Thursday, November 21, 2013

First Hunt

I would like to share with you a short story that was written several years ago.  Enjoy!

First Hunt

Heads to the ground, noses to the wind, a small band of buffalo cropped the autumn-bronzed prairie grass as they slowly made their way up a gentle slope.  Spotted Calf crawled behind the buffalo, heedless of the rough ground scraping against his bare chest.  Armed with a bow, four arrows, a flint knife hanging from a leather thong around his neck, and all the strength contained in his fourteen year old arms, the young Indian was deep into the hunt.  An antelope skin draped over his back rendered him nearly invisible against the landscape as he crept closer to his prey.

His was a sacred quest, for this was his first hunt alone.  If successful, Spotted Calf would become a man.  Success would bring honor to his people and the warriors would welcome him into their ranks as they sat at council.  Failure meant disgrace, and it would be better to die alone than return home without meat.  His life would mean nothing then.  Men would ignore him and women would make him fetch their water and haul their firewood, cuffing his ears if he tarried along the way.  That was a fate no man could endure.  He could not fail. Death was preferable.

Slowly and silently he stalked the buffalo, patiently working his way close enough to risk a killing shot.  The first shot was crucial; the arrow had to hit a vital organ.  The lungs were good, the heart was better.  A second shot was unlikely.  The arrow’s flight would stampede the herd, and Spotted Calf would have to travel far for the chance to try again.  But if the arrow flew true, the wounded animal would weaken and would not have strength for a long run. 

Spotted Calf brushed aside all thoughts of failure as he focused on the buffalo. Mentally, he located the best spot to loose his bow.  So far, things were going well. The shaggy beasts remained unaware of his presence.  The air was crisp and the dry prairie grass crackled slightly under his belly.  He raised his head and snuffed the air.  A breeze blew steadily from the north, carrying the pleasant smell of freshly cropped grass along with the pungent odor of unwashed buffalo and their fresh droppings.  Another scent rode the wind as well; the first hint of bitter snows that would soon come to cover the prairie.  Now was the time for Spotted Calf and his family to make their way southward to the tree lined valleys.  It would be good to have fresh meat for the journey.

The lead animal was an old bull, made wise and wary by many winters.  He snorted to clear his nostrils and tested the air for any scent of an enemy.  He stopped at the edge of an old wallow.  A roll in the dust would rid his skin of ticks and fleas, and leave behind a layer of dirt that would protect his matted hide from the biting flies that threatened to drive him mad.

Three cows made up his harem and a single yearling calf completed the small herd.  Spotted Calf briefly wondered why the animals hadn’t joined the main band for the yearly migration south.  The migration was so vast that the entire sky filled with dust and the earth trembled from the force of their hooves as they passed by.  Surely there was room in the main herd for a few more animals.

But these five remained, perhaps because the old bull knew he would lose the last of his wives to a younger male if he came anywhere near the main herd.  Spotted Calf decided the Great Spirit allowed them to stay behind, giving him the chance to prove his worth as a hunter.

A boy’s first hunt was far more than going out to get meat for the tribe.  That was important, of course, for the people would not survive without meat.  But to the Lakota, buffalo were sacred animals, given by the Great Spirit to sustain life.  The large, shaggy beasts provided more than food.  Their skins provided clothing and coverings for the lodges; even their sinews were used for stitching and to join the flint points to the arrow’s shaft.  In turn, the Lakota implored the Great Spirit to prosper the buffalo, which were so plentiful it took three full days for the herd to pass in their annual migration.

In the manner of his tribe, Spotted Calf’s father prepared the boy for this day.  To sharpen his senses, he had eaten no meat for two weeks, and had fasted for the last two days.  To purge his body of all human scent, he entered the sacred lodge where a hot fire burned and heated rocks were splashed with water from a tightly woven willow basket.  Steam filled the lodge and sweat ran down his back as the shaman chanted and beat a quiet rhythm on a drum.  Tufts of buffalo grass mingled with sage were loosely knotted and placed into the fire.  The aromatic smoke permeated the steamy lodge, infusing the hut with the distinctive aroma of herbs.  To complete the cleansing, Spotted Calf rubbed the plants over every inch of his body.  When he emerged from the bath, a swim in a nearby stream ensured that very little scent remained to identify him as a Lakota Sioux, Human Being of the plains.

