If Only These Hills Could Talk……

Shannon County is a poor county, if wealth is measured in money. Thankfully, there are many ways to measure the value of real estate beyond an accountant’s ledger and such is the case with this gem located deep in Missouri’s Ozarks. The folks here are not the least bit pretentious, perfectly content to live in a land where cell service isn’t really necessary and wood heat is a mainstay. The steep forested hillsides and crystal clear streams are the center of their lives, and if you are respectful, you are welcome to share their existence for awhile. Sharon, Tazzy and I spent last week at Missouri’s newest and extremely popular state park, Echo Bluff. This park has a colorful history, much of which is recorded, however; if these hills could talk, I suspect the story would be entrancing.

Echo Bluff began establishing it’s identity as Camp Zoe in 1929. This was a place where young women came from around the country to spend time communing with nature, swimming and hiking the many trails in and around the park. In 1967, Camp Zoe became coed, presumably in an attempt to remain in existence, providing outdoor adventures in a time when more urban activities were becoming popular. Sometime in 2004, the camp was acquired by a colorful musician named Jimmy Tebeau, a member of a rock band named “The Schwag”, a popular tribute band for the Grateful Dead. Jimmy began promoting rock concerts in this very remote location, some of which were attended by as many as 7,000 folks. It was a perfect location for these activities, the remoteness providing some insulation between the revelers and law enforcement, important as these concerts and drug use are closely related. Jimmy owned about 330 acres of ground within what is now the park. Jimmy’s luck ran out in 2010, when various law enforcement agencies, led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, raided the park and seized it in a federal forfeiture action. Jimmy pled guilty to a single drug related charge and spent a year in a prison camp in South Dakota. The photo below is of Mr. Jimmy Tebeau.

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources purchased the land, at auction, for 640,000, and subsequently acquired an additional 100 adjacent acres. This was the beginning of a politically controversial period of development into what is now Echo Bluff State Park, named for the towering bluff overlooking Sinking Creek in front of the modern lodge. Within the park a beautiful stone bridge was constructed across Sinking Creek, among other projects, which became the subject of some concern given the poor quality of many bridges within the county. Thankfully, the government was not dissuaded and the park was fully developed and opened in the summer of 2016. Although the exact costs are elusive, the improvements within the park are conservatively estimated to have cost around 55 million dollars, not including approximately 10.5 million dollars in federal grants. What does this investment get you, you might ask?

The camping area is, in simple terms, state of the art. The RV parking pads are all concrete, level, spacious and properly equipped for the various needs of users, in terms of water, sewer and electrical connectivity. This area is not currently shaded, however; trees have been planted and will soon provide ample shade. The shower houses and restroom facilities are all first rate, immaculately maintained and convenient. There are considerable tent and primitive camping opportunities close at hand, with parking for those that walk in. Handcarts are available, conveniently spotted around the grounds, to pack in your gear. For those who eschew the camping experience, there are a number of very modern cabins and chalets as well as rooms in the lodge, which is a gorgeous building. Sinking Creek runs through the park and provides wading, fishing and swimming opportunities at a number of locations. Tazzy loves this park and we have named one of the deeper pools on the creek “Tazzy’s Hole”, a place where he swims until exhaustion! In spite of these many amenities, the draw is the setting.

The hills and ridges are densely wooded in pine and hardwood. The hollows are deep and fog shrouded in the mornings, the cool air from the creek practically demanding a campfire in the ring at each campsite. There is abundant wildlife and a resident population of feral horses who have a fondness for such things as watermelon carelessly left out at night. There is WiFi, as some folks do not think they can live without it, and it is surprisingly good. We found it useful only in a drenching downpour, precluding us from being out and about. There are numerous float outfitters close at hand, some of which will pick you up at your campsite, deliver you to a put in and pick you up at the take out, then deliver you back to your campsite or cabin. How convenient is that!

