Friday, March 30, 2012

Jumping To Confusions

Some of the more well-known widely disseminated information on criminal cases that come to mind is the O. J. Simpson debacle, the Jon-Benet Ramsey confusion, and the Casey Anthony convoluted criminal action.
Every adult in America, and many from points further removed, has an opinion as to what the correct course of action should have been in each of these cases.  For those who thought, or think, O. J. and Casey were guilty, how can you think that?  You know nothing of the evidence except what some person you are highly unlikely to know has told you.  You don’t even know any of the people involved, or the evidence, or lack thereof, presented for or against the stated individuals.  It is impossible for you, or me, to make an informed judgment in these cases, but we all tend to do it.
Why is it that anyone can write their highly opinionated version of events about a criminal case and we all believe it to be somewhat akin to the Gospels?  There is a case now involving the shooting of a young African American by a Latino self-styled neighborhood protector.  Forty five percent of America think it was justified, while forty five percent more feel it was murder.  Ten percent are still unaware as always.  What do hardly any of those with opinions really know about the situation?  It is probably true, but not necessarily so, that the young man is dead.  All that we know beyond that is purely whatever someone tells us, who wasn’t even there.
Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty by a jury of one’s peers?

Monday, March 26, 2012

P2V5F Night Flight

I sat in the plastic bubble affixed to the nose of the P2V5F Neptune aircraft staring into the inky blackness of a starless night.  The rain hit with small spatters that quickly broke into a sort of spray as it trailed off toward the rear of the plane.  Although it restricted vision to some degree I never felt that I was unable to do my job as bow observer.  My job was nothing more than to be an extra pair of eyes in addition to the pilot and co-pilot’s. No one else in the aircraft could look forward to see where we were going.  On nights like this human eyes were really not all that good and we in the aircraft relied heavily on instrumentation to tell us what we wanted to know about our surroundings.
We were far out over the Atlantic Ocean on patrol.  Our main purpose was Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) with a secondary duty of Search and Rescue (SAR) should the need arise.  We were on a never-ending quest, forever seeking the elusive submarines of any foreign nation that might be considered an enemy during what was known as the Cold War.  The year was 1958.
On day flights sometimes the view was spectacular if the weather was contributing, but at night, especially when it rained, sitting up in the bow alone for countless hours could get to be rather tediously boring.  So it was on this night.  Then a piece of our electronics reported some sort of a contact somewhere in that vast body of water below.  The “hit” was weak, but yet it needed to be checked out to ascertain its origin if possible.
With everyone on board doing their own part, it was soon established that it was too small to be any sort of ship.  A few minutes later the determination was some sort of floating metal object, probably an oil barrel, or something else of that nature.  Everything quieted back down as the continuous drone of the twin reciprocating engines once more became all that could be heard as we lumbered along through the hours of the night ever watchful, always vigilant, unceasingly awaiting that next contact that just could be a real threat to our Nation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ernfold, Saskatchewan, Canada

