Oly Will Never be a Boy Scout

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I’m ashamed that I was a member of the Boy Scouts of America. The recent vote to allow gays is all I needed to decide if my son Oly will ever be a member of the boy scouts. Don’t get me wrong, it is not the fact that they allowed gays to join, it is the fact that they had to vote on that. What a pitiful group of men.

I loved being a scout; in many ways, it was a driving factor in my becoming a park ranger in Yellowstone. But, when I was a scout, we didn’t worry about the other kids sexual orientation. How many 11 year olds do you know that are openly gay? Even if a young boy feels different at that age, do you think he is openly talking about his thoughts at 11 years old? I don’t think so. Are scout leaders saying they can’t help our kids learn about life if they are gay?

What really irks me is most of those people would say that being gay is against their religious beliefs. Well dude, I don’t want to know your god. The god I learned about was all accepting.  

I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 40, which meets at Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. It has been thirty-five years and I still consider a few of the people I met there among my closest friends. We even had a gay assistant leader; some of us knew it and we still were safe and we excelled in scouting.

Of the 1400 people that were called on to vote, over 40% voted to not allow gay kids; really? That is nearly 500 men that voted to ban gays. I wonder how many of those 500 men are secretly gay? More than a couple dozen would be my guess; the others just play the fool so well. Can you say reach-around?

So, what have we learned about the Boy Scouts of America? We have learned that the leaders are bigots and fools. We have also learned that they love closets.

I helped Troop 4 from St Agnes in Louisville plan a trip to Yellowstone that they will take this summer; I will never help a scout troop again.

Some of the smartest, most beautiful and honest people I have met in my life are gay and who cares? Maybe I should go back to the scouts and earn my Bigot Merit Badge, because I just don’t get it.

 

 

 

  

 

 

Look At The Head On That One

photo3The trouble started well before Jerry Butler was born.  Mrs. Butler, Jerry’s mom, started having problems with her pregnancy in about her third month; by the forth month she was bedridden and miserable.  The doctors, as well as family members, started to suggest she terminate the pregnancy, but Mrs. Butler was determined to have the baby.  As she approached the third trimester, it became unrealistic to think the baby wouldn’t be born early.  A quick look at Mrs. Butler in bed made people think of a bloated cow; how could a woman’s stomach stretch so much?  Finally the doctors decided it was time to induce labor and deliver the child.

            The cesarean section took hours, and the doctors were flabbergasted by what they saw.  Jerry was healthy in every way, but his head was the largest one anyone could remember.  Jerry’s body was normal in size, which made his head look even bigger.  After the initial shock faded, Mrs. Butler was just happy to have a healthy child.  During the first couple of years, there were not many problems that couldn’t be addressed.  Normal baby clothes had to be altered to fit over Jerry’s head; Mrs. Butler became an expert at adding zippers and snaps to clothes that were made to be pulled on.  The Butlers bought a baby carriage made for twins and took the divider out so Jerry and his head would fit.

            The hardest and most frustrating period came as Jerry was learning to walk.  His head was so heavy he couldn’t lift the weight into an upright position.  While all babies have trouble with balance, that trouble was multiplied for Jerry.  He learned to place his forehead on the ground and pull his feet under himself.  This worked well on wood or tile floors; Jerry could slide himself from room to room without much trouble.  It was strange to watch him slide around the house.  Slowly, Jerry learned to pull his head off the floor just slightly, but he still couldn’t stand.

            When he was about ten, Jerry’s back and neck were getting strong enough to pull his legs up and under himself, and with fast footwork he could stand.  It was crazy to watch; Jerry would rush forward and then backward, much like a circus performer trying to balance objects in the air.  Jerry wore holes in the carpet from swinging back and forth, while attempting to remain upright.  Kids in the neighborhood would gather just to see Jerry stand. 

            When mere standing was no longer a problem for Jerry, Mr. Butler rigged a bicycle with a huge u-shaped brace that Jerry could rest his head in.  As long as Jerry stayed on streets that were flat, things were not a problem, but once, when Jerry went down the hill by school, he gained so much speed, with his head bent forward, he couldn’t make the turn at the bottom, and he shot off the road and into the woods.  The local kids were always trying to get Jerry to ride that hill again.

            Instead of getting hurt by all this, Jerry decided he could use the weight of his head in a positive way.  Jerry took skiing lessons.  The lift operators were great to Jerry; they would let a few empty chairs go up and then help him on the chair.  Crowds would gather to watch Jerry get off the chair, and once he turned downhill there was no stopping him.  Other skiers would move off to the side of the runs as Jerry raced by, going faster than any skier had ever gone, while  throwing a trail of snow into the air as if a semi had driven by.  You could hear people whisper,  “Look at the head on that one.”   

            Jerry had finally found something he was good at.  Until his skiing days, Jerry had always thought he would end up as a mascot for some football team or something.  Today, whenever people ask why skiers are so big-headed, I tell them they just want to be like Jerry Butler.                          

More Than A Bench

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If you are ever in Olympia, stop by the farmers market and spend some time on Ron’s bench. It is something that Megan and I and now Oly do often; we took Oly there when he was just three months old. The Olympia’s farmers market is a special place in a special town. Like most urban areas, time is catching-up to Washington’s capital city. There are more homeless people than there used to be and the fads are different than they were when any of us were young. But, at the farmers market, if you get a chance, relax on Ron’s bench and watch for Ron’s spirit. It is there among the apples and crafts. Maybe it is floating on the music. You will notice the flavor of the people; Ron was one of them.