There are local folks who can remember the sounds of blaring rock bands shattering the peaceful hills. There is an occasional local with enough salt to remember the sounds of children squealing in the cold creek waters or coaxing a horse along a trail. I can only imagine what it is like in the fall, when nature displays her colors. I am told that Halloween is a special occasion in the RV park, with folks dressing up and brightly lighting their RV’s as they welcome children on the prowl for treats. If there is a downside, it is the park’s popularity. Make your reservations well in advance as this is going to be one of those coveted destinations where sites are reserved many months in advance.

We will be back, soon. There is much research to be done and many interviews to be conducted. I thoroughly enjoy conversations with the folks in Shannon County who have lived the colorful history around Echo Bluff. The hills will never give their secrets up. The stories that are known only to the ridges, hollows and hills are locked away forever.

If only these hills could talk!

Our Fascination with Risk…..

We the people love risk. Our blessed existence in a free country, where we can make decisions relative to everyday living with little interference from government is an excellent example of the proverbial, two edged sword. I tend to associate with folks who I would describe as excitement junkies, folks who enjoy being in motion. Many years ago, author John A. Shedd, wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” This adage applies to many things in everyday life. Our challenge today, in a country that thrives on excitement, is to balance risk and reward. The legal profession and insurance industry both seek to mitigate the impact of risk with words, such as a warning to not place your hand in a blender and turn it on. Words may help but personal accountability is the single biggest piece of the mitigation equation. Let’s talk about it.

Risk is everywhere. We all understand that quietly sitting in your favorite chair, sipping a cup of coffee while reading some bloggers musings, carries little risk. On the other hand, placing one’s body in motion, whether it be driving across town to shop, or powering a bass boat up a narrow arm of Truman lake, increases the risk. Issac Newton, a genius from another era, determined that a mass (human being) in motion requires energy to move it and the dissipation of energy to stop it. Human beings tend to come apart if too much speed is involved in either acceleration or deceleration. It is really pretty simple. So, what does this mean?

Insurance actuaries make a very good living assigning a monetary value to risk. They study human activity and through careful analysis of outcomes in various scenarios, arrive at a reasonable premium to charge folks engaged in these activities. I ride a motorcycle, and was surprised with a hefty premium increase last year as a result of the stupidity, bad luck and carelessness of other riders in my region who, by any account, have had a bad year on our roads. Piloting a light airplane is viewed as having approximately the same risk factor as the motorcycle, and it cost more to insure my life when I fly. (The pool of insurers willing to offer a life policy on general aviation pilots is very small, and the premiums high.) Perhaps the single biggest risk that I have ever taken was on a snowmobile ride in the mountains in Colorado where our young trail guide led us on a virtual race down narrow trails at breakneck speeds. The thought of being lost and freezing to death prompted my decision to “keep up”. It was exhilarating and plain, damned dangerous.

Warnings are everywhere. Because of the clumsy, distracted effort of a motorist accepting a cup of hot coffee at a McDonalds, we are now warned the coffee is hot and may burn you. I recently purchased a very nice folding knife and noted a warning the knife could cut you resulting in serious injury or death if not used carefully. We bought a small gas grill to travel with in our RV and the box contained a number of warnings that indicated the grill would be hot and possibly burn you if you touched it while in use. There are an unbelievable number of warnings in the owners manual of our pick-up truck that would lead you to believe your chances of survival if you actually drove the thing were not good. There are warnings that suggest you should wash your hands after a restroom break, and the failure to do so could result in serious illness. There are warnings on hair dryers suggesting that use while sitting in a tub of water could be hazardous and warnings on paint cans to not ingest the paint. When a lawsuit is filed, the number and location of the warnings is the contested issue, not the sanity of someone painting his bathroom, and drinking the paint while standing in a tub of water, drying their hair.

I, like so many others, am crushed by the horror of the drownings in the recent duck boat tragedy in Branson, Mo. As a matter of fact, I have never ridden one of these things as I have never believed them to be safe, based on nothing more than intuition and years of boating experience. This same experience causes me to run like the devil for a safe haven when weather threatens on a lake. Risk is a part of any active lifestyle and signs, placards and warnings do not remove the requirement for personal accountability on the actor’s part.

