated from the Naval Academy.  A child of privilege, he attended top boy's prep schools in the east. When he graduated from USNA in 1933 it was the depth of the depression, and the Navy was only commissioning half the class. His eyesight had changed and he needed glasses, for that reason he was not commissioned. 

He had gotten an excellent, free education, and one might have expected him to moved into the business or engineering world, there were still jobs and careers for those with the right skills. Instead, he joined the merchant marine, and traveled extensively to Europe as crew on merchant ships. In the next few years he became convinced that war was coming, and the US should be involved in the events happening in Europe. An unpopular view in this isolationist country. 

When war broke out, he joined the American Ambulance Corps in France, providing medical aid at the front to the French Army. He was captured by the German Army in 1939 and held for two months. They released him after making him sign a pledge to not go England, or to return to the war in Europe. He made his way through Portugal and eventually to England, where he joined the Royal Navy, and was commissioned with the rank of 'Provisional, Temporary, sub-lieutenant", and in later years would rattle off the rank in stories with relish. He was trained in bomb disposal, to help deal with the plethora of unexploded ordinance that was being rained down on England by the Germans.

By 1941 his father, Adm. James Kauffman was convinced that the US would indeed be in the war soon, and he wanted his son in the US Navy. Draper was reluctant to return, and according to the story I was told his father got him back to the states with a ruse about the family, and presented him with two uniforms: a Navy uniform and a brig uniform and told him to choose. 

A book and many articles have been written about his exploits in the war. Starting the UDT program, the precursor to the SEAL teams, landing on Saipan, Tarawa and other Pacific Islands ahead of the first Marines, starting the first military bomb disposal squads in the US, and clearing the harbor in Tokyo bay for the Japanese surrender. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor, awarded twice the Navy Cross, and other medals too numerous to list. In the Navy SEAL Museum in Florida his picture is on the wall, naming him "The Father of Navy Combat Demolition". 

After the war his career took a normal turn, ship and shore commands, but because of his unconventional background, his rise to flag rank was anything but assured. The Navy then, more than any service, was hide-bound and traditional. Flag officers, those of Admiral rank, were men who had blue-water commands (ships, flotillas, etc), and those who went other paths were largely ignored for high rank. 

In 1966, he was appointed Superintendent of the Naval Academy, the top post at the school. Recently promoted to Rear Admiral, he had served as assistant to the Joint Chiefs, and Naval Aide to the SecNav. Incidentally, the latter position was during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis; his wife, Peggy, said one day he left for his office at the Pentagon and didn't come back for 10 days. 

It was while the head of the Academy that his career and actions took a turn that to me was astounding, and little in his background would have suggested it was coming. By 1966 the US was seeing the turmoil that our racial policies and attitudes had spawned, and the Navy was no exception. The Navy was in fact lagging behind the other main service branches in enlisted and commissioned opportunities for minorities, mainly Blacks. 

Kauffman started a intensive recruitment program aimed at Blacks and minorities, with a mentoring program for those cadets who were admitted. He said later that initially his knowledge of race relations was much more theory than fact, but he knew how to get the help he needed. He awarded his family sword to Tony Watson, who later became one of the first Black Admirals in the Navy (if not the first, I'm not sure). 

In his last command, Commandant Ninth Naval District at Great Lakes near Chicago, then Navy was probably at it's low point as far as modern race relations go. He enlisted the help of a then little-known (outside the Black community) minister named Jesse Jackson to advise him on the problem. If you look at the retirement rate of flag officers during this time, you see a sharp increase in 'early' retirement of flag officers; the moves that Kauffman and a few others were making were not popular with the Navy elite as a whole. 

What is it that let this man, a warrior's warrior, a son of the privileged upper class, make the transition to someone who  literally abandons any hope to higher rank by taking this path? Little in his background would suggest it, yet he had no doubt about what he was doing. I don't know, but I know we were lucky to have him and his kind during this period. 

He and his wife Peggy had three children, Draper Jr., Kelsey and Cary. Cary and I were married in 1968. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to know him, I wish I'd appreciated the chance better back then. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

He pulled on hat, coat and gloves, reached for the keys and fumbled them. Taking off one glove, he knew this couldn't work, he couldn't use the key on the door with glove. The thermometer on the porch read -15.  The walk was unshoveled, 4" of new light snow. On the second crank, the engine stumbled to life, coughing once, then settled down.

The package was light, barely a pound. He'd checked his wallet, enough to send it express. Christmas was a tough time now, unless he could shut out the feeling of not doing enough. As he drove the potholed streets he calculated the time until the next check, figuring what was possible. 'What the fuck' the thought, turning the truck into a side street, left through the alley, then left again and right back up into town

The bank took less than 10 minutes, the drugstore less than that. Envelope in hand he felt relief, and that little part of his mind that kept coughing and saying in a abstract voice "Um, yeah, fine. Tell me about that last week of this month again. We're going to eat what?"