Ron worked in the same hospital in Olympia for 30 years. He was a mental health specialist and you would find it hard to locate a local family that Ron did not impact in some positive way. Ronald Joseph O’Connor passed away two days after he retired; two days. That still pisses me off.

I had many special moments with Ron. One of the most memorable was when Meg, Ron and I were paddling in Mud Bay near Olympia. As we paddled among some old log pilings, a baby seal surfaced and swam along with us; it would swim and then roll onto its back and then repeat the entire motion. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone, but I have never forgotten that sight or the pleased look on Ron’s face.

Ron was Oly, Isabella, Ben and Mia’s granddad, he was Megan and Sarah’s father and he was my friend. Ron was a spiritual man. He studied to become a priest when he was young. He was Zen Buddhist as an adult and he was a Christian when he died. He liked religion and he did not care where your spirituality came from; he had respect for all people’s beliefs. The world would be better if we all had the values of Ron O’Connor. The world would be better if we still had Ron O’Connor.

I hope Ron found his heaven and if he did, I bet there is a nice basketball court and I hope Izzy is his cheerleader.

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“GOOD FOR YOU”

Could Wolves Help with Bluebird Recovery?

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The return of bluebirds to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem occurs like clockwork. I usually see my first bluebird of the year between the second and third week of March. This year, it was on March 20Th. During spring, they are still dispersing and when you see one, you see several. The way their bright blue color flashes across a snow-covered hillside is a sure sign that winter is coming to an end in this rocky mountain habitat. When I worked as a snowcoach driver in Yellowstone, I would see my first bluebirds in a meadow just west of Canyon Village a week or so before the winter season was over. In those days, that was a sign that my friends and I were about to head to the desert southwest to escape the snow.

Here at the Cirql H, we see Mountain Bluebirds. At your house, you may have a chance to see Eastern Bluebirds or Western Bluebirds, depending on where you live. In those areas, they are still recovering from the land clearing and habitat loss that happened in the 1700s and 1800s. As civilization expanded and land was cleared for crops, much of the good nesting habitat was lost. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters; they use abandoned woodpecker holes in trees and similar spaces to nest. As forests and dead or down trees disappeared from the landscape, so did the bluebird.

To help with the recovery, bluebird boxes started to appear all across the country. You most likely have seen them spaced along fence rows in rural areas. There are very specific parameters for bluebird boxes. They should have an entrance hole one and a half inches around and the boxes should be no higher than five feet off the ground. They will inhabit spaces that are higher if that is all that is available. In the 1800s, farmers built elaborate multilevel bluebird houses to attract bluebirds; that practice was more of a way to fight off mosquitos and other insects.

So, this is where you ask,”How do wolves help bluebirds?”

In the early 1990s, I was working as a guide in Yellowstone; I drove park busses in the summer and as I mentioned, snowcoaches in the winter. That was during the time that the big push to reintroduce wolves was in full swing. As guides, we would speculate on how wolves would alter the landscape. With more wolves there would be less coyotes. Less coyotes meant more red fox. Wolves also meant less elk and the elk that were still around would behave more like elk; they would tighten-up their herds and those herds would be on the move more than they were when the top predator was missing. The increased movement helped the riparian edges in Yellowstone recover from overgrazing; elk would no longer be able to spend days eating all the new growth along the park’s rivers and streams.  

That is where I see the connection between wolves and bluebirds. As willow bushes, cottonwood trees and aspen trees rebounded, so did beaver. The habitat really changed. As beaver began to repopulate the area, they built dams that flooded meadows and created ponds. Many of those new beaver ponds flooded forests and killed trees. Those dead and decaying trees created habitat for our beloved bluebird.

So as I welcome bluebirds and spring back into my world, I find I have a better appreciation for the connections found in nature. When I hear a so-called outdoorsman complain about wolves, I ask myself, “What the hell do they have against bluebirds?”

 

A Pocket Full of Rocks

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If you know Montana, you know what I mean when I say it was a Montana type of day.  Puffy white clouds dotted the otherwise deep blue sky. There were mountains and there was a river. It felt as if the world was just waking. It was clean and fresh.

Our place was still buried in winter, but we could see the open land down slope. The people who live down there, below us, were in spring. We had to go visit and escape the mountains, if only for a while.

The snow still covered everything above 6000 feet and while the river bottom was soggy and brown, it was snow free. In most areas, a crusted fringe of lingering white ice gripped the river’s edge, refusing to melt.

After driving out of our winter world, we found a spot along the river where we could access a rock covered beach; our house was in view back in the frozen distance.  After dressing Oly in several layers, we worked our way along the bank until we could cross a small drainage and search for rocks on an exposed island. It was Oly’s first trip to the Yellowstone River since the snow had abated to the mountains.

Strolling along the river, looking for rocks, is one of my favorite things. I can clear my mind and free myself from the rest of the world. I stumble around plucking different rocks from the sand. Some are chosen for beauty, some for color or shape. Other types catch my eye because of how they were made.

Different people are drawn to different types of rocks. In the world of geology, you are a sed-petter if you study sedimentary rocks, a hard-rocker if you study metamorphic rocks and a hot-rocker if you study igneous rocks or volcanoes.

I’m a hot rocker first. I like rocks that show signs of how the Yellowstone ecosystem was formed. So I stumble along, crouched over, filling my pockets with petrified wood and agate. Today, I filled Oly’s back pocket with a nice piece of petrified wood.

I can see the future. Oly will be walking back to our raft with his swim trunks around his ankles because his pockets are full of rocks. Like father, like son.