Author Archives: Norm Brown

Out My Back Door — by Norm Brown

My backyard consists of a five foot wide strip of San Augustine lawn that abruptly drops away down a rocky brushy hillside. Sometimes it’s surprising what appears just beyond my rear deck. Over the years I’ve spotted deer, raccoons, armadillos, and coyotes from the porch or through my kitchen window.

Twin Fawns

Twin Fawns

Usually this requires seeing the wild animal before it spots me and runs away. This spring, however, I had a brief visit from a little critter that apparently came to my yard specifically to see me. It was a bit strange, but touching in a way. Outside the light was dimming as the sun was about to set. I had just settled down in my easy chair to search for something worthwhile on television, when motion outside drew my attention. I stood and looked out through the glass backdoor. At the bottom of the steps to the rear deck the fuzzy little face of a gray fox was looking back at me. I turned and went for my phone, thinking I might snap a quick photo before he took off. When I turned back I was amazed to see the little gray and tan animal actually walk right up to the glass door and briefly look at me inside. He turned and went back down the steps as I approached the door. At this point most wild things would be long gone, but when I quietly stepped out onto the porch, I was shocked to find him sitting peacefully on his haunches beside my birdbath. I moved right up to the wooden railing and tried a couple of shots with the cell phone. The light was too low to get anything but a fuzzy blur with the phone’s camera, but the fox continued to gaze calmly back at me. I hurried back inside and upstairs to retrieve my Nikon camera. Unbelievably, when I returned to the deck he was still sitting there, as if posing for his close-up. We were not more than fifteen feet apart. I snapped away, even talked to him. The usually invisible focusing beam from my camera twinkled brightly from the eyes of this nocturnal forager. Even when I used the flash, the little animal never flinched.

Evening Visitor

Evening Visitor

As the light completely faded he finally got up slowly and strolled into the brush down the hill. It seemed to me the fox had been trying to communicate something to me, sitting there looking me in the eye like a puppy. Later, while uploading the photos to my computer, it occurred to me what this visit had been all about. The day before I had decided to throw away a loaf of white bread that had been in my freezer for weeks. Before it hit the trash can, my son suggested I put some of it outside for the birds to eat. Nothing seemed to touch it during the day, but the scraps were all gone the next morning. It was pretty clear then that it hadn’t been a bird that scarfed down the tasty treat during the night. The fearless little fox had returned in hopes of getting more. Although I don’t make a habit of putting food on the lawn to attract who knows what, I couldn’t help but regret that I hadn’t understood what my patient visitor was trying to communicate to me: “Got any more of that stuff?”
A few weeks later I saw the fox once again during daylight hours, trying to catch a squirrel or other small rodent behind the house. He must live somewhere nearby. I hope to see my tiny neighbor again.

Fox from kitchen window

Fox from kitchen window

 

“Bother me tomorrow.
Today I’ll bear no sorrow.
Doo…Doo…Doo…looking out my back door.”

John Fogerty and the Creedence Clearwater Revival

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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A Most Unforgetable Camping Trip — by Norm Brown

During the latter part of the 1980’s my sons lived at their Mom’s and spent every other weekend with me. We had some great times. If it was Spring or Summer, most of that time involved fishing and camping. I had a pickup truck and a basic little fourteen foot aluminum fishing boat that saw a lot of action back then—not always a lot of fish, but a lot of action. There were so many of those fun trips, with or without fishing success, that it would be hard to pick out the one that I would consider the best, but I think my offspring and I would definitely agree on which weekend excursion was the most memorable. It was also unquestionably the worst.