His mother had prepared an antelope skin to cover him on his hunt.  Buffalo had weak eyes; they relied on the strength of their nostrils to alert them to danger.  If by chance they were to spot the boy, the antelope hide would assure them there was nothing to fear.

Spotted Calf carried four arrows which were a gift from his grandfather.  “The heads on these arrows were carved by my father,” Grandfather explained, “and I used them on my first hunt.  The women removed the points from the meat I brought home and saved them for me.  Now it is time to pass them to you.  May the Great Spirit give you the eye of the eagle, the strength of the bear, and the cunning of the wolf.”

And the Great Spirit led him across miles of open prairie to the knoll where the buffalo grazed and grunted.  Soon it would be time to loose his bow.  A cloud of dust rose from the wallow where the old bull rolled and snorted.  Contented, the cows grazed; they would not move without their leader and the bull was not yet finished with his bath.  Spotted Calf took advantage of the opportunity and slowly closed the gap between them.

Now he was ready.  With steady hands he removed the bow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to the string.  Which animal should he take?  The old bull would bring much glory to the hunter, and Spotted Calf could easily sink an arrow into his unprotected abdomen as the bull rolled in the wallow.  He slowly rose to a crouch and aimed his arrow at the old bull’s heart.

But the tribe needed meat, and the old bull would prove to be as tough to eat as the antelope hide that concealed Spotted Calf’s form in the deep grass.  Surely the yearling calf would make a far better feast than the iron hard bull.  Spotted Calf hesitated, choosing between glory and the needs of his people.  The moment of hesitation nearly cost him his life.

A lone gray wolf, lean and spare, leapt from the cover of the deep grass.  With a growl resonating from the pit of a belly long empty, the wolf launched himself at Spotted Calf’s throat.

Just as he loosed his arrow, the corner of the lad’s eye caught movement.  Turning to confront his attacker, he instinctively raised his left arm to defend his throat and felt the wolf’s fangs sink into his forearm.  The enraged wolf clamped down on his arm until tooth met bone, then clenched his jaws in a grip of death.

The flight of the arrow and the sound of the wolf’s first growl stampeded the herd, but Spotted Calf did not notice.  Locked in desperate battle, he punched and kicked and shook the wolf to no avail.  It was nearly too late before he remembered the knife that hung from his neck.

Clutching the wooden hilt, he stabbed at the wolf but the cord that hung around his neck was too short and he could not land a killing blow.  The eyes of the wolf were narrowed into yellow slits that watched for another chance at the boy’s throat.  Spotted Calf strained at the thong that held the knife but it was well made and would not break.  He began to slip the leather loop over his head in an effort to free the blade.

The wolf struck again.  The animal loosed his grip on the boy’s arm and made another lunge for his throat.  The attack brought the wolf inside the limited range of Spotted Calf’s knife.  Catching the wolf in mid-leap, he thrust the blade into its neck.  Howling, the wolf dropped to the ground, turned, and sprang again.  The force of the leap knocked the boy down.

The boy landed on his back, but the wolf was once again in range of the small flint blade, and Spotted Calf raised the knife and held it tight.  The wolf’s momentum carried him toward the boy’s throat, but the blade caught the wolf’s abdomen and ripped open his empty stomach.  The boy rolled and the wolf missed his throat by inches.

This wound was fatal to the wolf.  With entrails spilling from the cut in his belly, the wolf tried to run but collapsed a few steps away from Spotted Calf.  Dazed, the boy rose to totter on unsteady feet.  Blood flowed from the gashes on his arm, and Spotted Calf used the knife to slice strips of bandage from the antelope hide.  He cut the thong from his neck and used the cord to bind the leather to his arm.  He hoped the makeshift bandage would hold until he could get back to his people.

What would he tell them when he arrived at camp?  Unless forced by the most extreme circumstances, the Lakota would not eat wolf.  Perhaps the dead animal would explain why he did not come home with meat.  Perhaps they would forgive his negligence and let him try again.

