Dogs and Other Theological Subjects

French author, Sylvain Tesson, writes in The Consolations of the Forest: Along in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga (Rizzoli, 2013)

 “I step in to visit V.E. who entrusts two of his twelve dogs to me. Aika is a black female, Bek, a white male. They are four months old. This will bark if bears begin approaching the cabin toward the end of May. I also have a flare gun. If attacked, you just fire at the animal’s paws; the detonation and fireworks usually persuade the bear to buzz off.” This entry is dated April 28, year unknown.

All right, I  fess up to being a sucker for any stories involving dogs, but this French writer has some interesting things to say along the way.  I should not that the featured dogs live outside his cabin.

April 29 – “ Winter is still here. Only the pale face of the lake (Baikal) signals that spring is waiting in the wings. Surrounded by a fairyland, I go fishing. The dogs follow me everywhere, My shadow has become a dog. The two little creatures have placed themselves in my hands. A humanist animal, the dog believe in us. Wherever water seeps onto the ice, lapis-blue reflections bloom on the creamy glaze. The dogs wait patiently by the ice hole. I give them the guts of the three char I catch.

April 30 – The taiga is black. The trees are shedding their snow. Dark patches  appear on the mountains. Aika and Bek rush up outside the window at first light. When two little dogs celebrate your advent in the morning, night takes on a flavor of expectation. A dog’s fidelity demands nothing, not a single duty. Canine love is satisfied with a bone. Dogs? We make them sleep outdoors, talk roughly to them, snap at them, feed them on scraps, and now and then – whap! A kick in the ribs. What we deal out in blows, they give back to us in drooling admiration And suddenly I see why man has made the dog his best friend: this is the poor beast whose submission demands nothing in return, a creature corresponding perfectly to what a man is capable of giving. We’re playing on the lake shore.  Aika has found a deer bone, and I’m throwing it for them. They never tire of bringing it back to me.; they’d keep going till they dropped dead. These masters teach me to inhabit the only country worth being in: the moment. Man’s particular sin is to have lost this frenzy the dog has for retrieving the same bone. For us to be happy, we have to cram our home with dozens of more sophisticated objects. Advertising  urges us to, “Go fetch!’ The dog has admirably solved the problem of desire.”

Good writing from a thoughtful man. The story and the writing will both hold your interest if you are the least interesting in the life of hermits and chosen solitude.

I’ll conclude by sharing a final excerpt: “The dogs twine constantly around my legs; in me they have found someone who responds to their affection. They neither rely on nor delight in their memories. Between longing and regret, there is a spot called the present. Like jugglers who ply their trade standing atop the neck of a bottle, we should train ourselves to believe in that sweet spot. The dogs manage it.

Raining today,  a good day to  methodically scribble notes for stories in  various stages of making, read thoughtful work of others, enjoy the security and warmth of ‘inside.’ Even hermits appreciate this.

Stay dry. Over.

Trois Rivieres

Had a fine signing at Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers yesterday, time for Bonnie Jo Campbell and I to pick each other’s brains and catch-up on the making-stuff-up- writin’-world grind-up. Thanks to Tom Lowry and his fine staff of book warriors  for hosting.

Ish, Ms.Ish.Ms.C and Sir Thomas of Lowry.
Ish, Ms.Ish.Ms.C and Sir Thomas of Lowry.
Sharing a joke
Sharing a joke
Betwixt da book walls.

Friday Night Fights and Other Musings

Last night was Friday: Jambe Longue had shuffled off to bed and left me brain-surfing between the A.W. Rowse bio of Wm Shakespeare and a TV channel called SPIKE (which I had sorta, maybe-kina- heard of, but never watched). But last night they advertised three straight hours of boxing and I just had to take a look see. Having Rowse in hand was my way of reminding myself that my interest in the fighting was merely intellectual and academic, a writer’s raw curiosity.

Uh, not quite. Flashback: my old man and I used to watch the Friday night fights in the way-back- when and he was a genuine and committed follower of boxing, not the puffy kind that we see now, but of a different time when the Rocky Marcianos and Sugar Ray Robinsons regularly visited Madison Square Garden. Sometimes I got to go along. I seem to remember blood splashing from a fighter on the ropes to us three or four rows back, and smelling sweat and cigarettes and booze and analgesics and god knows what else, all blended into a bloody bouquet that a young kid would either inhale or spit up. I inhaled it, thinking at the time that the slop was a holy fluid in a  kind of extreme unction for childhood. For the rest of my life  I’ve been torn between the intricacies of the “sweet science,” and it’s undeniable brutality and long-term body count.  On a rational thought basis, the sport– if that’s what it is — ought to be abolished, but its not.  Neither is smoking so I suppose there should be no surprise. Rather boxing is greatly diminished since the days of yore and thus, last night, I jumped in to watch. Even Shakespeare seemed to have a comment on the doings: Friar Lawrence says to Romeo, “These violent delights have violent ends.” Ya think?

The old man used to preach, “Nobody comes out of a fight unhurt.” It took me only  20-30 years of personal experience to be able to verify his wisdom. I was still having fights in my 40s, at the same time I was wearing a three-piece suit by day and mixing with the civilized parts of society.