Will Lawton married Mary Houghton in 1889, and in 1893 their first son Clarence was born, while their second son Clinton followed in 1894.  The ensuing May Mary died.
In 1901 Will married Cora Baker Lester.  At the time she had three children, Ada born 1884, Raymond born 1886, and Charles born 1887.  The family now consisted of Will, Cora, the three Lester children, and the two Lawton boys.
In 1905 Lloyd was born, as was Floyd in 1907, and Clara in 1911.  Ada Lester died in 1896.  Ray Lester married and left home in 1908.  Charles Lester left home and traveled to Lismas in the Glasgow, Montana area to homestead previous to 1911.
So it was that Will, and Clint left northern New York in the spring of 1911, caught a train west alighting in Ernfold, Saskatchewan to homestead.  The plan was that they would plant a crop, and provide living quarters for the remainder of the family, Cora, and the three younger Lawton children, who would arrive later in the year.  Clarence, working on a neighboring farm, chose not to go.
Will and Clint each were assigned a quarter-section, or 160 acres of land.  The two plots joined at one corner.  Needing shelter while they plowed and seeded what acreage they could, they dug a sort of cave into the side of a slight rise on the property.  When Cora and the three young children arrived in the fall, the dugout was all the living quarters that were available.  During that first winter of 1911/12 the six family members lived in the back of the cave, while the family cow and horses were stabled closer to the entrance.  I can only imagine how they longed for spring 1912 to arrive.  As 1912 passed a simple structure was built adding a degree of comfort to the living arrangements.  Their water well was dug on Clint’s property so that each could say they had improved their lots which was a requirement of homesteading the land.
In 1917 Cora’s son, Charles Lester, joined the U S Army to do battle in WW I.  While at Fort Colt, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he was injured in a training accident which ultimately proved fatal.  He had never married nor had children so consequently he willed his ranch to his mother Cora Lawton.  By this time Will and Cora had decided wheat farming in Saskatchewan was not their best choice of a way to make a living so they ceded their land to Clint and traveled to Lismas, Montana to try their hand at ranching.
Their mode of travel was via a team of horses hooked to a canvas covered wagon.  A spring seat wagon and a hay wagon each with a team of horses accompanied the covered wagon.  As well as Will, Cora, Lloyd, Floyd, and Clara the family dog and a duck went along for the ride.  In later years Clara oft told of eating an egg a day from her pet duck.  After about a month of cross-country travel the family wagon train made its way to Glasgow, Montana where the family thought their new home was located, only to determine they yet had 40 miles to go.
They ultimately arrived at the ranch to discover it was 320 scrubby acres of land with a small log cabin situated in a cottonwood grove on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Milk and Missouri Rivers.  There was no livestock of any sort other than what Will and Cora had brought with them on their arduous journey.  They spent the remainder of the summer of 1918 on the “ranch.”
Before that winter of 1918/19 Will met a couple that owned a real ranch with cattle and horses.  They wished to go to Florida for the winter so arrangements were made for Will’s family to move to their ranch and take care of it for the season.  In the spring the family moved by train back to northern New York where they had begun their sojourn eight years previously. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life In The Beaver Ponds

On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, the average daily high temperature is 39° in our little corner of the world in northern New York.  However this year it was closer to 60° and a wonderful afternoon for an ATV riding opportunity to determine what the local beavers were doing.  In midafternoon I did just that.

Last fall Bucky and Eager, our resident pair from the big pond, ejected their offspring from the den.  One merely crossed the farm road to a smaller pond 20’ away.  Another relocated to a former drainage ditch across a small meadow from the big pond.  This later one I named Little Beaver in deference to his parents, and also as a namesake for the comic book character of my youth the young helper of Red Ryder.
On St. Pat’s Day I first stopped at the ditch Little Beaver dammed off last fall, and where he spent the winter in a bank den.  The ice has completely thawed from his running water ditch.  His dam is yet holding up in fine shape.  He built it well.  The branches and limbs he stored near his den last fall have all been stripped of their bark which was used as food through the winter.  As the ice melted and released the stripped branches from its icy hold they have floated with the slowly moving water to the dam area.  They will be used as future dam building material.  Nothing wasted in this small world.
I then proceeded to the area of the other two ponds.  The larger pond of Bucky and Eager is mostly frozen over as of yet, and may remain that way for a day or two.  The smaller pond of the two, on the south side of the road is ice free.  The runoff from the big pond is running through a sluice pipe into the smaller pond, and this water movement thawed the smaller pond sooner than the large one.
Although I notice the above water den of Bucky and Eager appears to be in good shape I have no knowledge of the bank den in the smaller pond, or if the kit remains in it.  I saw no evidence of life in that pond such as debarked branches as in Little Beaver’s ditch.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Equinoxes, Equiluxes, And St Patrick

An equinox is an exact point in time.  This Vernal, or Spring, Equinox is at 5:14 a.m. March 20th.  It is the moment that the earth’s axis is tipped neither toward, nor away, from the sun. Equinox means equal night in Latin, or twelve hours of day or night.  This is actually a misnomer as an exact point in time can hardly be an entire day.
The day that the equinox happens is called an equilux.  However, for various reasons the length of the equilux day is actually not equal to the length of the night on that exact date.  One of those reasons deals with the bending of light rays coming from the sun by earth’s atmosphere.  Another is that the sun is a huge object.  The twelve hour day and/or night would have to start when the sun was at its mid-point on the horizon.  However daybreak happens when we first see the top of the sun on the horizon in the morning, and sunset is when we last see the top of the sun on the horizon in the evening.  Thus we have one diameter of the sun in addition to our twelve hour equilux day.  Actually, March 20, 2012, the Vernal Equinox, the day will be 12 hours and 9 minutes long, stretching from 7:03 in the morning to 7:12 in the evening in the northern states.  In the Carolinas the sun will rise a minute later, but set at the same time.
Due to the forgoing reasons the day closest to having an equal day and night will be Friday, March 17th this spring.  As we all know, March 17th is St. Patricks’s day, and so it be, Laddies and Lassies, that we shall all be wearing of the green when day and night equalize.
The shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice which falls on December 21st, while the longest will be June 20th, the Summer Solstice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Amerigo Vespucci