Weakened by hunger and loss of blood and staggering under the weight of the wolf, Spotted Calf stumbled his way back to the village.  The trek, which took only a couple of hours that morning, now seemed to take an eternity.  The autumn sun was casting long shadows as he approached the outskirts of the camp.  Guided by the smell of cooking fires and barking dogs, his feet made their way to the center of the village where he collapsed as the world went black.

In the morning, he woke in the familiar confines of his tipi.  His mother was softly humming an ancient tune as she prepared food for her injured son.  Spotted Calf could smell the aroma of boiling herbs and wild onions rising from the broth his mother had made.

Spotted Calf partially rose, supporting his shoulders with his good arm.  “Drink this,” his mother gently urged, “and when you are strong enough you will face the council.”

Spotted Calf knew what waited for him at the council.  He had failed in his first hunt, and his fate was certain.  He was glad his mother had turned back to her cooking; she did not see the bitter tears that formed in the corner of his eyes.  Spotted Calf turned his face to the wall to hide his shame.

His mother continued to nourish him with the broth.  It was not long before he was able to eat a little meat.  Bit by bit, Spotted Calf could feel his strength returning.  Near sundown, his father entered the tipi.

“Son, it is time,” he announced, “the council has gathered.  They want to hear of your hunt.”

Spotted Calf rose from his bed and accompanied his father to the place of meeting.  Though not a word was spoken, he noticed the questioning glances of the women as he made his way through the village.  The elders and warriors of the tribe were gathered in a circle at the center of the village.  Spotted Calf was ushered to a place inside the circle.

Chief Tall Bear was the first to speak.  “Our son, when you returned to the village from your hunt, you could not speak for yourself, so Flying Eagle and Leaping Antelope walked your path to learn your story.”

Flying Eagle, with his hands more eloquent than his words, continued, “We followed your steps and found the place where you found the buffalo.  We followed where you crept behind the herd and prepared your bow, and we saw where the wolf crouched in hiding.  We saw the blood on the grass where you battled the wolf, and we found the calf you shot with your arrow.”  Flying Eagle sat down.

Spotted Calf’s father glanced proudly at his son.  “The broth your mother prepared for you was made from the meat of that calf,” he said. “The rest was divided amongst the tribe as law requires.”

Chief Tall Bear spoke again.  “Spotted Calf left our village as a boy, but returned as a man, proven in hunt; proven in battle.  Hear me, all people.  He is worthy to join the ranks of the warriors; he is worthy of his place in the council.  From this day forward, he is no longer known as Spotted Calf.  As of now and for all time, he will be known as Gray Wolf, hunter of the plains, warrior of the Lakota.”

Gray Wolf’s father spoke.  “Here is the skin of the wolf which attacked without mercy.  You will wear this in honor, my son.  Like the wolf, you are fierce in battle and loyal to your people.”  His father draped the skin so the scalp covered the top of Gray Wolf’s head.   “And here are the teeth of your brother, the wolf,” he added.  “With these, I will make a necklace for you to wear in remembrance of your great fight.”

Gray Wolf’s grandfather came to him and said, “Here is the bow and the three arrows which you left on the prairie.  Here is the fourth arrowhead, the one which pierced the heart of the yearling buffalo.  Your eye was keen, my son, and your aim was true.”

Chief Tall Bear concluded the ceremony.  “May your courage be an inspiration to us all.  We live in a world where the hunter, at any moment, may become the hunted.”

A drumbeat started and the chanting song began.  One by one, the warriors rose to dance.  Gray Wolf was the last to rise.  Somehow, the throbbing in his arm faded as he joined in.  He could not help but notice the admiring glances from the maidens as they watched the warriors dance.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's a couple days late for Veterans' Day, also known as Remembrance Day in many parts of the world.  But a friend let me know of this incredible performance by a 13 year old Dutch girl named Melissa Venema.

I hold the people of the Netherlands dear, as I lived there for two years.  Mr. Merx was my neighbor and a young boy during the war.  He told stories of how the Germans were driven back, inch by inch, by the Allies. He told how an American company came up the road past our house, and how ten went out but only eight came back.  This first hand account gave life to this part of history.