Sam Rayburn Lake

Sam Rayburn Lake

It was a late Saturday afternoon, probably in the Spring of either 1989 or 1990. We had hurried out of Houston the previous evening and managed to snag our favorite camping spot in Brushy Creek Park on Sam Rayburn Lake. With me were my sons, 15/16 year old Wayne (aka Paul) and 12/13 year old Clifton. Wayne had also invited his best friend, Darren. It had been cloudy all day and the forecast called for scattered showers and possibly thunderstorms. I was in camp watching Clifton play in the campfire (which he much preferred over fishing) when Wayne and Darren pulled the boat up to shore. We had stayed off the main lake that day, but the teens had spent the afternoon trolling around the small protected cove. Because of the forecast chance of a thunderstorm, I had them pull the boat up in the shallow water and tie up to one of the bare old pine trees along the shore. Everyone was hungry and we thought we were in camp for the night, but while I was rummaging around in the rear of the truck for something to offer for supper, things changed. After being a little breezy all day, the air suddenly became incredibly still. The light level had already been low in the dense pine forest as dusk was approaching, but then we all noticed that everything took on a dark green tint, almost as if the air we were looking through had a greenish hue. The change was amazingly sudden and more than a little ominous. I was still at the rear of the truck looking around when a Park Ranger truck pulled up on the park road. The uniformed ranger didn’t get out, but just rolled down his driver side window and hollered at us that a tornado had been spotted somewhere in the area. As I started toward his vehicle he added, “I don’t think there’s time to try to drive out. If it gets bad, your best bet might be to get inside the restroom up there.”
The warning was barely out of his mouth when the heavy rain hit. Without another word, he hit the gas and disappeared around the curve in the park road. We all headed for my truck. Clifton and I got in the cab while the older boys climbed in the back, which was protected by a light aluminum camper shell. Still thinking we could wait it out, we hunkered down and listened to the downpour for a few minutes. The atmospheric conditions were changing at an unnerving rate. Looking up through the windshield I watched the towering pine trees, many over fifty feet tall and two feet thick at the base, begin to sway in the wind like tall thin weeds. Over the din of the rain striking the metal camper, I thought I heard the tailgate of the truck open. Were the boys making a run for it up the hill to the little restroom? To this day, I clearly remember looking down at my hand on the door handle just as the blowing rain changed to pebble sized hailstones. Not a good sign. On my command Clifton and I bailed out of the truck and ran. We still joke occasionally after all these years about the shared memory of Clifton looking up at me and briefly laughing at the sight of the little ice balls bouncing off my balding head. When we entered the restroom door, I discovered that Wayne and Darren weren’t inside. Within seconds, though, I heard Wayne’s frustrated voice from outside yell, “Where are they?” Shortly after, the two soaked teens came flying through the door. I had everyone sit with back against the brick wall. Whatever happened next, at least we would all be together.

We didn’t have long to wait. What happened next was the most violent natural phenomenon I have ever personally witnessed. A few years earlier in my Houston apartment I had sat through the passing of Hurricane Alicia. Cars down in the parking lot rocked from side to side and I had watched the sliding glass door to my balcony ominously bend in and out, almost like breathing. The straight line winds of seventy something miles per hour had been impressive, but for sheer terror what was outside that campground restroom easily topped that. The little structure had brick walls, but the roof was composed of translucent sheets of corrugated green plastic. How that stayed on, I don’t know. Outside, the sound of the wind seemed to alternate between a low roar and a high-pitched whistle. Then, I presume as the suspected tornado came closer, the thunder and lightning increased dramatically. I’ve never seen or heard anything like that. It was a blinding, constant flashing. Everything was bright as daylight inside the normally unlit restroom. The shadows of trees could be seen through the plastic roof, whipping in every direction. We heard several distinct heavy crashes as some of them fell to the ground somewhere outside. I remember feeling like I was just waiting for one of them to come through the roof. But none did. As suddenly as it all approached, the worst of the noise and light moved into the distance like that freight train I’ve so often heard compared to a tornado. All that had probably only lasted five minutes or so, but it seemed like forever, huddled with the kids against that brick wall.
With the break in the storm, we cautiously came outside into the diminishing wind and rain. A pine tree lay stretched across the ground less than ten feet from the entrance of the restroom. Another pine leaned ominously against its still upright neighbors. Fortunately we found the truck unharmed where we had left it. I think we all were feeling a bit giddy with relief as we hopped in and pulled away from camp, planning on driving into the nearest little town to find a place to get indoors and have something to eat. Even a McDonalds would have been a welcome find, but that turned out to be overly optimistic. Before reaching the exit to the park, we were stopped in our tracks by a good size hardwood tree across the park road. As we discussed the likelihood of managing to cut it up or push it aside, the big raindrops started again. In the distance the rumble of thunder began to approach. Not knowing what to expect next, I drove back into the park and pulled into the parking space for another small campground restroom, thinking that we could run inside if necessary. Happily, it wasn’t. Exhausted, our little group of survivors slept wherever we could in the truck until daylight.
The next morning we awoke to find ourselves still alone in a sunny and very quiet park. Back at our original camp we discovered our domed tent, complete with sleeping bags and gear, soaked and upside down two campsites away. I also discovered some new words had been added to my teenage son’s vocabulary when they came running back up from the shoreline. They had found the boat pressed down against the bottom by a foot-thick tree across the top of it. Amazingly, the dead tree had missed the outboard motor by only a foot or so and ended up balanced horizontally across the boat. Taking turns sawing, we were able to cut through the trunk and shove it off. The damage looked worse than it actually was. The shallow permanent dent along one side of the aluminum edge was really only noticeable of you looked straight along the side.
Across the small cove we could see the actual path the tornado had brutally carved through the woods. It must have come up through the cove and then turned away from our campsite. When I walked around the curve to the boat landing, I found another park ranger truck parked next to my empty boat trailer. It had somehow stayed put, all alone in the center of the asphalt parking lot. I felt a little foolish admitting it was mine, but the ranger just seemed relieved to hear that someone hadn’t been out in a boat during the storm. I had to agree, that probably would have been worse. As it was, we had come close enough to disaster for me.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Spring Street Party — by Norm Brown