I took a swing at a foe in Jackson Heights one day, missed his duck and bob, and stuck my left arm through a door window, therein cutting deep and leaving hanging flesh in three different places from wrist to just behind the elbow. The good news, I pushed the punch all the way through the target. Sort of. The real target had moved (smart kid) and I obliterated a door window pane with a great straight shot. 15-20 stitches seemed a small price to pay. Mom took me across the street for our family doctor to sew me up. I shudder to think how today’s helicopter parents would have reacted to the events. Damn glad I grew up when I did.

So, this strand of boxing DNA mixed up in me and us is truly that: mixed up.   Pretty sure my brothers are infected. But my old man was a big follower of what he (and consequently we) used to call “the fights,” and his close pal Robert J. Bob Thornton was a long-time boxing writer and editor. I assume that the writer and my dad met during their service in World War II, but if I ever knew the genesis, its long forgotten. WhaT I know is that the friendship went on for a long time after that, my dad passing away in 1976 and his friend sometime after that. I remember hearing the man talked about, more than actually seeing him and around our house he was known  primarily as “Thornton.” I assumed the old man was called Heywood in the other household, but this is pure speculation. The old man clearly admired his friend’s journalistic pursuits. Sad he never lived to see his eldest lunk-head publish his first novel, but that’s the way life rolls.

Seems funny now, but I remember bloodier fights on hockey rinks than in boxing rings,

This report is from one Richard Bak,. Posted in DETROIT RED WINGS:

“Whenever I went on the ice against the Rangers,” Howe recalled, “the coach sent  (Lou) Fontinato out. The idea was to work on me and distract me. Once, it cost me because I forgot a valuable bit of advice Ted Lindsay gave me. He said don’t ever drop your stick until the other man does. So we get into one game and Louie says, ‘You want to drop your stick?’ and I said, ‘Hell, yes!’ and I threw it to the ice, and the guy hit me right over the head…about six stitches worth. He nailed me, and I stood there laughing over my stupidity, and Lindsay just shook his head.”

On another occasion Fontinato whacked Howe in the mouth with the butt end of his stick, splitting his lip and loosening his tooth. Fontinato mocked him in the penalty box. “What’s the matter with your lip, Gordie?” he said. Howe vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

“Damned if I didn’t find myself in the same position in our next game,” Howe said. “When he went to hit me, I raised my stick and cross-checked him and damned near cut his ear off. Tit for tat. When he came back to the bench from the dressing room, he was wearing a bandage turban, real funny looking. The crowd threw beer and everything on me. So that was the situation between us when we went into New York to play the Rangers again.”

That evening at Madison Square Garden, Fontinato took a break from reading his press clippings to charge into a fracas involving Red Kelly and Eddie Shack behind New York’s net. Howe, who had intervened on Kelly’s behalf, noticed the blur rushing towards him, recognized it as Fontinato, and ducked a punch aimed at his head. Then, as Howe later described it, “that honker of his was right there, and I drilled it. That first punch was what did it. It broke his nose a little bit.”

Observers recalled Howe grabbing Fontinato’s jersey with his left hand, then using his right hand to deliver a stream of vicious uppercuts–”whop, whop, whop, just like someone chopping wood,” said one player quoted in Life magazine, which devoted three pages to Fontinato’s dismantling. Millions of readers were treated to photos of the humbled Fontinato swathed in bandages. In as violent a half-minute as ever seen inside a prize ring, Howe had broken Fontinato’s nose, dislocated his jaw, and destroyed his ego and reputation.

Note that both combatgants got "major penalites," and returned to the fray.
Note that both combatgants got “major penalites,” and returned to the fray.

Howe’s demolition of the NHL’s top enforcer was all in a night’s work for someone who clearly was in a league all by himself. “There are only four teams in the league,” a rival player said at the time. “Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, and Howe.”

All right,  there always seemed to be more blood in hockey fights than boxing and you are wondering (as I am) where I am making for in this piece.

Thornton was known as the man who shook the hand of John L. (“Himself- I can Lick any Sonfabitch in the House –Sullivan). The story went that Bob’s father took him to a Temperence meeting, Thornton’s paterfamilias and the champ both being reformed tippers. Thornton was at the time a precocious 18 months old and not yet of a weight to qualify for the fights.  Not a lot was made of this claim and it was never disputed. My old man once opined that perhaps John L’s magic had dripped into the kid, at least for a while. Later in his life, Thornton fought 11 bootleg (illegal) fights and won ten straight before getting chopped up so bad in the unlucky 11th that he abandoned boxing gloves for the boxing typewriter.

Have you ever read any of the writing in the old boxing magazines. Fascinating stuff. Think of people strutting around in tuxedos before fights, as if it was a night at the opera. The writing sore of fit the other pretentious posturing.

his is from Richard Labont’s column “Magazines” in the Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 20, 1979: “Blame it on the burden of history. The upstart martial arts magazines, reviewed last week, have no century-long American traditions to maintain; the garish wrestling magazines, reviewed next week, have no pretensions to civility – or to coin the sort of word the late Nat Fleischer would have not blushed about – to gentlemanliness.

And so, among the pages of grainy photos of one boxer pounding another, and the endless lists of disputed divisional rankings and the sound alike stories on bouts between contenders of all weights and skills, there is room for prose like this, in an article headed, Why Ali Must Retire –Now!

The most gruesome elements in magazines about boxing are not the celebrations of the fist-pounding skull, or the anointment of the unbowed over the bloody, what’s hard to take are their thick-eared formality and sticky sentimentality.