Not far from where we lived, over 8,000 American dead are interred in the cemetery at Margraten.  Each September, the Dutch hold a memorial service to honor the men who died to liberate their country.  The following is a link to Melissa's rendition of Taps.  There is a poignant history behind the music that I may relate another time.  Meanwhile, follow this link to listen to this incredibly emotional performance, played in the old Roman plaza in Maastricht.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Dog's Life

The Further Adventures of Rocket - Los Angeles' Wonder Dog

It's always a special day when Bruno comes to visit.

Hey Bruno, how fast can you run?
Nice to see you too, pal.  Sorry you have to leave so soon, I'm on my way to the beach.  The Santa Ana winds are blowing and it's time for a fire patrol.
Everything looks good in this direction.  Smokey the Bear has his Fire Danger sign pointed to Red.  With the high winds blowing, you can't be too careful.
Woah! Do I smell smoke?  Better check it out, and fast.  I'm putting it into high gear!  Don't worry folks, help is on the way.
No problem, the smoke I smelled is from the chimney.  People there must have a fire going to warm things up. Going to be a cool evening.
This house is secure as well, is there anyplace else I should check?
All secure, sir.  Nothing to report except this beautiful sunset.
The folks in Malibu can sleep well tonight knowing that Rocket is on the job.

Photos courtesy of Christine, who is the most extraordinary dog sitter in LA.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Top 10 Television Show Theme Songs

Do you recall your favorite TV shows?  You probably do, but what about their theme songs?

Classics like 77 Sunset Strip, Route 66, and even I Dream of Jeannie had very catchy theme songs.  Below is a list of 10 of my favorites, not in any particular order.  If any of these are unfamiliar, you can check them out on YouTube.  What songs would you add to the list?

10.  Peter Gunn
 9.  Maverick
 8.  Bonanza
 7.  MASH
 6.  The Monkees
 5.  The Muppet Show
 4.  The Jeffersons
 3.  Monday Night Football (Are you ready for some football?)
 2.  Hill Street Blues

And this is my number one favorite:

 1.  Hawaii 5-0

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tales Out Of School

At a local elementary school, all teachers are expected to help with "pick up duty".  The goal is to keep the children safe as they exit the cars, so the teachers control the flow of kids by opening the doors and holding them until the child exits safely.  Then they close the door and the parent can drive away.

One parent drives his child to school in a very expensive sports car.  And each time the teacher let his child out, she was roundly criticized for slamming the door too hard.

The teacher quickly tired of the daily tirade.  One day she answered, "Sir, I don't close your car door any differently than I close anyone else's door.  I am sorry that your car sounds like a tin can."

She was never criticized again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Angel's Perch

Angel's Perch is the story of a young architect torn between dedication to his job and love for his family. Set primarily in Cass, WV, the movie expertly captures life in a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone else, and that's the way they like it.  Vivid character portrayals, lovely cinematography, and the everyday beauty of living in a society where individual lives are intertwined into an unbreakable cord combine to make Angel's Perch a movie well worth seeing.

For a detailed synopsis and more information, please visit Angel's Perch website.  And see the movie.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Tales out of School

A teacher gave an assignment to her students.  "Use all the letters in the alphabet and write a word that begins with each letter," she instructed.

The dutiful children completed their task.  While grading their work, the teacher's eye was caught by one particular paper.  The "A - Apple", "B - Boy", and "C - Cookie" entries were all perfectly correct.  She continued through the alphabet until she came to the letter "X".  For that letter, the child wrote "Wife".  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Memorial Day

This is the day set aside to pay tribute to all those who have served in the Armed Forces of our great nation, with special emphasis on those who never came home.  There is an entry devoted to the fallen soldier, and if you like, you can see this post at Memorial Day .  But there are others who serve, silently and unheralded, and this post, originally published on Nov. 10, 2011, is devoted to the ones who stay at home and wait .....

Home Front

With a bloody knee he pushes his bike slowly up the lane,
He’ll try to put the training wheels back on.
There’s a little girl whose daddy won’t be watching her tonight,
As she dances in her very first ballet.

There’s a woman in the kitchen fighting silent tears alone,
It’s mac ‘n cheese for dinner once again.
She prays to God for strength to make it through another night,
And wonders when her husband’s coming home.