As I’ve mentioned in a number of previous blogs, I live in a wooded subdivision located a few miles outside Austin, Texas. Yesterday our voluntary home owners association held our Spring street party and potluck dinner. It was supposed to take place out on the wide cul-de-sac in front of my home, but the already hot sun changed the plan a bit. As people from the neighborhood began arriving we set up tables for the food and coolers filled with beer and soft drinks in a small space among the trees in my front yard. Every family brought a food item and their own folding chairs. This year live entertainment was even provided by a talented teenager who sang and played guitar. We’ve been having these get-togethers for a few years now and have the routine down pretty well.

 

Neighbors

Neighbors

 

This tradition originally started as part of the National Night Out. That first time years ago we gathered on my back porch and followed all the suggested procedures for that national celebration. It went fairly well, but we were soon reminded that we were in Texas and it was the 3rd of August. As a neighbor and I grilled hot dogs, the thermometer on my wooden deck registered 104 degrees. Afterward there was a collective decision that getting neighbors together was a great idea, but maybe we didn’t have to so precisely follow the national rules. We now plan our events for the Spring and Fall seasons.
This year we had a good turnout. Everyone enjoyed barbeque and sampling all the great side dishes and desserts folks brought with them. As you can see from the photo above, the setting was a bit rough, nestled in among the scraggily mountain cedars near the road. I provided the sticks with reflectors in the foreground to warn everyone away from a fire ant bed I had failed to notice ahead of time. Fortunately that worked; no one was stung. As the sun was beginning to set, a coyote even wandered up and checked out the festivities. The smell of smoked brisket was probably what drew him so close, but the critter wandered peacefully away. Ah, life in the suburbs.
Cactus flower

Everyone had a great time and caught up on all the local goings-on. Like most neighborhoods we have our disagreements from time to time, like the newcomer who recently set things off by announcing his plan to construct a pistol shooting range in his three acre back yard. Turns out someone failed to include anything about that sort of thing in the original deed restrictions. Those sorts of confrontations are what I think put the “division” in subdivision. We’ll all work it out one way or another. And most of us who share this wonderful place will continue to plan our semi-annual street parties.

Have a happy summer.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Life Through a Straw

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was a morning in March 1984 when I awoke on a wheeled cart following oral surgery in a Houston hospital. Can that really be thirty years ago? The memory is still so vivid. After a few moments of panic I figured out that I really could breathe through the little plastic tube in my nose. My groggy brain must have decided: “The hell with this.” The next time my eyes opened I was back in my hospital room. I could breathe, but that was about all my head could do. The dental braces that had pulled and pushed my teeth around for the last couple of years were snugly wired together as well as secured by a vertical wire that ran through the bone at the base of my nose. I noticed a small shiny pair of surgical wire cutters on the little bedside table. I still keep those, never used, in a dresser drawer.

 Image

The surgical procedure I had undergone was considered a new innovation in the dental world at the time. I was told it was the only way to save my teeth from eventually being “pushed out of my head” by my misaligned jaw. I was born with a lower jaw that grew a bit too long, causing a fairly severe under-bite. With my jaw closed there was a gap between my front teeth, which explains why I hated baloney sandwiches when I was a kid. Unless I applied my tongue just right, the thin uncut lunch meat would all at once slide out of the sandwich and flop down my chin. I thought everybody had that problem. And just to add to the fun, nature threw in a slight cross-bite (the teeth on bottom sometimes struck a little to the left of my upper teeth). After thirty something years I was accustomed to my teeth moving around regularly. I’d chew on one side for a while and then have to switch because a molar was feeling loose due to poor occlusion. So, yes, I volunteered for the corrective surgery my dentist suggested. Basically, the procedure amounted to cutting my lower jaw bone on both sides and sliding it backward. Near the cuts the overlapping bone would naturally grow together in about six weeks. Today, this healing time is shortened by using permanent screws to secure the jaw.