Take the contents-page comment in every issue of Boxing Illustrated, for example: ‘Designed to entertain and inform, Boxing Illustrated will please the whole family and serve as an inspiration to aspiring pugilists. We bring you particular insight into the lives of exponents of fistianart, and are devoted to the “Noble Art” in all its forms, professional or amateur. This magazine also emphasizes the sportsmanship, the rigid training discipline and the feats of boxers famed and burgeoning.’

It would be easy to believe that the jowly cigar-chomping gentlemen popping up as the masterminds behind boxing magazines – like Robert Thornton of International Boxing and World Boxing, and Nat Loubet of The Ring – actually to roll their phrases with such pompous grandiloquence. Blame it on the burden of history.

Even Loubet, publisher and editor of The Ring, founded in 1922, and considered the bible of the boxing world – isn’t immune to boxing’s pox of purple prose.

In an editorial on the decline of power of the New York State Boxing Commission, he writes, ‘This dissertation on commission is not with regard to New York alone, because the operation of one state might not seem important. In this case a single state is important because it was the leader for so many years, and, by virtue of the backbone manifested, it gave other lesser state commission the boost they needed to fight those who would usurp their rightful powers, Organizations with no official standing, — with the help of television – have surely been slowly taking over control of boxing, and not for the good.”

That’s the sort of writing which fills the boxing magazines: inbred analysis, and inchoate profiles, and argumentative assertions, all of it steeped in the belief that boxing is the noblest of  all sports, and demands a stumble-bum gentility.

There’s nothing fierce about boxing magazines: It’s too old fashioned a sport.

 I found an Internet piece alleging to report from the September 1977 issue of World Boxing.  Managing Editor Robert J. Thornton wrote, “Sundry promoters and major television interests have limited armchair viewers to a diet of champions, top contenders, and Olympic medal winners vs. stiffs – all the while ignoring bouts that would have recruited thousands (if not millions) of new fans (We can think of Zamora vs Zarate and Palomino vs. Muniz as two sizzlers that were snubbed by the big TV (stations).”

The brain-strands here: Friday night fights, boxing, the not-so-sweet-science, Madison Square Garden, my old man and his pal Thornton, Thornton’s boxing writing career and hockey fights, focusing on Madison Square Garden.  And somehow in my feeble mindloop, Shakespeare feels fully at home with all of the foregoing. Remember, the bard attended the bearbaiting and bullbaiting pits in London, which was a descendant of the Flavian Ampitheater shows, and some kind of predecessor to profession boxing and other spectator sports.

Ah, enough blathe:  We sign books this afternoon in Three Rivers, which will give me a chance to chat with one of my fave writer pals, Bonnie Jo Campbell. Had a notion for a book during last night’s fights: Tweets From Monsters, eg, a chapter on Tweets from Hitler. Whaddya think?


A lesson In Writing, from the Bard Himself.

Shakespeare was a poet, engaged in drama (as opposed to a playwright who dabbled in poetry).  Biographer A.L. Rowse describes it thus: “Here was a poet, first and foremost, at work – though it does not stand in disjunction from the dramatist: As a player (actor) he would know how it sounded; it was designed to vary and try out the effect. We cannot over-estimate the importance of Shakespeare’s being an actor: he learned the exact tone of speech to hold a large and varied audience. Here is the difference between school-rhetoric and the real art of persuasion: engaging the sympathy of the audience.
That Shakespeare was reading the poets and trying his hand at poetry in these formative years we may infer from the fact that from the moment he breaks upon public attention, with plays no less than poems, his verse is fluent, practiced, facile. He was a rhyming poet – and all through his life his natural ear for rhyme, his facility for it, comes cropping up in places where it is not needed, sometimes where it is not wanted, in the middle of blank verse lines as well as at the end.
In this year, 1587 (Rowse calls this the Armada Year) there was a reissue of Arthur Brooke’s Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, first printed in 1562. It is the basis of Romeo and Juliet, but even earlier various motifs, and incidents appears in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, on of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies.  For the difference between early Elizabethan poetry and what it became by 1590, is also for a borrowing characteristic of Shakespeare all through, let us compare Brooke’s lumbering fourteeners:
The Proverb saith unminded oft are they that are unseen.
And as out of a plank a nail a nail doth drive,
So novel love out of the mind the ancient doth rive.

Wrote Rowse, “For such verses Brooke should have been drowned. (He was going over to serve at Le Havre in 1563). In early Shakespeare, these lines become:

Even as one heat another heat expels,
Or as one nail by strength drives out another,
So the remembrance of my former love
Is by a newer object quite forgotten.

Professor Rowse concludes: This is the difference between someone who is trying to write poetry without any gift for it, and a born poet. The lesson?  It’s not what you start with, or the messy details of how you deal with it, all that matters is what filters through you onto your paper, be it applied in the darkest of ink or mysterious electrons.
Bonnie Jo Campbell and I will be signing books at Lowry's Books in Three Rivers, 2-4 p.m. tomorrow afternoon (Saturday, Dec. 19). Let the snow hold off or pass over our hunched-over forms.  Therefore my age is as a lusty winter/Frosty, but kindly.

Blogging Before Breakfast: “Juliet is the Sun.”