Folks, if you are moving, there is risk. Personal accountability is the first step in guaranteeing a positive outcome when you are in motion! Have a good day and enjoy the reasonable degree of risk that suits you. For the most part, being in motion is a hoot, and damned sure beats the alternative.

Twenty-Nine Names on The Wall…….

Night before last I attended my 50th High School class reunion, an event that I almost skipped because of misplaced priorities. The precious few hours spent at this event has been on my mind since, anchored in place by a display of classmates that are no longer living. I came away having learned another lesson in life. Each of us should set aside time to mitigate regret. Let’s have a look at this nasty little concept that plagues all of us.

I have made my living around the concept of preserving life and protecting dignity. As such, I have dealt with the fragility of life and the certainty of death, often unexpected and remarkably sudden. On far too many occasions, I have stood with family members and friends of folks who are confronted by the death of a friend, acquaintance or family member, and witnessed first hand the regret that immediately envelops the survivors. I have officiated at the scenes of many sudden deaths, and helped surviving folks through the denial that almost always sets in soon after someone dies unexpectedly. A key ingredient in denial is regret. I am writing to encourage my readers to take steps today to deal with this inevitable response to the loss of someone we hold dear by protecting the friendships we are blessed with.

I was acquainted with every one of the 29 people whose name graced the memorial wall. Some of those folks were friends back in the day, and I had no idea they had died, many of them far too soon, many years ago. As I visited with folks at the reunion, it occurred to me that soon enough some of their names will grace the memorial wall. A sobering thought is the reality that, at some point, my name will be added to this list of folks who once enjoyed a shared existence during those beautiful years of innocence and laughter. I felt a tinge of regret at having never again seen or heard from them after we walked out of the auditorium on the night we graduated. My feelings of regret intensified as I noted several very good friends on that list, friendships that were casually discarded at the end of the High School experience.

The 29 names and pictures on the wall serve as a reminder that friendships are a vital component of living and should never be taken for granted. The friendships that formed during those years deserve a little maintenance over time and I walked away Friday evening resolving to provide that maintenance. There is a harsh reality in play here, the reality that in the next few years, relatively speaking, we all will be added to that list. Life is tough enough without dealing with regret in response to an obituary announcing that an old friend has died, leaving many conversations unspoken and memories unshared.

Fifty years is plenty of time to shake the decidedly one sided existence that we have lived, an existence dominated by work and the pressing needs of day to day life. We now have time to push regret to the back burner by reconnecting with those who shared the intimacy of growing up early in life. Call or write an old friend soon. You won’t regret it.

A lesson learned, courtesy of 29 names on a wall.

The Reunion…….

I am not a big fan of the rear view mirror in life. Unless you have a selective memory, these mirrors tend to reflect the truth, which is comprised of good times and bells you cannot unring. While I have never been to a High School reunion before last night, I decided the 50th might be a good place to jump into the past and have a look around. It was a hoot!

Waynesville (Missouri) High School, like other such bastions of education, supports a good number of kids from military families courtesy of it’s proximity to Ft. Leonard Wood. I am told that reunions here are usually relatively small, and last night’s group was no exception. The attendees, as a result, were dominated by folks who called Waynesville and the surrounding area home, and who presumably have maintained some degree of contact with one another. I was a student politician back in the day and knew most of our class, 173 strong, by name. I am guessing there were about 25 attendees last night not counting spouses and significant others, which brought the crowd to 50 or so. A photographic display of known classmates who have gone to their reward, represented another 29 or so folks. A number of close High School friends were represented in this group and their departure was a sobering consideration.

Now for the fun stuff. I love the game of baseball and to that end I pitched for our team in my junior and senior years. Behind me was a human vacuum cleaner at shortstop who is responsible for much of the success that I enjoyed on the mound. He is still unassuming, wiry and wearing the perpetual smile that was so reassuring when we took the field. We talked about my efforts to pitch around a big kid from an opposing team who could drive a ball into orbit. I served up a breaking ball to this goliath who slapped it out of the ball field, much to the consternation of our coach. My shortstop, who had a great deal of credibility with the coach, suggested to the coach that I had made a “good pitch”. The coach’s response was “good for whom”. The answer was obvious. We laughed again last night.