After a couple of days of intravenous feeding, the hospital nutritionist brought in my first meal. I thought I knew what I had gotten myself into, but this was a shock. I had imagined being limited to mushy things like pudding, thin mashed potatoes, maybe even baby food. I was wrong. The little sections on that plastic food tray contained four tiny puddles of different colored liquids. They were all sweet and fruity tasting. There was no fork or spoon. I wouldn’t be using either of those for six long weeks. The nurse smiled apologetically as she handed me a plastic straw, the first of so many I would use over the coming months. The orthodontist had done an excellent job of realigning my teeth. The almost invisible openings between my clenched teeth were so tiny it required some effort to get even thin liquid past them and into my idling digestive system. A day or two later, they wished me well as I left the hospital. I had sort of expected some help with diet suggestions, but other than a few ideas from my Mom, I was on my own.  

It took a while, but I eventually got into a routine of having meals through a straw. It was always challenging to get any variety. The hardest part was finding anything liquid that wasn’t sweet. Even V-8 juice was too thick and pulpy. The folks at my local grocery store must have wondered about that depressed looking guy who was always wandering down the juice aisle muttering to himself without his mouth moving. Speaking of which, you’d be surprised how well a person can learn to talk with his mouth closed. I still can do that. Annoys the hell out of people.

During the first couple of weeks I lost around 15 pounds, but as the nutritionist had predicted, I regained almost all of that while still on the liquid diet. Your system simply adjusts, I guess. Then, at six weeks the surgeon decided to extend the healing process two more weeks, just to be safe. That was tough to hear. I don’t think he understood I might at that time have been willing to take out a contract on his life for a Saltine cracker. Both of us did survive the eight weeks however.    

At that time I worked as a computer programmer at Gulf Oil headquarters in Houston. My co-workers were great through this whole episode. For two entire months no one ate even a snack within my view. In fact I later learned there had been a group decision to never even discuss going out for lunch where I could hear them. Those were real friends. When the day finally arrived for me to have the wires removed, the whole department planned to take me out to eat at Fuddruckers, a favorite of mine for huge hamburgers. When I returned from my appointment with the surgeon, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I could only open my jaw about a half inch. Unused muscles take days to recover to moving normally. But that was okay. At the restaurant I requested those now unfamiliar instruments, a knife and fork, and was able to slowly cut the hamburger patty into tiny bites. It turned into a rather long lunch.

I’ll never forget that time in my life. It was much more of a struggle than I had expected, but the surgery was a success. At the ripe old age of 65 I still have all my teeth and can bite through a baloney sandwich like nobody’s business.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Preserving a Moment in Time — Norm Brown

When my sister-in-law Anna downsized to a smaller house recently she passed along to me some of the collected memorabilia of the Brown family. Among the odds and ends accumulated by my parents over the years was a small box that has been stored in one closet or another during all of my lifetime. It contains an assortment of items from my dad’s time in the Army during World War II. Many of the items in it look like they were just casually dropped in there when he got out of the service. His uniform hat and tie could still be worn today. The medals he earned were in there, along with an old cigarette lighter that just needs fluid to work again. In addition to this box of stuff Anna also passed along one other item that I remember hanging inconspicuously in my parents’ bedroom closet when I was a kid. It is a plaque that was awarded to my dad when he received his Bronze Star medal. It wasn’t protected nearly as well over the years as the smaller items enclosed in the cardboard box. The thin wooden frame, which I suspect was purchased by my mother back in the 1940’s, was literally coming apart. When I pulled on one of the tiny nails she had used to mount the certificate, it disintegrated into a small pile of rust. All things considered, the little nail had done its job well. I know for a fact this plaque was hanging in that bedroom closet when Hurricane Carla flooded our home with briny sea water way back in 1961. As you would expect, the award certificate is slightly browner than it was originally and the ink from some ancient typewriter ribbon has almost faded away. Last week I took it to a local framing store and had it remounted in a UV protected frame. This is what it looks like now:

 Image

As you can tell from the insignia at the bottom, this was from the 2nd Armored Division, known as “Hell on Wheels.” The description is still difficult to read in my photo. This is what it says:

“Corporal Ray O. Brown, 14042494, 67th Armored Regiment, for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy on 10 April 1945 in Germany. Corporal Brown was commanding the lead tank of a small task force sent out to eliminate an enemy road block that was holding up the advance. After deploying his tanks, Corporal Brown dismounted from his tank to make a personal reconnaissance. After reporting the strength of the enemy block, Corporal Brown maneuvered his tanks to eliminate the enemy opposition. In the ensuing action, thirty prisoners were taken. The task force was then able to continue on its mission. Entered military service form Louisiana.”