This time of year can induce moods of reflection, for example, what constitutes home? What home isn’t, is a mere house, which in itself is a mere thing. Having spent most of my formative  life in a military family the only house I recall with any familiarity is that of my grandparents in Rhinecliff, New York. The rest, in Jackson Heights, Florence, Naples, Alexandria, Greensboro, Norman, San Antonio, and base housing on  some Air Force bases? Nada. My grandparents’ place was the anchor for our family, a sort of base we touched before and between various military assignments.

Most of the places are blanks in my memory, but I do seem to remember the front door of each place and that seems odd and curious, something a writer might play with as an entry into memory.

Ironically, the woodsy wag Thoreau spends a heap of his words heaping abuse on the practice of home-owning (paraphrase: houses own us, not vice versa) and then he invests an inordinate number of pages describing how he built his own shack and gives us an agonizing accounting of costs, both construction and annual operation of his humble hacienda. He’s as addicted to his place as the people he criticizes.

  I like Thoreau, find some of his writing thought-inducing, but ever since I learned that his mommy did his laundry for the entire two years he spent “living in the woods” I’ve been less than impressed with his thesis and ethical positions on “independence.”

Still, he has some interesting notions, for example, “Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they are written.” Having had a classical Ivy League education he casts aspersions on “cheap contemporary literature, by which I think he means, books not needing a deliberate read.

Okay, he’s high-brow by training and inclination. No problem with that. And he’s right about deliberate reading, which nowadays we’re more likely to call close reading and what exactly are we supposed to read so “closely?”

Somewhere in my cobwebby past I had a professor who taught us to dig for a poem’s point or meaning or implications, by focusing on the work’s metaphors. We actually learned to underline all the metaphors we could find and to then use those as a shorthand for extracting meaning from the  work. Like most “methods,” this has limitations, but the focus is right because as James Wood puts it, “metaphor is the language of literature.”

Metaphor, you ask? Think Shakespeare.  Think of the line, “Juliet is the Sun.”

Let’s look to Wood’s words: “Our identification with fictional characters is not a matter of strict identity, but of figurative identification. When we say that A can be seen as B, we don’t posit that A and B  share the same properties, but we suggest that “B” has some property that A can be thought as having, when in fact the property is not literally a property of A.” He adds, “In other words, to return to an earlier phrase, fiction is the game of not quite.”

Great description and for writers the ground of metaphor is something we spend our lives trying to mine in both appropriate and clever ways. Ted Cohen tells us, “It seems obviously true that a metaphor A is B induces me to think of A as B, and this leads to new thoughts about A.” At the heart of every metaphor is mystery and it is the metaphoric pointing in writing that invites and indeed, defines the role of “close reading of texts.”

Tonight is the fifth and final Republican “debate,” and all that comes to mind is the line, “The Donald is a tool.” He’s also right now way up in the national polls, and tool or not (you get to define the thought), it might be worthwhile contemplating what kind of President he might make.

I’ll leave us to contemplate our belly buttons, or the universe of possibilities in those five words.


Booked For Lunch

Booked for Lunch is the title of author lunches at the Gladwin County District Library. Had a fine turnout yesterday and CO Mark Papineau helped me establish the difference between fiction and reality. Also saw my old comrade and friend Frank Bonham and wife Sandy. Frank (Auburn ’65) and I went through undergraduate navigator training together at Mather AFB in 1965-66. Frank ended up in a secret SAC outfit and had a fine 20-year career. Great to see the Bonhams, and all the other folks who showed for the luncheon show. Thanks to Laurel Breault for organizing the soiree.

With CO Mark Papineau
With CO Mark Papineau
Booked for Lunch crowd
Laurel Breault warms up the Booked For Lunch Crowd

2015 Deer Season, Part 5 of 5


DAY 11: Saturday, November 28I meet CO Jeff Goss in Calhoun Co, dump my gear in his truck and we hit the road. We get a late start (1630 Hours) intending to work late. We both anticipate a lot of weekend activity. Jeff will be headed to the Conservation Officer Academy  in East Lansing next month an instructor, a five-month assignment.  He also has a new partner in Calhoun, Battle Creek native Jason McCullough, who I’ve worked with in group patrols, once under a plane in Iosco Co and another time in a night salmon patrol at Foote Dam on the Au Sable River. Haven’t seen him in years. A widely respected, first class officer, McCullough knows what he’s doing. He and Jeff will have a lot of fun together when Jeff gets back from the Academy in June.

We settle at dark by spotting an SUV in a field and sit on it until after shooting hours. I get in the driver’s seat and Jeff creeps the vehicle on foot, only to find no plate on it and parts all over the inside. He hikes back to me and stops at a farm and they tell him it belongs to someone’s relative and has been there a long time. Oh well. We both laugh.

Jeff relates a recent case from Hillsdale County where a young man shot 10-point, and 14-point bucks with a .30-06 rifle during archery season, and how the investigation has progressed and where it stands. It should get adjudicated soon and I’ll cough up more details after that, but it’s an interesting case and Jeff has done a great job building the case and evidence. It’s a head-shaker when you hear it all.

We check a processor and an informant  in a nearby town and he gives us a get a lead on some na’er-do-wells.