As I “worked” the room, shaking hands and hugging folks who I likely will never see again, I was surprisingly comfortable. I was reminded of the innocence and trust that we shared, feelings that have eroded as a result of the great division in people today. I was also reminded just how simple life was in 1968. Our school was not politically oriented and I suspect most of us cared little for the headlines with the exception of Vietnam, a unique issue given the number of Army brats in our student population. The group last night reflected a cross section of American culture, with a surprising range of vocations and interests.

Several of the men were enjoying a great conversation about the cars of the day, when I looked around to see Sharon in a conversation with my longest tenured High School romantic interest. Oh joy! That was a conversation that piqued my interest, but Sharon assures me was arcane. I reminded myself that Sharon can hold her own in any conversation, and the anxiety soon passed. Looking back, both ladies validate my good fortune in women….

I enjoyed this experience. The folks in attendance are old enough to be comfortable with themselves in the life they have chosen. There was very little posturing and even less need for self promotion, just as it was on that early summer evening in 1968 when we graduated. A 50th class reunion is something you will only see once in a lifetime, unless you are destined for a full page in Guinness, and this unguarded glance in the rear view mirror was fun. When we graduated, the word of the day was “we made it”. The warmth in the room was palpable and I am fortunate to be associated with this group of folks. As I said earlier, what a hoot.

And we are still making it……

The City Butcher, Texas Style…..

Good barbecue isn’t all that difficult to whip up. There are few homes in America that don’t have some form of a barbecue grill lodged out back, ready to char a chunk or two of grocery store meat to the delight of the folks tending the fire. A bottle or two of one’s favorite brew can turn average ‘cue into fantastic ‘cue, enhanced by a splash or two of a favorite sauce. Terrific ‘cue, on the other hand, is usually the work of a master who has spent time perfecting his craft. Terrific ‘cue is made of carefully selected meats, lovingly rubbed with just the right spices and brought to perfection over a carefully managed fire. To me there is a single characteristic of terrific ‘cue that distinguishes it from ordinary barbecue; the taste, texture and flavor of the meat arrives before the taste of the high fructose corn syrup laced concoctions passed off as barbecue sauce these days. The City Butcher in Springfield, Mo. is home to terrific barbecue.

I have promised myself a motorcycle ride to Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Every time I read about this purveyor of what is described as the grand-daddy of Texas Style Barbecue, I marvel at the good fortune of the Texans who live close enough to arrive early and wait in a long line for this ‘cue. It must be that good. Jeremy and Cody Smith, not related by blood, have worked hard to perfect their craft. These are not good old boys who happened on the right rub, rather they are good old boys who attended Le Cordon Bleu, one in Arizona and the other in Texas, where they were introduced to the finer points of the culinary art. These are local boys, hell bent on delivering something memorable and my dear readers, they got ‘er done. The Smith’s rely on the same source of quality brisket as the Franklin crew in Austin, guaranteeing a proper start to their ‘cue.

Like any really good ‘cue joint, once you select and are served your fare, the rest of your meal is on you. You pick up your butcher paper covered tray, with the ‘cue lovingly slapped right on the paper, either unceremoniously in a pile or on a bun, and find a place to sit. You have already walked past a long, real ice, open cooler, laced with any number of bottled beverages and another cooler reminiscent of a live bait cooler in a country store, where you have selected your side of potato salad, macaroni salad or slaw, dished up in cardboard containers for your convenience. They also offer beans, generously loaded with bits of ‘cue, lightly smoked without the gooey texture of the stuff other joints throw at you. Prefer a fountain drink? No problem, they will hand you the cup and you make your way to the back of the dining room, walk past a cooler full of pickles and make your selection. Grab a bowl of pickles as you walk by. There are long community tables or booths, it matter’s not as everyone is concentrating on their ‘cue. In a joint like this, talking with your mouth full is socially acceptable….