Today, Friday, March 9, 2011 is the 558th anniversary of the birth of Amerigo Vespucci in Florence, Italy in 1454.  He learned business from Leonardo Medici of the Florence House of Medici.  In 1492, the year of Columbus’ search for a western route to Asia, Vespucci was dispatched to Cadiz, Spain to a branch office of Medici.  While there, he supplied Columbus with beef for one, or maybe two, of his seafaring searches for a new path to the Orient.
Between 1499 and 1502 Vespucci sailed twice, or possibly as many as four times, like Columbus, searching for a western sailing route to Asia.  In 1502 a book was published describing his travels.  In this book Vespucci was quoted as saying he didn’t believe he had seen Asia, but where he went was actually a new and different land.  A map was included in the book showing the eastern coast of the new land which soon was named after him.  Amerigo’s given name was used in its feminine version of America, and soon both South and North America were known by those names.
Even though Christopher Columbus was in the new world several years before Vespucci it is the latter’s whose given name is now so familiar.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spring Is Here

The ritual of looking for signs of spring in Northern New York is a time-honored tradition.  While growing up and until I was in my fourth decade, I always waited for my first sighting of a robin as a harbinger of spring.  Only when I had seen a robin did I realize spring had arrived.
Then came a day when I was driving along a country road with my brother Bob as a passenger.  It was a warmish day and spring was nearing.  We simultaneously spotted several red wing blackbirds pecking in the gravel of the roadside.  I mentioned it was odd to see them as I knew they migrated, and I had not seen a robin yet, usually the first of the migrating species to return.  Bob informed me that the red wings always preceded the robins by at least a day or two.  I had never in my life noticed that, but ever since I’ve found it to be true.
On another early spring occasion I stopped to visit my mother.  In the middle of her kitchen table was a vase filled with pussy willows.  I mentioned that it was nice to see any form of new growth after a dreary winter season.  She told me that my brother Ron had picked them and delivered them to her, as he did every spring.  I didn’t know that.  She told me Ron had done that for many years so that she might see spring’s first arrival.  I argued that red wings were the first sign of spring, but she insisted pussy willows were usually ahead of the red wings which, of course, preceded the robins.
So, as my mother never lied nor was she ever wrong, I now knew that I must watch for pussy willows to learn that spring had arrived.  Tuesday, March 6th, I spotted these sprouting from their pods near a wet area on my property.  I took a photo so that you might see them also.  Later the same day, my wife pointed out a pair of red wings eating from the ground beneath our yard feeder.  I was unable to obtain a photo before they left, possibly to continue their northward journey into Canada five miles or so away.
I haven’t spotted a robin yet this spring, but on the other hand spring will not officially be here yet for another dozen days.

The Dream Sheet

After three good years stationed at VT-9 located at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station Meridian, Mississippi it was time for a transfer to a new duty station.  During the latter part of 1969 I was asked to fill in a Dream Sheet.
Officially it was named NAVPERS 1306/34 Duty History and Preference Card, but all Navy men referred to it as the Dream Sheet.  At some point before it was time for a transfer to a new duty station all Navy personnel were asked to fill one in.  There were seven lines to chronologically fill in your complete Navy career history.  There were five more lines to fill in all Navy schools completed.  There was a remarks section, and then came the dream part.
I was scheduled for sea duty.  As my first and second choices for a new home port I opted for Brunswick, Maine and Jacksonville, Florida.  For three possible choices of type duty I chose Patrol, Composite, and Weather Reconnaissance Squadrons.  My reasoning was due to familiarity with those types of duty.  I had been in Patrol Squadron Eight, and I had been in Composite Squadron Ten.  Being a part of a Weather Recon Squadron (Hurricane Hunters) flying in a Super Constellation sounded like a perfectly good idea to me.
Which of those options was I actually assigned to?  Well, my orders were to be transferred to Attack Squadron 25 home based at the Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.  Prior to my arrival there though I was to undergo training at Attack Squadron 122 also based at Lemoore.  I arrived at VA-122 on February 3, 1970.  I was transferred to VA-25 in the next hangar over, on April 17, 1970.  I was immediately placed in control of all maintenance of the dozen VA-25 aircraft that was performed at night.
On May 1, 1970 I accepted my 4th and final honorable discharge, after nearly 15 years of service in the United States Navy.  Nowhere on that dream sheet had I mentioned either an Attack Squadron or the left side of America.  I decided the Navy and I were no longer compatible.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