At the post office, the parking lot full, he nosed the truck up onto the frozen ice and pulled the parking brake. Inside, the line to the three clerks stretched out the first door, people like himself, careless and falsely unconcerned about the future.

 "How do you say 'It will all be alright"
When you know that it might not be true.
What do you do?

Two people in front of him in line, the furthermost a mother, late twenties, early thirties, hard to say. She has an armload of packages, and yards in front of her to a place to put them down. The morning has clearly been long for her, wisps of hair trail down to a parka. At her side a girl, six or seven, the man is past being able to tell the young ages accurately. The girl seems entirely engaged in the moment, head swiveling about, taking it all in. The weather, the cold, the season aren't her concern. 

"Mom, what do you think those packages are?" she asks, hand tugging at her mom's coat, pointing.

"Careful what you say,
Children will listen.

The woman looks down. "I don't know." she says. The girl looks again, then sees the wall of the post office. Boxes, flattened and nailed to the wall, with prices underneath. "What are those for?" she asks her mom again, pointing.

 "Careful the wish you make,
Wishes are children.
Careful the path they take,
Wishes come true, not free.

"Jesus" the woman sighs, then looks down at the girl. "Listen, I don't know what the hell they are for ok? People send stuff, ok? How the hell do I know??" The girl looks at her mom, not in surprise, not in shock. She's seen this before, her few years have seen more than this. But there is a strange quality about this girl. Strange in only that it has persevered, and grown. This is apparent to the man, watching this unfold, his package forgotten in his arm.

The girl is silent for over a minute, moving with her mom slowly in the line. She looks outside, the firs near the window heavy with snow. Her head swivels back up. "Why do people send presents only at christmas?" she asks.

 "Careful what you say,
Children will listen.
Careful you do it to,
Children will see and learn.
Guide them but step away,
Children will glisten.
Temper with what is true
And children will turn,
If just to be free.
Careful before you say,
"Listen to me."
Children will listen.
Children will listen.

The mother turns, her body stiff with anger. "If you don't shut up, if you don't shut up, see those packages??" she says, pointing with a stiff arm and finger, trembling. "If you don't shut up, I'm going to put you in one and send you away!!"

She straightens up, aware now of people's attention. A silence ensues for perhaps a minute. The girl, undeterred, tugs her mother's parka. "To where?"

The man looks off, relieved somehow. A smile forms, as if to some distant memory. The day seems easier now. 
"Teach your parents well
Their children's hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick's the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you"

*Lyrics Barbara Streisand and Graham Nash

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Stump

A storm came this year, against which all other storms were to be measured, on a Saturday in October, a balmy afternoon. Men in the woods cutting wood, children outside with thoughts lodged somewhere in the memory of summer. It came up the river valley, as did every storm in the fall, but the grey-black thunderheads were piled up high, much too high. In the stillness before it hit, men looked at each other as though a fast and wiry man had pulled a knife in a bar. They felt the trees falling before they heard the wind, and they dropped chainsaws and choker cables, scrambled to get out. 

Olin  Sanders tried to free his saw from the big fir, but it caught him barberchairing, as he tried to run it hopped after him like it was trying to find it's stump. When the wind died the men found him. They laid him across the laps of two men in the back of the truck and sent word ahead. When they got down to the road his wife was there crying, with pink curlers  in her hair. Two county sheriffs were there, drawn by the word of death. When she looked through the window of the truck and saw him broken in half, like a buckled tin can she raised her fists and began beating on the truck. When the sheriff held her back and said in a polite voice "Now, control yourself." she began beating her thighs. One of the men stepped up and punched the sheriff.

All this time the son, in whose lap the father's broken head was cradled, sat silent. He was aware of the beginning of something else, more than his father's end. His pants were wet with his father's blood.

That night the boy left the house, walked past his father's shirts hanging to dry on the line, and drove up Jumpoff Joe Road to where they had been cutting. He sidestepped downslope with the chainsaw in his hands to reach the stump of the tree (the blood congealed like dark sap on the wood) and cut off the top of the stump with the stain of his father's death on it, the saw screaming in the dim night.

No one had ever done anything like this before. The lack of any tradition in it bothered the boy. As he walked past the trees near the house he was suddenly afraid. His mother was awake, sitting in the darkened living room when he walked in, wearing the tattered quilt robe that embarrassed him when his friends were around. Behind the glow of her cigarette she asked where he had been.

The butt of the tree eventually rolled downhill after the logging was done. A family of Marten's took up residence beneath it, living as well as was possible in that country.

Olin was the only person killed, among the other dead were Cawley Beeson's dog, and two deer, quietly butchered and passed among neighbors.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


The river above here is largely unknown, the climb is difficult and the road passes near enough to provide a view, satisfying most. The river has been explored by government mappers up to the headwaters, looking for mineral deposits and to complete maps, but it remains unknown nevertheless. The illusion has been sustained, if one asks around or consults a topographical map, that it is well-known, but I know this to be false. For example, at the headwaters itself, further up than is shown, there are herons. At night they weep, a inconsolable grief, and it is from these tears the river is formed.