I remember as a small boy being fascinated by this story. I still have a clear mental image of a young man sneaking along a mountain ridge to spy on the enemy position below. My brother and I often tried to get Dad to talk about his adventures in the war. The few times he did, you could tell this was such a memorable time in the life of a guy who grew up on a small family farm in northern Louisiana. Mother often politely cut him off when he got into some of the scarier events. Along with the Bronze Star, he also received two Purple Heart Medals. My dad had the dubious honor of surviving being blown up twice. Once by a German Panzer tank in their homeland and once by General Patton’s American Air Force in Sicily (oops!).

You know, when I stop and think about these moments in time, it amazes me how easily one of the close calls could have gone the other way. If so, I wouldn’t exist at all today, or at least I wouldn’t be exactly the person I am.

         

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Holiday Update — by Norm Brown

In March of 2012 I posted a blog about a visit to a prison near Bryan, Texas to see my “baby” brother. At the time we were hopeful he would soon be considered for release after serving time for a DUI conviction. If you’d like to read (or reread) it, the article is here:

http://secondwindpub.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/an-interesting-place-to-visit-but-by-norm-brown/

I thought this would be a good time to post a brief update. A couple of weeks ago most of my extended family gathered for Thanksgiving. This is our time to get together each year. We’re all pretty scattered during the Christmas holidays. This year my brother Larry was able to join us for the first time in quite a while. I am very pleased to say he was released last year. After spending a required period in a halfway house, riding to odd part time jobs on my son’s old bicycle, he now is back working as a pipe fitter in the Beaumont area oil refineries and has an apartment he calls home. It was a tough time to get back out there, but in spite of his troubles, Larry has always had a good reputation as a hard worker. It was great to see his smiling face at Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

 

Hopefully Larry has turned a corner. As he will tell you, “It’s all about living one day at a time.”


Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

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The Wedding “Crasher” — by Norm Brown

While leaning on the railing out on my back deck this morning, enjoying the fresh autumn chill, I couldn’t help but notice construction starting on two more new homes across the canyon. As I sipped my coffee, my mind wandered back to an earlier time when I first moved out here to my little hilltop oasis. The view was a bit different then. I remember being able to pick out only four distant houses hidden among the cedar and oak woods covering these hills that mark the eastern edge of what is known as the Texas Hill Country. Now it would be almost impossible to count the large and expensive homes that have popped up above the golf course over there. At night, the once dark country view has been replaced by a more urban view with twinkling lights. Not a bad view, just noticeably different.

When my gaze wandered over to the little cement bird bath I set up years ago in the small grassy area next to my home, I got to thinking about how my little world here on this hill has also changed in the thirteen years since I arrived. It’s nowhere near as crowded with homes as the hillside subdivision across the canyon, but I do have a few neighbors now. When I first moved here my place was the only home on the cul-de-sac. Where cement driveways now lead to three houses there were only two little dirt roads leading off into the woods down the hill. It was very quiet most of the time and a bit spooky at night. But odd as it may seem, there was actually more traffic on our one block dead-end street back then. At night the red glow of taillights would light up my windows as cars would turn around or even sometimes disappear down one of the dirt roads. After dark this was a popular place to hide out for a little under-age drinking and probably sometimes worse activities. During the daytime, it attracted a different crowd, mostly folks with dirt bikes and four-wheelers. The quiet countryside would often echo with the high whine of small engines. The worst part was that one of those popular dirt trails led right down the hill onto my property. I remember a couple of times hearing voices and looking out to discover off-road vehicles being rolled off the back of a pickup parked right out front. That was too much. I put up posted signs. They were mostly ignored. During that time, there was one particular neighborhood teenager that would most frequently speed down the road and roar right past me standing there on my porch glaring at him. He knew he could be long gone before I could do anything. But then one day our little confrontation took a surprising turn, and that leads me to my little story—you knew it would eventually, right?

