Care and Feeding of Alligators: A Louisiana Memoir Thursday, Jul 31 2008 

Given the news yesterday of a Southeast Louisiana child having his arm bitten off by an alligator, timing of this topic is really awkward , but I resolved a week ago, when I related this tale to an NWP colleague at our retreat in Nebraska, that this was one of those tales worth preserving for posterity. So I relate my personal experience here.

Some years ago (more than I care to remember, back to the mid-1980’s), I worked in the oil field as a mud engineer. One assignment placed me from week to week on an inland barge drilling for oil and gas in the Rockefeller Game Refuge in coastal Cameron Parish, Louisiana. The crew boat captains that transported us from the dock to the rig were required by law to slow down to idle in the canals to minimize propeller wounds to the populous ‘gators in the habitat.

So alligators were common.

They were common around the rig location, too. And accordingly, for larks each evening after supper, a group of us would take a five-gallon plastic bucket to the galley where we’d gather the left-over biscuits and other scraps from supper. Down to a supply barge tied to the rig we’d descend, and a flock of ‘gators swarmed to the barge as soon as they saw us. We tossed the biscuits to them, just like tossing popcorn to a puppy dog, and those rascals would rear their heads out of the water and catch the biscuits in mid-air: chomp, chomp, chomp. We could see their throat muscles’ peristaltic contractions as they downed the biscuit with their heads protruding from the water, snouts pointed skyward.

Yep, that was pretty cool. And a little creepy. These creatures were crafty, and I altered my previous regard for them as dull brutes.

And fascinating or not, I further resolved I don’t ever care to go swimming with them!

No place like home! Tuesday, Jul 29 2008 

After getting up at 2:30 a.m. in Nebraska City to catch a 6:15 departure from Omaha, I find myself, as usual, before the computer at bedtime, searching for thoughts to take to bed.   While I’m sure I’ll have many thoughts to sort out in the days to come, the first and foremost this evening is “Whew, how nice to be home!”

Sarah (the girlfriend/wife), the kids, the grandbaby, the puppy dogs:  they were all demonstrative in bidding me “Welcome home.”  I am, among earthly creatures, most richly blessed!

But richly blessed, too, to be able to extend the circle of friends through NWP.  I have more friends today than I had five days ago.

Family, friends, puppy dogs–on the subject of home, what else matters?

What time is church? Culture vs. Dogma Sunday, Jul 27 2008 

Somebody send this link to Pastor Moffett in Eunice, LA.  This Nebraska City church knows how to have laid back worship.  Just like kids’ school, Sunday School takes the summer off.


I don’t know anything about this congregation or its spiritual health and vitality. If the place is dead and lifeless, the summer slow-down may a merciful release from a dull religious routine.


On the other hand, it’s possible they have a compelling, logical argument to support their assertion that summer at church deserves to be laid back.  After all, regular school recesses for summer, so why not Sunday School?


Then, there’s the possibility of a completely cultural explanation for the summer pattern in this small Nebraska town since the Midwest differs in cultural as well as geographical climate from our beloved South.


If the cultural explanation be the case, as I suspect it does, I don’t believe the Midwesterners’ premise would stand long in the hot, dogmatic South where the pathos of dogma weighs more heavily than logic sometimes (as when southern farm boys of humble estate laid their lives on the line for the Patrician planter class during the Civil War?  Dumb!)   


Accordingly, if twelve month Sunday School and Sunday night services were good enough for the Apostle Paul, that’s good enough for us?  (I know some people who would applaud that conclusion.)


It may not be biblical, but it’s fine dogma.

Country Roads Americana Friday, Jul 25 2008 

I’ve known country roads. Dusty, gravel roads like this one in eastern Nebraska.


I was excited this afternoon to discover this rural alternative for my daily jog:  corn fields on the right, apple orchard on the left, coursing rolling hills in the American heartland. 


Yes, I’ve known country roads: dusty, gravel roads in quaint, rural places.

The 08 Travelogue: Next stop, . . . Tuesday, Jul 22 2008 

I’ve made some tracks this year.

First stop was Kalamazoo in March.  Next came Eastern Tennessee for the NJCAA World Series in May, followed by Florida in June.

And next, come Thursday, I set sails (or American Airlines wings) for Nebraska for another National Writing Project function.  I’ll be a guest of the Lied Lodge and Conference Center in Nebraska City.  (I can’t wait to see the room in the photo in real life!)

I’ve been to Nebraska before, if cutting through a tiny segment in the western corner from northeast Colorado to Kansas counts.  That dull part of Nebraska is colored “High Plains brown,”  resembling desolate biblical weary lands.   Where I’m headed Thursday looks pretty verdant, not far from the Missouri River.  Matter of fact, Nebraska City (an hour from Omaha) is the home of Arbor Day.  Green stuff!