The Smith’s stick to the basics and do it well. They serve an absolutely perfectly finished brisket, a neat smoked sausage, and either pulled pork or pork belly. Prefer burnt ends, you have arrived…as theirs are top shelf. I am not a burnt ends fan, but the lip smacking around me suggests they have this dish down! I have feasted here a total of four times in the last two weeks and found the ‘cue to be perfectly consistent. Trust me when I suggest the brisket, dry, as it is wonderful. As for sauces, they offer at each booth and on the tables, three concoctions that are relatively simple but terrific. The house, a spiced house and a mustard sauce comprise the offerings which are presented in plain glass bottles. This is a ‘cue joint where the sauce is, well, secondary to the wonderful meats. Sauce is how Americans do their ‘cue…..in this place, a little dab will do the job.

Let’s wrap this up. I go to the gym five days a week and work my butt off so I can eat. It is that simple, and the medical community says it is good for you. This same group of boring medics frown on too much red meat and suggest moderation in all things that are really tasty to human beings. Out of respect to these scholars, I will limit my trips to this eatery to once or twice a week, unless I have a breakthrough urge to eat terrific ‘cue in the interim. We have found our barbecue joint in Springfield and I recommend it to anyone who has a love for meat done right. Get there early or risk a long line to get to the counter for your sliced in front of you goodness. You don’t have to go to Austin to enjoy Texas Style Barbecue……it is here, just south of Bass Pro on Campbell. See you there!

Hair Styles and Police Officers…

I don’t get my news from Facebook but you have to admit that it is at least as good a source as the network propaganda that we are subjected to these days. While perusing a Facebook page dedicated to the opinions and observations of police officers, past and present, I came across a post suggesting that flat top haircuts and other ultra short styles belonged on State Troopers who would ignore serious crime to write a summons on some innocuous traffic code offense. The writer opined that if stopped by an officer with a flat top, hang on as a citation was sure to follow. I bristled, then reflected for a bit and laughed at the notion. There was, however, an element of sincerity in the writers commentary which has prompted this discourse. I should also note that I would welcome enough hair today to enjoy a flat top!

From time to time, I sported a flat top haircut. I was an Army officer’s son and really had no idea that you could wear your hair much longer than was necessary to manage a part. It was convenient and required only the short stroll from the shower to the locker in gym class to “blow” dry. I was never inconvenienced by the Army’s insistence on a nearly shaved head nor was I remotely concerned when I reported to the Patrol Academy with a buzz cut. In my day, a trip to the office resulted in a head to toe inspection by every senior officer you encountered, often without your knowing about it, and I was careful to project the “image” that was expected. I note that in today’s environment, Patrol officers still tend to be very image conscious. An added advantage to a short hair style was that you had no time to arrange and perfect a long hair style when the phone rang at 3AM summoning you to an accident somewhere. The folks in a wreck are traumatized enough with out facing a trooper with a five o’clock shadow and hair bristling from under his hat! I supervised officers that occasionally had to be reminded to get a haircut or tend to some other lapse in the expected grooming standard. I am unapologetic about this tendency.

I enjoyed criminal work, and at one point in my career was responsible for the criminal investigation bureau within the Patrol. Good criminal investigators are special folks who are intuitive, smart, detail oriented, focused and tenacious. We need these folks, however; they too, developed these attributes on the road, working traffic. Occasionally, the job required these folks to appear as shaggy beasts, capable of assimilating into the underworld with ease. Certainly, plain clothes investigators needed to reflect the appearance of the community they work in, but still can maintain some degree of decorum in their dress and grooming. Now to the heart of this issue.

Good traffic cops put a lot of criminals in jail. Every miscreant in our society drives or rides in a car nearly every day of their lives. Sure, there are traffic cops who simply write the summons and move on, ignoring one or more tells that would suggest the violator should be subjected to additional scrutiny. On the other hand, there are traffic cops who will astound you with the number of good criminal arrests they make, all emanating from a simple violation of traffic law. A good number of these successful officers wear their hair short, very short in some cases. As an administrator, I loved these guys. It is unfortunate that today’s crime shows tend to ignore the uniformed officer in deference to the detectives who solve cases with technology that may or may not exist. I enjoy the live action shows that highlight the talents of uniformed officers on the street who make criminal cases out of the simple act of stopping a traffic violator.