After dark we rendezvous with Jason McCullough and proceed out to a house in the sticks to interview a couple of trappers. Deer hunters saw the trappers’ vehicle and when they came out at dark, found two deer carcasses, one with head removed, the other with just the antlers hacked out. They got a good look at the truck and Jeff Goss recognized it as someone he’d had previous experience with DNR law. We know in fact that one of these individuals has his hunting and trapping privileges revoked, yet he is out mentoring and helping a younger partner. This raises the question of what constitutes trapping? Is it setting traps only? Is scouting for places to locate the placement of traps? Is skinning the take, even if you didn’t take it? As usual, nothing is simple in this business. The two bachelors live in a ranch house out in the country. The officers make contact with them and they come outside and begin talking while I scout the house and find dozens of dead coons and other fur bearers in the back yard and traps in heaps and scattered about. There is a 5-yard (10? I’m guessing here) dumpster there filled with remains and even with heavy frost settling on us it stinks to high hell. Eww and pee-yew! This must be something on a warm noon.

I wait for a break in the interviews and ask one of the boys about the animals out back, and all the traps all over the ground. Jeff and I walk out back, but before I follow them I peek through a hole in the garage and see more carcasses all over the floor. Jeff climbs a small ladder to look into dumpster. The boy told us he didn’t deer hunt, but Jeff finds a couple of deer legs. He says nothing at this point. I ask the boy if anything is in the garage and he says yes and we go in the front garage door. Dozens more animals, none yet skinned and in the freezer  there are two sets of deer antlers. Jeff asks who belongs to them and our subject says he does, that his partner hit a deer in his truck and a state policeman gave them a permit to possess road-killed deer. The driver, his friend, the one out with Jason, “gave him the deer.” The partner didn’t want to be caught with a deer, even one under legal permit, for fear the DNR would go hard on him and think he had been hunting. Sounds paranoid to me but as we continue to question the two men it’s clear that the one with revoked privileges considers himself somewhat of a “jailhouse lawyer type.” He’s glib and well-spoken and forceful in presenting his views, even when they are wrong. The permit tag is supposed to be affixed to the antlers, but instead it is stuck on a nail in the skinning room in the other half of the garage. Jeff points out that the tag says it has to be with the animal and the young man apologizes. At this moment, Jeff focuses on the deer legs in the dumpster. The man says they belonged to one of the two road-killed deer. Two of their friends also hit a deer and got a permit to possess. He tells us that the pair has gone up to Kodiak Island in Alaska to hunt for a week or so. That tag is also on a nail in the skinning room. So we have two permits and two sets of antlers, and packages of meat, but the two dumped animals but it’s not clear what the relationship is between the dumped carcii and these remains.. After a lot of questioning and talking the two admit to being in that area on the night in question, and they admit they saw two carcasses, but they insist it wasn’t them who dumped them. The back and forth goes on for almost two hours, outside in the cold with a heavy frost settling on us. Jeff has had dealings with one of the men, as has a Kalamazoo County officer. The older of the two is mentoring the younger one in trapping ways and the whole set up is strange. At the very least the condition of their take is pretty poor and they seem in no hurry to skin the animals and get on with the process. After two hours we pull out drive to another area, and talk about what we’ve heard. The two men have a pickup filled with traps and a landowner found a colony muskrat trap near where they had been seen, but they first denied it was there, and later reluctantly admitted it might have fallen off the truck and somebody else set it. They swear up and down it wasn’t them on the trap or the carcass dumping.

We don’t have enough evidence at this point  to take this situation anywhere and Jason decides to have a face-to-face talk with the landowner who found the trap, as well as the second landowner who reported the trespass. There is something at work here, but not enough to pin it down. More investigation will be required by both officers. This sort of effort goes into a lot of cases, which show no result but time-eating. Both officers handled the interviews with smooth professional skills and techniques, and we decide to patrol our way back to my vehicle and call it a night. It is midnight when I start my one-hour drive home. Tomorrow we’ll  rendezvous in the same place, but start earlier,  at 0930.

DAY 12: Sunday, November 29 En route to the rendezvous I see two vehicles in a farm field and a man posted by some hardwoods in a camo outfit with no orange visible. This is the far eastern edge of Kalamazoo County. While  Jeff and I refuel the truck,  I tell him about this and he decides to go take a look. We telephone COs Chris Holmes and Paul Higashi in Kazoo. Neither is in service yet. Paul is first to call back and Jeff kids him that we are going to poach in his county and he says he’ll roll over and meet us. I did a poor job of marking the field and we overshoot going west, but flip back and find it. One vehicle is gone and no hunters are in sight. Jeff circles the block and a local resident stops us to report that he and his  two brothers have permission to hunt a certain property near where we are parked, and on opening day he was hunting with his father-in-law south of Kalamazoo, and one of his brothers saw a scoped rifle sticking out of his blind. The brother texted him to see if he was seeing anything and he texted back that it wasn’t him in his blind, that it must be a trespasser.

Jeff Goss, with customers
Jeff Goss, with customers

Naturally nobody thinks to call the DNR while  the situation is happening, and now it is 14-days later and only seeing our truck does the man think to stop and tell us. Jeff tells him if he doesn’t call while an incident is in progress, there’s little we can do unless they have a plate or an ID on the person. Paul Higashi  radios us, pulls up, jumps out,  and joins the conversation and Paul gives the man a card and explains again to call while things are happening – not afterwards. Jeff cautions, “ Don’t you approach the guy: That’s what we get paid to do. Call us immediately and give us the information and we’ll come out and take care of it.”  Two DNR trucks attract attention and other locals stop to chew the fat and talk about the season and complain about this and that, but all thank the COs for being out there.