More later in the week from Eastern Nebraska.  I’m happy for the change of scenery, but sad that I must leave behind the ones I love the most!

The reward for not killing one’s kids . . . Sunday, Jul 20 2008 

A friend ran into us in WalMart today and asked about the grandbaby. We were altogether too happy, of course, to babble effusively about chere little Payton.

He left us with this captivating thought:

“A grandchild is God’s reward for not killing your kids.”

Dontcha just love it?

How I Became an English Teacher Friday, Jul 18 2008 

Recalling crossroads moments in our lives is a good exercise. I bet if we made a list of those crossroads moments, many, like the following, would not have seemed like a crossroad at the time. After being adrift for almost a year at the time, I just needed a permanent job! It happened like this.

I’ll always remember that August late morning in 1986 or 87 when Sarah drove up to The City Lake spot I had taken my four or five year old Zach to fish. I was caught up for the day on the yard mowing and house painting that a displaced oilfield service hand did to stretch out the unemployment checks until a more permanent and fulfilling occupation came along. I had grown complacent about the future. Things were working out and we were making it o.k. But she told me the principal at the junior high had called. He wanted me to call him right away, so we cut short the fishing and I went home to return the call (no cell phones in that day’). Mr. Alfred asked me right away to come to his office. He had a place, and it was mine for the taking. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but I recall his explaining that he had an eighth grade science opening and an eighth grade English opening, and he offered me the one of my choice. That’s how I became an English teacher without having a degree in English education, much less English. And all this happened two days before the start of school! The salary was about 50% of what I had made as a mud engineer, but it was a salary and it was a start.

I jotted down all of that at a Writing Project retreat activity at the DeLaSalle Retreat Center near Lafayette three years ago when we were asked to write a reflection having something to do with our decision to enter the teaching profession. In my case, it’s like the profession chose me, kind of like Marley the Dog chose his home in our back yard.

I believe it’s important that we regard crossroads moments like these as Providential–even Marley the Dog’s crossroads moment. These are true callings. Happy are we when we recognize the hand of God!

Snicker’s Escape Remembered Wednesday, Jul 16 2008 

This is one of those weeks that fly by so fast that writing original material for the blog is nigh impossible.  So I resort to pre-existing sources, like the ’05 journal, wherein I found the following entry for this very date, three years ago:

“Help of the helpless, O abide with me!”

Yes, Lord, esp. when saddled with Snicker.  That little devil.  She scaled a six foot fence and slithered out while Zach and Autumn are up in Branson.  I guess she wanted to go on vacation too—I found her in the Biessenberger’s back yard dog pen about 10:30.  Why did they pen her up?  I hope to find out one day.  Meanwhile, Snicker might as well get used to seeing a lot of the inside of her cage in the utility room.

Yep, we were puppysitting for Zach and Autumn, and Snicker (“Houdini Dog”) did her classic escape act.  I remember us scouring the neighborhood well after dark with my hand-held spot light when I found her.  I think I’ll enjoy babysitting Payton more than Snicker.   She was a load

In the picture, Snicker is the  little priss on the left.  The other partner in crime is our beloved Sadie, who to her credit at least has never tried to break out of the back yard, although she has “dug it up” a number of times in her own mischievous puppyhood.

What’s on the cheminea? Catfish fillets, salmon patties. Saturday, Jul 12 2008 

I don’t think I’ll ever do conventional charcoal barbeque/grilling again.  Cooking on top of the cheminea with a bed of flaming hardwood embers amounts to charbroiling–it’s totally unique.

For one, the  fragrance of the hardwood fire is more seductive than an ordinary barbeque fire, especially once the meat starts cooking.  (Secret: For a really aromatic fire, mix in some pieces of Pecan wood with the Oak!).

And as much as the aroma is more seductive to the palate, the amount of smoke in the process is much less than a closed-pit barbeque.  The idea with the cheminea is to get the fire hot (because the meat is farther  from the flames), and a hot fire is almost smokeless because the wood is burning rather than smoldering (as in a barbeque pit).  I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping the fire regulated (You can definitely overdo the flames, unless you like charred to a crisp more than well-done.)

Notice Sadie the Dog in the backdrop of this photo.  She was hopeful she’d get a morsel, but alas, t’was none to be had for the  puppy dogs.  But I did let her lick my paper plate before I threw it away.

Marley the Dog, at Home Wednesday, Jul 9 2008 

Day by day, Marley the Dog becomes more and more habituated to life in the back yard on Hill Street.  Sadie still growls and snaps, especially at food time, but as this photo to the right shows, they are beginning to have cuddlesome, canine bonding moments.  They played keep away with an old towel in the back yard this afternoon, too.  Sadie put on her gruff, snarling bully act, but the Marley was unimpressed as he flew about, attacking the end of the towel that Sadie dragged and flailed in a spirited game of keep-away.

The verdict so far on Marley: No regrets!

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