I would ask my police brothers and sisters who see traffic enforcement as a necessary evil to reconsider their position on the issue. A clean cut officer, perhaps even with a flat top, who chooses to do so, will be as formidable a crime fighter as any detective anywhere. He or she must remain focused on everything around them as opposed to a case they are actively working on. My hat is off to effective traffic officers, everywhere, and never, never should they be underestimated!

Hooty and Rattler….

Farmers and gardeners have been doing this since the beginning of time. Hunters have enjoyed many successful days afield or on some cold body of water using the technique in a slightly different way. I am speaking of the decoy. My favorite turkey decoy is a Flambeau collapsible hen that fits nicely in a pocket and is secured on a metal stake, designed in such a way that any breeze will cause it to move ever so slightly, thus sealing the fate of an errant, randy tom turkey on the prowl. Our conservation agents have used a tattered old deer mount, shot through by lazy road hunters, to bag game of another description commonly referred to as poachers. This line of reasoning led me to what has so far been a very rewarding association with a pair of characters that I have named Hooty and Rattler. Here is the story.

We were a little behind schedule this spring when I made the trip to our RV storage area to retrieve the TazMaHaul for our first trip of the season. As I backed under the hitch, I noticed that a careless bird had failed to exercise a reasonable degree of hygiene, thus depositing what appeared to be a quart of waste on the front of the shiny, aluminum surface. No problem, I intended to power wash the winter’s dust and film from it anyway. When I got it home, I hooked up the washer and climbed a step ladder to begin the rinse. It must be the white, enamel paint they put on the top of these things. The birds had begun coating the top of the RV with droppings and started a nest in each of the air conditioning units. A shaky hour or so later, I had removed the evidence of their presence, not without an occasional oath, mind you. Something had to be done, as fully enclosed storage is rare in Springfield. I was fortunate enough to secure covered storage, close to home.

The owner of the storage facility had hung an occasional plastic owl from the corners of the covered areas, but they were not having much of an effect and I knew that I would have to do better. I started shopping, with Amazon being the source of my inspiration. A couple of days later the UPS guy delivered Rattler, a rubber snake that must invoke terror in the birds, even though in appearance he does not live up to his colorful name. In fact, he resembles no snake that I have ever seen, but I love him anyhow. His curly tail drapes nicely over some feature on the roof of the trailer, looking very much like he is on the hunt for a careless feathered, flying sewer system. I knew it would not be enough though, as his area of operation was 28′ long and the protrusions on the roof would conceal him from birds flying a left pattern onto the roof. I then began looking for an owl with something extra. It was love at first sight. Hooty was sitting quietly in a local hardware store, his carefully balanced head slowly undulating in the breeze from a ceiling fan, looking very much like the real thing. I mounted Hooty on a board for stability, located a cheap rubber mat, and immediately pressed him into service.

The pictures with this piece tell the story. Our unit is parked next to a nearly identical unit just a few feet away. You can see the disaster that is awaiting our neighboring owner when he retrieves his trailer. It is important to note that both trailers had not been heavily targeted when I first noted the problem with birds. I had posted Hooty and Rattler upon returning from a short venture and the birds then double downed on our neighbor and have stayed away from my team. As recommended by folks who know, I slip out to the storage area and move my team around every week or so, thus creating the illusion of sentries on patrol. We have enjoyed success with this approach. I am convinced the softly floating head of Hooty is disconcerting to even the cleverest of birds, thus enhancing his effectiveness. I intend to procure yet another snake to complete my team, probably one that is a bit longer. I’ll likely name him after another fearsome reptile, perhaps Cobra or Copperhead.

As a side note, another RV owner had noticed Rattler and laughingly suggested it had scared the daylights out of him. He appears to be a sharp guy and his experience only confirms the effectiveness of a well placed team of decoys. Scared is what I want!

If my ruse fails to impress over time, I intend to secure a mannequin, dress him appropriately and pose him on the roof of my unit! I’ll put a little signage up, as I doubt everyone will see the humor in my ongoing battle with the feathered poop meisters!

It is on my feathered friends…….round two!