Further downstream from here, the murmurs of fish enter, and the water feels like cold steel, impenetrable like certain shades of deep blue, the sound of a crack working it's way through a china plate. It is from this, the imagined but uncared for, that the river takes form, visible water, of measurable dimension.

In recent years I have spent considerable time upstream, along what I believe to be an unknown section of the river. I have meant to examine things closely there, and sometimes I think I have the answer and gone gleefully ahead, only to haul myself back to an ordered course. In this way I saw a house one day, perched at the start of the forested hill above the river.

It was painted gray, with blue cape cod style shutters. A broad porch, shadowed by the limbs of a cottonwood. A white porcelain doorknob opened the French door. The floors were oak parquet, the rooms spacious with hemp rugs. The walls were papered with Cockerell marbled paper, from England, the colors somewhere between primary and pastel, like the taste of a peach bursting on your tongue.

One fall I entered a room for the first time, and saw a book sitting on a windowsill, open and face down. A single chair was next to the window, as though the occupant had just left to brew tea. I sat down and read the book, a language I didn't know, in hopes of understanding.

There was a woman's bed, with a brass bedstead and a chenille spread, somehow light was always falling on it. We would lay there, trusting, and fall asleep in the afternoon.

We would dance, the only sound of our bare feet on the wood floor. An imagined music filling the room without echoes, strands of her hair stuck to my cheek, the sound of our breathing.

In that time I do not remember ever being away from the river, though I know I was. Even now in the memory of it I do not know where I am. I know I still spend time in the upper part of the river and that relationship I know to be true.

Still further up the river are the unfolding of other relationships, together with the loss of the promise of anything to be found. I have been told that this is the reason no one goes up that far, though the promise, in it's way, is kept.

It is the walk home that is terrifying.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

If I hear this one more time......

I don't know why this year it's getting to me. I went to the store this afternoon, and walking across the parking lot a guy made a cheerful remark to me..."Springtime in Montana, eh?" I forced a smile. It's been snow flurries all weekend, when I went to the truck this afternoon it looked like this:

The grass is green, but not growing. Emily's crocus are up an inch, some trees are budding out. It's been offical spring for a bit, it's just reluctant to commit here. It was 23 degrees when I got up this morning. I believe that global warming, whatever you want to call it, is real. It's just not poked it's head here yet.

So I suppose you've read about the 'teachers pledge' that the unlovely catholic church is making teachers sign around the US in order to work? In some places they are asking the teachers to pledge that they will not support gay marriage, abortion and other things like no sex outside marriage as a condition of employment. 24/7, in any fashion. No going to political rallies for a candidate that supports women's right to choose, no gay friends, no opinions that stray from catholic doctrine.

Isn't it interesting, this at a time when the new pope is giving lip service to a slightly more liberal view of social issues. One wonders just how far the catholic church can go in making themselves irrelevant to life. With the behaviour of priests and bishops that has been well-documented, on wonders how they can do this and keep a straight face. Maybe they don't, maybe they're snickering behind the diocese doors.

Geez, the weather report turned into a rant. Oh well.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Don't Screw with a Pathologist

In the 80's I did a stint directing the diagnostic departments of a hospital in the Pacific NW. The pathologist was also the Medical Examiner for the city, a burly fellow of middle age. We'll call him Don, a generally affable guy, we went fishing together several times. The hospital had a CEO, I'd describe him as a Suit with a Large Ego.

It was inevitable the two of them would clash, Don took orders from no one, The Suit wanted to give orders to everyone. At some point The Suit figured out that he didn't have what it took to bend Don to his will, and to take another tack. A prank, a practical joke. He should have known better, but he went to the fish market and got a trout.

He went into Don's office one evening, got on a chair, took down one of the ceiling panels and placed the fish up there, replacing the panel.

I only put together all the facets of this after it happened, when over a beer in his office Don told me the story.

A couple days after the fish was placed, Don's office started to smell, worse by the hour. Don, being a fisherman, recognised the smell, and sniffed out it's location. 

The list of suspects was small, and the CEO's secretary didn't like him, and spilled the beans to Don.

I mentioned Don was the ME for the city? He bided his time, waited until he had a body to autopsy that had been dead for some time, and got a bunch of these from it:

He went into the CEO's office one evening, and put them behind the file cabinets, then sat back and waited.

A couple of days later, the CEO noticed a couple of these, buzzing around. Large, loud and aggressive, hungry..

By afternoon there were several of them, he was busy swatting, wondering where they came from. The next morning when he came in, his office was aswarm with them, buzzing, butting into things. He now suspected Don, but somehow thought Don had caught flies, and somehow herded them into his office. He never found the larval husks. His office had to be sprayed with insecticide, and left empty for a day, then ventilated.

Don tipped his beer to me and shook his head...."What was he thinking, getting into a pissing contest with a Pathologist?"