We continue  over to the Fulton Game Area as we head back toward Calhoun Co and we see a man and his boy walking out toward their parked vehicle. Both are wearing orange and both have shotguns. When the man  spies us, he takes the boy’s shotgun and when he comes out blurts out the standard, “Got a question for you.” He then asks, “Is it legal for a boy under 14 to hunt with a firearm on state land?” Obviously the thinks not, since he took his son’s shotgun when he saw us.

Jeff Goss talking to father and son.
Jeff Goss talking to father and son.

It’s a sort of vague statute, but we dink around with the computer,  find it and confirm that he the exact language with the bottom line, the boy can’t. Ergo the boy has been hunting illegally. Jeff warns dad, checks their shotguns, and we move on because down the road at another pull-off, a man has stepped out to the road, looked our way and quickly ducked back out of sight. We hurry to get down to him and find him unloading his shotgun into a mud puddle. Odd.  Jeff checks his licenses, all in order. No idea why he acted so hinkily. Some people immediately freeze up or turn weird when faced with a badge.

The county dispatcher announces an alleged “cougar sighting over the radio, and I just shake my head. Battle Creek has been a hotbed of such reports for years and there are game cams all over the place and not one photo of a cougar. Ever.  It’s group panic/group misthink at its finest.

McCullough calls us. He’s found a vehicle parked at Battle Creek city property near the Kalamazoo River. There is a rifle case in back and a dog cage in the bed of the truck. It’s illegal to hunt anything on city property, so we race up to BC and join Jason near the river. Last year Jeff and I had an illegal deer case literally within sight of where we are now.

Jeff and Jason take off  on foot into the property to ferret out whoever is in there and I stay with the truck and 15 minutes later the two men appear on the walking trail with their dog on a leash.

I great them cheerfully and tell the COs will want to talk to them and call my partner on the radio and tell him I have two people and a dog at the truck. The younger of the two starts to get huffy. “Tell them to hurry up,” he barks. “We have places to go and things to do!”

My response: “You’re not going anywhere until you talk to the officers.” The younger one backs off and we begin schmoozing on various DNR topics and eventually Jeff shows up and Jason  follows a few minutes later. Jeff knows the pair, has written the older one for a loaded firearm in a vehicle and knows more about the kinds of things he is rumored to be into. A long discussion takes place and Jeff checks hunting licenses. He asks to see the gun in the cab and the man pulls open the door. Jeff can see the open chamber, but he picks it up and holds I vertically and a huge chunk of dry dirt falls from the barrel into the chamber.  Jeff looks at the older man, who says he dropped the bun barrel first into the mud but thought he wedged all the dirt out with a stick. Jeff says, “I just may have saved your life. The dirt clog could have caused the gun barrel to shred if he fired it without cleaning it. The man’s response is to grin.

We’re pretty certain they were running the dog on rabbits just for the dog’s benefit, but we haven’t seen this and in fact they’ve been seen only on property they can be on.

We pull out, rendezvous trucks  down the street and try to make a plan for the afternoon and evening. We work our way over to a processor where a young boy and his dad have just brought in the kids’s nice 8-point and of course we have to  hear the story. The first time Jeff met the processor, the man chewed all over him and the DNR but over time h’s won the man’s  confidence and there  seems even to be a degree of friendship now in place.  We are treated with great respect and great amiability. We congratulate the kid, check a couple of carcasses in the processing facility (tags all all good) and move on.

We stop briefly in the afternoon at Jeff’s house to make a couple of ham sandwiches and head south to Homer to meet McCullough at a processor who is closed.

Close  to Burlington, we check a hunter and then head to another processor in Marshall, but the facility is about to close, the owner has gone home and his wife is frazzled by all the work and also is ready to get home. Jeff says he’ll be back in a couple of days and we refuel again and start looking for vehicles as the shooting hours close approaches. Meanwhile, Jason McCullough has found a vehicle well after shooting hours and he’s in an odd location and without our Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) we can’t see his position, but he describes his spot and we come in dark with Jeff using a night scope to see our way. Neither of us can see him, but we find a handy little pull- in and when we look to our left we can see small green light. Jeff puts the NVD on the area and sees the truck. Jason calls and says he had just done tonight what we did last night: sit on an abandoned vehicle with no license plate. We all laugh and separate, with the intention of joining up later at another processor’s operation. By now we are way up in the north county not far from the Barry County line. As we drive a curvy road south I see headlights far off to the east and Jeff looks and says, they’re on the other side of the lake – and there’s nothing over that way but nothing. We are curious. Maybe we can see them from the lake’s boat launch. But no dice on this option; the launch is located in a cove away from the main water body. We back out and head north and east, and turn south and as we hit an open marsh area where we see the lights and we can’t tell if it’s a vehicle or several spotlights.