A faded yellow ribbon hangs in tatters on the door
The candle in the window’s lit each night.
One day a gentle wind will see our weary soldiers home
To find the peace that they’ve been fighting for. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Signing at Inkwood Books

What a thrill - my first book signing at Inkwood Books on Tuesday night.  The event featured Jenny Milchman, whose epic journey across America brought her and her lovely family to Tampa to promote her debut novel, COVER OF SNOW.

This was an evening of firsts: my first event, and the first time ever seeing DOG ISLAND as a featured offering.  And most important - as I walked in the door, I saw for the very first time a customer actually holding it!  What a humbling experience it was to see my book in the hands of a stranger, thumbing through the pages, and buying it. 

Steve Otto, Tampa Tribune columnist, was there for a roundtable discussion with Jenny and I on our personal paths to publication.  We signed a bunch of books, and had a wonderful time.  This is one event I would do this again in a heartbeat.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Dog Island


I’ve been a little lax in my blog for a while (many excuses, not many reasons), but now Lauren Sweet, a terrific writer and editor, tagged me in her blog.  So now I can no longer procrastinate as she talked me into participating in The Next Big Thing interview series, in which six degrees of separation meets the literary chain letter. So thanks, Lauren!

Lauren’s latest book, Alladin’s Samovar, was published in September, 2011.  The book sounds intriguing, and I just bought the Kindle version.  Check it out at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Here is the Amazon link: .  

The Next Big Thing

What Else I’ve Been Doing: Since releasing Dog Island, I’ve been very busy at my terrific day job.  I have found time to build a website,, and I’ve written a couple of poems.  Three samples of my poetry along with the intro to Dog Island are on the web page.  A Dog Island facebook page has been built as well.

A little more about my first book….

What is the title of the book?

Dog Island.  It’s the story of Cornelius Graham, ex- a lot of things but current beach bum who lives on a remote section of Dog Island.  His idyllic world is shattered when a boat, laden with a dead man, an injured woman, twenty kilos of cocaine, and a half-million in cash runs ashore on his beach.  Cornelius tends to the woman’s wounds and hopes to send her on her way when she recovers.  But everything comes crashing down around him when the people she stole the drugs and money from come looking for revenge.
As they criss-cross Florida looking for a safe haven, romance blossoms between the two fugitives. When Homeland Security shows up, the pair has to decide between right and wrong.  But who are the good guys and who are the bad?

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The original idea came years ago.  I clearly saw the opening scene, but didn’t know where the story was going so it was set aside for a while.  The idea came back to me during a visit to Dog Island, a remote barrier island off the Florida Panhandle.  The house where Corney lives is on the east half of the island, which is mostly owned by the Nature Conservancy.  That’s why there are only three houses on that end of the island.  The story fleshed out from there.
Corpse, cash and cocaine was too much for Cornelius to handle, and he made a couple of wrong turns at the onset.  That’s what brought the wrath of the Russian drug smugglers to his doorstep, and his burgeoning love for Lisa, the wounded woman, drove him deeper into a messy nest of problems.

What genre does your book fall under?

Dog Island is loosely categorized under the mystery genre, but while there is a dead body, it isn’t about that at all.  It more closely matches the suspense genre but has a lot of action in it as well.  With an added dollop of romance along with a pinch of humor, you get an interesting stew.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Easy question, I can clearly see Matthew McConaughey as Cornelius.  Cornelius is southern, tall, and Matthew would be great.  Lisa is a little more difficult, but a top contender would have to be Charlize Theron.  She'd be perfect.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

All Cornelius Graham wants out of life is to play his guitar on the white sands of Dog Island, but life has made other plans.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I really don’t write a first draft, except for perhaps the first chapter.  Once a section is set aside, I start again by reading through the completed work and edit it as I read.  Then more gets added at the end, and the process starts over the next time through.  When it gets too large to handle, a new section gets started and the process begins anew.  So when the ms is complete, it is way beyond first draft.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  

Dog Island.  We visited my wife’s uncle, who then lived in Carabelle, and had to go there.  Once I stood on the shore, looking out at the clear blue Gulf, I knew that was the place where it all began.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The settings are real.  If you’ve never been to Florida, the real Florida, not the theme park/beach Florida, you’ll get to visit places you never knew existed.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Dog Island is published by Oak Tree Press, a mid-size publisher out of Illinois.