At that time, my grown son lived across town. He came over one day and told me his best friend was getting married. I knew the young couple. They had visited along with my son a few times. They were looking for a place to have the wedding, but couldn’t afford to rent a large enough space to accommodate the bride’s large extended family and all their friends. My son suggested offering my place and I thought it was a great idea. The bride’s mom came over and checked things out and we were all set. I got a kick out of how excited and appreciative they all were. It turned out the date for the ceremony was set for a weekend when I had planned to be out of town. So, unfortunately, I missed the actual event. According to my son it was quite a shindig. The family had rented 150 folding chairs and every one had been occupied during the ceremony. They had even rigged lights and sound and danced on my driveway until two AM. By the time I got home, however, my son was alone at the house and everything had been cleared away. It was then, while I was making a quick scan for anything out of place, I found the wallet.

It was a plain brown leather man’s wallet. Someone in the wedding party must have dropped it on the small table upstairs or left it there while changing. I opened it and found a driver’s license. I glanced at the address, thinking I should be able to look up a number for the owner. Much to my amazement, the address was right there in my neighborhood, a couple of streets away. It struck me as odd that someone here knew the couple, but when I looked at the photo on the ID it really shook me up. Grinning back at me was a slightly younger looking version of the teenager with the four-wheeler. The smile wasn’t quite as cocky, but it was the same kid. What was he doing here, inside my house? Had he actually crashed the wedding party?  The more I thought about it, the more likely that seemed. From what I had heard there were beer kegs and a lot of food. Who would have thought to check anyone’s age? The nineteen year old wouldn’t have stood out that much from all the twenty-something’s at the party. I just could not believe the nerve of the young man. Before calling his parents, I asked my son to check with his friends to see if they had seen him. When he later showed the license around, the groom said he thought he did see someone that looked like the photo. He didn’t know the guy, but then there were a lot of the bride’s family there he would not know. All right—gotcha! The next night I put in the call and talked to the boy’s mother. My accusation that he had crashed a party of strangers really surprised her. She said he had lost his wallet, but she thought he had mentioned that a few days earlier. Still, as the parent of a teenage boy, she couldn’t be totally sure of what he had been up to. She promised me her husband and son would come by the next evening to get to the bottom of it all.

Early that next day, a few more facts came to light. My son called and said that one of his friends had told him he found the wallet on the trail down the hill. He was the one who quietly left it on the table in the house. He swore that he had not removed anything from it. I opened the wallet and counted fifteen dollars still inside. That made me feel pretty good about my son’s friend, but it also gave me a moment to look closer at the bills. They felt funny. Looking closer I could see a light coating of bluish mold. If the kid had dropped it outside during the party, mold was unlikely to have grown in just two days time. A couple of hours before confronting the teen and his dad, I was starting to rethink my theory. I walked down the dirt road to the area where the wallet had been found. Right away I spotted a small cheap bracelet on the ground. The teen usually rode alone, but I did remember about a week earlier seeing a girl on the back. The bracelet was a few feet away from a long narrow scrape in the gravel, which pointed directly back uphill to a familiar rather abrupt drop off in the dirt road. It was suddenly obvious what had happened. There had been some crashing all right, but not the kind I had imagined. The wallet had been there exposed to the elements for a while.

Once the boy and his dad arrived, we worked things out fairly quickly. I admitted that I wasn’t quite as upset as I would have been if he had actually crashed the party, but I had very clear evidence that he had been riding on my property without permission. The fact that he could have been injured added to my concern. Who knows now days? Someone might sue me for having a dangerous trail on my land. The boy seemed very pleased to have his license back, as well as the fifteen dollars. He said he really didn’t know when he had lost it and was having a hassle trying to get his license replaced. He and his dad both promised he would not ride down that particular hill again. We shook hands and he thanked me for returning his wallet.

After that evening, I only saw the young man one more time. Probably about a year later I was mowing weeds when I looked up to see a four-wheeler pull to a stop on the cul-de-sac. He waited for me to look up and recognize him and then waved. He must have been twenty by then and didn’t look so much like a kid anymore. When I smiled and waved back he turned the machine around and slowly drove away on the public road. That little smile was stuck on my face for a while that day.        

                            

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Behind a Waterfall — by Norm Brown

On our recent summer camping trip in Oregon one of the best parks my brother and I explored was Silver Falls State Park. As in so much of this beautiful state, the campground is forested with huge pine trees. It also has something that you just don’t find much in the southwestern U.S. where I live: waterfalls. If I remember correctly, ten are located along the hiking trails enclosed in this relatively small park. We didn’t have the time (or energy) to hike to all of them, but there was one waterfall that really stood out to me. The South Falls is not only the easiest to reach, but the tallest of the waterfalls. It also has some rather unique features.