We find a short hard service drive into some kind of radio tower with a metal fence around it and tuck ourselves  up to it to shield the silhouette of our vehicle. There is a house with a large, bright yard light 200 yards south of us. We can see lights in the field and they seem to be probing the field.  Because they seem to be hanging in for a long time, we guess it’s probably some hunters looking for a downed deer, but there’s no way to know for certain unless we get up to them and see for ourselves. We call Jason for backup and he starts working his way toward us. Jeff is up on the rail of the truck with his NVDs watching the light show and I can also see them from where I stand on the ground.  They are clearly “shining around” and some of the light beams flash out into the open grass and we can’t tell if they are trying to shine the open area or the lights are just bouncing out that way. At one point while Jeff heads closer to the fence to look past it I see a set of headlights pointed our way but these quickly disappear.  We try to get a signal for the computer to look at an Internet map of the county so we can pinpoint what we’re looking at, but we can’t get a signal. So much for electronics. We use our small red lights to look at hard copy maps and get a fix on our place.  Meanwhile the lights keep moving around and  Jeff  decides to go on foot to investigate closer and leaves me at the truck and we go over where we are and which roads are in which direction in case I have to fetch him and disappears into the darkness alone using his hand-held NVD to find his way. The loss of our electronics is why recruits have to learn to not depend on devices and be able to navigate and fix positions with compasses and good old fashioned map reading.  This was the same strategy we employed in the Air Force, to not depend on any ground support and to use the skies to find our way. Electronics have a way of letting you down when you most need them. That’s a fact, in some cases with lethal consequences.

Jeff traipses back a few minutes later. “Too swampy and wet and I think they’re on the other side of Rice Creek (BTW, a nice little brown trout stream). Jason reports rolling in south of us from the west and says he can see lights too. We back out and head toward him, turn on an east-west road and see the lights and then in the next huge expanse of farmland find Jason’s truck pulled over to a tree line. We have to cross a ditch and Jeff can’t see. We have our windows down so that we can hear. There is some loose gravel on dirt and we can hear the tires on the gravel. I tell my partner to move forward, that we are clear of the ditch, to use the gravel to guide us in and we nose up to Jason’s truck and park and get out. Jason is on the bedrail of his truck glassing the lights, but can’t see well enough to get a good view. Jeff uses his NVDs to spot a small rise between  us and the lights so we move ahead to the lip of the small rim and from there discover not one, but two vehicles and  a bunch of flashlights and several silhouettes of people. Jeff says, “We’re going in now, the ground feels firm enough.”  We race dark toward the assembly. They have no idea we’re there until he turns on the headlights and spotlights.  We dismount and head toward a group of people. We can see a deer on the ground beyond them. The people greet us pleasantly and laugh, “You guys come out of nowhere!” I go check the deer, a nice 8-point buck with a tall, wide rack. It’s been hit twice. I can see  the trail where they dragged it out.

Jeff recognizes the people as folks he’s checked before, law-abiding sportsmen and he congratulates the hunter who got the deer. They have five or six adult males and a small child about knee-high. The little boys’ mother is in one of the trucks.  The deer is tagged legally and all licenses check out. We congratulate them on the deer. It ran toward Rice Creek when it was hit. Wounded deer almost always head for water. It died by the creek and they took a long while to find it in the marsh grass. The hunter shot the buck just before the end of shooting hours and let it lay while he called for help to find it. We arrived as the help pulled in. The other set of lights I saw was the second truck coming through the field and turning around.

The whole incident is a great example of tactical work in the dark, and teamwork between two officers. When we get back to Jason, he says, “Where did you guys go?”

Jeff says, “I told you I was rolling.” McCullough laughs. “I didn’t hear you. I was ‘occupied’ at the time.”

We depart the scene and head toward another processor but he too is closed up tight.
We check some slow rollers moving south and Jeff drops me at my vehicle after a 12-hour shift.

I have spent 126 hours in DNR trucks over 12 patrol days. I drive home, and talk to Lonnie and her sister Mary who has come up for a visit. I am beat, but it has been another great and interesting season filled with strange experiences and start-to-finish learning, not the least of all being all the time I get to pick the brains of the seven officers I’ve worked with: Steve Converse, Becky Hopkins, Pat McManus, Rich Stowe, Sean Kehoe, Josiah Killingbeck, and Jeff Goss. Thanks also to new officer Ethan Gainforth, and old vets Paul Higashi, Jason McCullough and Warren McNeil. Warren’s son will be in the next CO Academy class. It’s a great privilege to work with all of them.

Thanks also to Lt. John Jurcich and Sgt. Bob Torres for helping me arrange the tour.

Our Michigan conservation officers are a highly trained, hard-working team who bust their butts to protect the state’s natural resources, and enforce other laws as well: These are demanding  jobs being handled by hardcore professionals.

Best of luck to the recruits who will start the next CO Academy class in January. You’re joining an elite outfit of highly motivated individuals, but you will have to earn your place among them. It won’t be easy, but real accomplishments never are.


2015 Deer Season, Part 4

Truck tools
Truck tools

DAY 9: Monday, November 23 – Becky Hopkins and I are partnered again. Our first call comes early, at 0715. It’s nothing urgent but it wakes her up and we will deal with it later in the day.