St. Elmo's Fire

As a member of a flight crew on a Navy P2V5F Neptune aircraft we were far out over the Atlantic Ocean on a night patrol in 1959. We were having a bit of a problem.  Our starboard main engine was backfiring and belching flame back over the wing. It was pretty in a way when the bright red, blue, and yellow hues cascaded over the arch of the wing, yet scary too as a fear of the unknown sort of thing.  I was ordered to leave my bow observer position in the nose bubble, and come up above with the rest of the crew.  If that flying machine, no matter how good it was, went into the water the plastic nose bubble was not a good place, as if any part of the aircraft would be.  I went to the after station to sit and converse with the ordnanceman.
If the flames sending tendrils over the wing were not enough to command our attention suddenly along a bulkhead there appeared a gaseous object about the size of a basketball. It was a shade of fluorescent green, and was slowly creeping along traveling toward the front of the plane.  It seemed sinister somehow added to an engine problem hundreds of miles east of the Atlantic coast of America.  I approached it and was able to easily push my hand into it, and then withdraw it with no seeming effect. At the same time I was able to use my hand to move it along the bulkhead nearly like rolling a ball on the floor.  While my hand was immersed in it, and afterwards for a short period, the hair on my arm stood straight up in the same manner as static electricity would make it do.  The green haze remained for several minutes, and then disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had arrived.
I was later told that the phenomenon was named St Elmo's Fire after the patron saint of sailors. In the days of iron men on wooden ships it was considered good luck to spot it, and I tend to agree, as my presence here attests we made it back to a safe landing that dark and rain swept night.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Liberty At Argentia, Newfoundland

It began as a fairly innocent adventure, but as sometimes happens things didn’t exactly end as something to write home to mother about.  It started when a young Navy aircraft maintenance man bought an older model Chevrolet from a civilian worker on the Naval Air Station at Argentia, Newfoundland.  His name was Mitchell, but that doesn’t really matter.  The outcome would have been the same had he been named Smith, Jones, or Johnson.
Anyway, one quarter of VP-8, a U S Navy Patrol Squadron, was on deployment at Argentia during the first half of 1958.  To put it mildly there was nothing to do on this barren piece of land on a peninsula attached to another peninsula.  There were precious few villages anywhere nearby, and no way to get to them had there been anything to do once anyone got there.  So when Mitch got the chance to buy the aged Chevy he jumped on it.
He didn’t know how to get there, but he knew that there was a place named St. Johns out there somewhere, and the first Saturday evening he owned the car he, and three buddies, headed out to find it.  I only know from hearsay what happened next, and most of it was unprintable.
It seems they ultimately did find their way to St. Johns.  Once there they visited some places where they purchased a few small glasses of brew.  In one of these establishments they by happenchance met some of the fine local young ladies.  Many hours later Mitch headed back to Argentia with his four friends.  Yes, the number had increased by one as one of the young ladies had agreed to travel with them in hopes of making some extra cash during a visit to the Base.
They were only a few miles from the Base when the ancient Chevy developed a cough and died beside the road.  The five occupants set out to continue the journey on foot.  After the lengthy partying the night before this apparently was not an easy task, but they persevered and ultimately arrived back at one of the two barracks during the middle of Sunday afternoon.
The young lady promptly found an unoccupied bottom bunk where she immediately started a business.  I believe she was making money as a model as there was a fairly long line waiting to visit her, and many, if not all of them, had cameras.  The business was short lived as she was asked to leave the premises by some killjoy officer.  I’ve no idea how that was accomplished.
The following day, a Monday, Mitchell got permission to take the day off from his normal duties in order to recover his car.  He had a friend with him that it was said could fix any car blindfolded, no matter what was wrong with it.  When the two of them arrived at the old Chevy Mitch could hardly believe his eyes.  In less than a day it had been stripped of all parts that conceivable could be removed by a professional crew if they had a week to do it in.  Nothing was left but the shell, minus wheels, doors, the engine, radiator, and anything else not welded on.
Once more they plodded toward the Base, and ultimately returned to the barracks.  That’s about the end of the tale, except for the 15 to 20 sailors that somehow developed an STD.