South Waterfall

South Waterfall

 

The hiking trail approaches the falls from above and then curves sharply down and actually passes behind the waterfall, providing a viewpoint you don’t get with most natural falls. We were there during an unusual heat wave for Oregon, but the temperature dropped dramatically and the humidity rose as we approached the flow of falling water. If I were a plant, I think this is where I would want to be rooted. Colorful lichens along the rock wall are constantly bathed in the mist.

Lichens Behind Waterfall

Lichens Behind Waterfall


Behind the falls I also found a patch of some sort of strange looking mushroom (toadstool?). I’ve never come across this species before. They were shaped like small cups as if to catch as much of the mist as possible. 

Mushrooms Behind Falls

Mushrooms Behind Falls

  

The most intriguing discovery behind the waterfall was a series of small caves. I realized right away that these weren’t your usual caves. The region of central Texas I call home is littered with limestone caverns carved out by dripping or flowing water. These narrow caves in Oregon, however, were not formed from smooth weathered limestone, but hard jagged volcanic rock. But what makes them truly different is the fact that they are vertical.These caves go straight up.

Vertical Caves

Vertical Caves


In spite of the abundant water cascading just beyond the caves and misting my camera lens, it was obvious that they were not formed by water. Looking up into one of them I could see the opening narrowed as it poked some unknown distance into the solid rock.  

Looking into Tree Trunk Hole

Looking Straight Up into Cave


There was no sign explaining the phenomenon at the falls site, but back at camp I found the explanation in a pamphlet that we received upon entering the park. Long ago this area was formed by two huge lava flows, separated by a period of several thousand years. During that peaceful in-between era, soil formed and a dense forest of huge trees grew just as they do today above the falls. During the second volcanic eruption, the trees were engulfed in deep molten lava. The tall trunks of these trapped trees either burned completely or rotted away over time. Either way, each tree blocked the lava long enough for it to harden around the trunk, forming what appears today to be a cave that goes straight up. It is a stone mold of the ancient tree. The stream and waterfall we see today in fact had nothing to do with creating these wonders of nature.      

  

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Return to the Scene of the Crime — by Norm Brown

Way back in May of 2000 my son and I took a long cross country trip in a rented RV. We camped in some awesome national and state parks and took in a lot of tourist sites along our trek from Austin all the way up to southern Oregon. As in all great vacations there was one moment that stuck most in my memory. It was an awe-inspiring scene, but not in the photo taking sense like Yosemite. In fact, relatively few people have ever seen this sharp blind curve where inches from the edge of a one lane road the mountainside drops away for thousands of feet. There was no guard rail and the worn asphalt actually sunk down toward the drop off. As I eased the 25 foot long RV around the curve, I was convinced we had made a serious mistake in taking this route through the Siskyou National Forest between Galice and Gold Beach, Oregon. It was hard not to vividly imagine what would happen if we couldn’t make that turn. What if I met an oncoming vehicle or something blocked the way in the middle of the curve?

If you have read my novel, Carpet Ride, you will recognize this situation as the opening scene of the murder mystery. All those years ago, this is where I got the initial idea for the plot. It was a real place and inspired real fear. We made it safely down to the coast, but I have always had a clear image of that remote spot in my mind.

 A couple of weeks ago I took another RV trip in Oregon, this time with my brother. Older and maybe a bit wiser, we flew to Portland where we rented an RV and a small car for sight-seeing. This was a much better arrangement than having to drive the big gas-guzzling camper everywhere we went. So when I suggested we take a day trip over the wilderness road to the coast, I was actually thinking that the route would seem very different, maybe even a little disappointing. After thirteen years, the road had probably been drastically improved and the steep curves wouldn’t be challenging at all for a small car. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

As before, we started out on a nice two-lane paved road through the tiny town of Galice. My GPS, which was something I didn’t have back in 2000, reported that we were quickly gaining altitude. By the time we were breathing thinner air at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the road had changed dramatically. Just as I remembered, the route rapidly deteriorated to a one lane, occasionally dirt, road. For me it was like stepping back in time. The only improvement I could see was the existence of a few warning signs along the way. At the highest elevations, the road literally sagged down toward the edge on one side and those drop-offs seemed even more spectacular than I remembered. Or perhaps my view just wasn’t as limited by the tunnel vision I suffered while steering an RV with overheating brakes. According to the GPS the entire white knuckled journey was only 46 miles as it roughly followed the Wild Rogue River through the mountain range. Averaging only 15-20 miles per hour much of the time, it took us well over two hours to reach Gold Beach, a seaside town on the Pacific Coast. I was only able to take a few photos along that beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which actually had been my main goal. The sun was quickly sinking and we had to turn around and do that whole drive again to get back east to our camp. Who knows, maybe traversing it in the dark would have inspired another story. I didn’t choose to find out. Luckily, the July sun sets pretty late in Oregon.

Oregon Wilderness Road

Oregon Wilderness Road

Somewhere along that trek, I guided the car through the exact curve that was seen through the eyes of the main character in Carpet Ride. But there were so many, each scarier than the last. I couldn’t point it out. As we came back down toward civilization, my brother, who just recently read the book, said, “You weren’t exaggerating, were you?” You know, before this return to the actual scene, I sort of thought I had.      

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Bikers Waving Etiquette – by Norm Brown

My brother and I took a long motorcycle trip a couple of weeks ago from Texas out to the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It was a great trip with cool camping weather at the higher elevations, but we had to cover a lot of miles to get there and back home again. Along the way we encountered many other bikers on the road. There was a huge rally scheduled for that week in Red River, New Mexico. They were anticipating a crowd of over 20,000 bikes of all sorts. Since we were looking for quiet places to camp rather than a party, my brother and I veered away from the little town. So we passed many of the folks rumbling along the highway in the opposite direction. These frequent brief encounters got me to thinking about the rather unique “code of the road” that many, but not quite all, motorcycle riders observe when encountering fellow bikers travelling in the other direction.

It all has to do with waving—or not waving. I know, it sounds pretty trivial, just a simple friendly gesture toward a stranger out on the road enjoying the same recreational pastime as yourself. But surprisingly it involves some rather quirky decision making. The vast majority of riders you meet (and their passengers) wave with the left hand down low in a sort of muted “low five” with open palm toward the oncoming bike. It’s a sensible gesture that shouldn’t be misinterpreted by a driver behind you as a turn signal. If there is a group of oncoming bikers I simply hold that pose until they have all passed by.  

Wave 1

 

Occasionally you encounter the really enthusiastic rider who puts a lot more into it. These guys are usually flying along at a fast pace, hunched down over their gas tank. In this case the left arm is fully extended and blown back by the wind for a sweeping wave as he flies past.

Wave 2

 

And then, as I mentioned, there are bikers who for whatever reason choose to not participate. This is where the decision making part comes into play. As the bright single or double headlight gets closer, do I initiate the interaction myself or wait for some sort of clue? I actually feel a little bad when I decide not to acknowledge the other rider, but then notice too late that he or she did have a hand out down low. And of course I feel foolish if I give a big old obvious wave and the other person just looks away. In doubtful situations I sometimes do the “almost wave” as in the photo below. For this you just tentatively take your left hand off the handlebar. The advantage of this move is that the gesture could be interpreted as a small rather noncommittal wave, but you can also do something else with that hand if the other rider blatantly ignores you: flex your fingers like you were relaxing a tired hand, reach up and pretend to adjust your side mirror, or even pick your nose. Don’t try that last move if your helmet has a full face shield—you’ll look pretty silly.  

Wave 3

This usually all happens at high speed. So, how do you decide what to do in time to do it? Sometimes you can rely on the appearance of the approaching bike and rider. But stereotypes don’t always hold to form. The helmetless guys on choppers with loud straight exhausts do sometimes wave at people in full safety gear on a touring bike loaded with camping gear. I have noticed that riders on bikes with those high “ape hanger” handlebars usually don’t take a hand off. I think maybe their arms could be too numb from holding that awkward position. But stereotyping often fails. And that works both ways. I ride a Honda Gold Wing Motortrike rather than a two-wheeler. With more baby boomers returning to riding, these are becoming more popular with both male and female riders, but when I first switched to three wheels they were unusual to see on the road. Back then, as I was cruising along behind my brother on his high powered sport bike, I think guys would occasionally assume that I was a female rider. In cool weather, I wear a bulky jacket along with my helmet. I noticed that some guys would not acknowledge my brother’s wave at all, but give me a big obvious waggle of the hand. This never embarrassed me at all, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were trying to flirt a little with what they thought was something other than a sixty-something year old guy. Which raises the age old question: “Does a snicker inside a full face helmet actually make a sound?”

Wave or not, my fellow travelers, but ride safe.          

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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