This morning we start west toward the lake shore and as we approach a pine plantation we see a man in a pumpkin suit walking through trees. We stop, roll down windows, and hear men yelling and barking like dogs and making a lot of noise.  Both of us have heard about drives like this, but neither of us have ever witnessed one, so this is a first for both of us. They are driving deer westward and we parallel on the road and get to the big opening where the shooters are sitting. Three hunters emerge from the trees and Becky traipses through the snow to talk to them and check licenses and do the drill. Then two more hunters show up in the field with  a pick up truck and then a second truck arrives out on the road in front of me. She hustles up to the second trucks, “Announces, good morning boys, where’re the guns. We find a bullet ridden doe in the bed of the second truck. It’s all shot to hell. Becky tells them “Glad I don’t have to gut that thing.”  She punctuates what she says with a sour face. It’s tagged with a crop damage permit from a nearby property, not the property where the group is hunting and once again we see how all sorts of deer are getting slaughtered and it’s hard to account for where they’re operating, etc. Earlier with Rich Stowe he told me about finding shooters killing deer with rifles on the 12th or 13th. The crop damage permits call for a quiet time from Nov 10 to 14 but these guys were violating that. Just one more sign of the problems with such special treatment. Farmers get a helluva lot of breaks common citizens don’t. I hear my conservative friends bemoaning welfare for city folk, etc,  but nary a peep on all the special deals for farmers. No tickets for this gang this morning.

Weird growth
Weird tree growth

We leave the gaggle, swing around a long block and come on a slow-rolling pickup ahead of us. It has its windows down, and it’s moving at walking speed through the same area where the deer drive just took place. We follow at a distance, stopping below the peak of rolling hills and glassing them in, waiting for a stop-and-shoot, but Station 20 calls a trespass in progress and of course it’s a long drive away; we immediately break off the slow-roller and head for the property where the trespass is underway. The property belongs to a doctor in Royal Oak and he and his wife have a game camera on their blind and bait.  The camera is tied into WiFi so they can monitor their property from afar. The woman says she has pictures of two hunters on the property only a few minutes ago. Becky’s cell phone can’t take the photos, but her personal phone can. We arrange for the complainant to send photos to Greg’s Michigan State Police office in T.C., call him, ask him to forward pix  to her personal cell and to make some full size hard copy prints. We  roll up on the property, find fresh truck and foot prints. We can’t tell if we have drop-offs or something else. Becky goes in to the property and I stay with the truck to either go collect her elsewhere, or block and stop any slow-roller coming down the two-track. While she is at the game cam, the property owner in Royal Oak reports she can see Becky who quickly calculates an approximate five-minute delay in the system. By now she figures we are 30 minutes behind the intruders and they are probably gone. She hustles out to the truck and we start following  truck tracks and are able to work out where it came in and where it  went out, but we are too late. We look at the photos on her personal smart phone and both of us recognize a hunter we checked last year when I worked with her. The hunter is wearing a unique pair of pants and has distinct facial hair. He is part of a notorious local  “crew” we worked last season, and whose members she’s busted previously.

We head on to the lakeshore and start working various roads that dead end at Lake Michigan

We use out binoculars to check one man afield, walking through dune grasses. We’ve already run his RSS and verify he is licensed. On another road we talk to a guy who claims to have hunted the same spot for 60 years; he’s now 74. Everything checks out. We found him sitting  in his vehicle and when Becky came up on him he immediately  copped an cranky  attitude, but she quickly calms him down and the contact ends up positive.

Another road holds two vehicles and we see tracks where they have walked into a swampy swale in barrier dunes. Minutes later we see to hunters on the other side of the road coming out and check them. All legal. They complain about not seeing many animals. The land we’re on is federal park property, not state land, but state and federal officers work together to patrol it.

We get a BOL on a green Jeep whose driver is wanted by local police and we make a mental note to keep watch for it as we continue patrolling. We subsequently check two more hunters, than a solo and another solo. We end our lakeshore inland, sitting on the field where we started the morning, hoping our slow-roller will come through again. It’s typical of some crews to run a regular route and make several passes over the day. No dice this time. The temperature is awful, the wind howling and cutting,  but the snow has stopped and we hear a shot behind us and roll over to that area looking for the hunter. No joy. We call my partner for tomorrow, CO Josiah Killingbeck, down in Lake County and work out a rendezvous time and location. Becky and I check out of service and Greg and I run into Benzonia to get pizzas for dinner and take family Lab Bailey with us. Like Shaksper, riding in a vehicle is a special treat for Bailey.

My pal Bailey
My pal Bailey

He stands with his head between us. Greg says his drive to T.C, this morning was awful, just like mine last night.

Sunset off Benzie
Sunset off Benzie
Evidence in hand
Evidence in hand

My original plan was to work with Steve Converse tomorrow, but when I learned Josiah was to have Wednesday off, I didn’t want him to ruing that day with work. So I dropped Converse. We sent a note telling him my chiropractor has banned me from riding with him for awhile.  Bottom line on this switch: I’ll get home a day earlier than originally planned. This is a good thing.

DAY 10: Monday, November 24 – Greg heads his MSP office in T.C for work, Becky heads for T.C for her doctor appointment (it’s her day off) and I load up and head south to Lake County to meet Josiah at the Baldwin DNR field office. Josiah graduated in the 2014 academy class and has been on his own for a year now. He worked with Assistant Chief Molnar during the flight the night before the season and got a loaded gun and two illegal deer. By now he’s had about 10 illegal deer and he is having one of those seasons, where he bumps stuff everywhere he turns.

My pals and I have the Baldwin Bullshido Fishing Club (2016 will be our 40th year). We meet sometime in summer every year to fish the Pere Marquette River and branches. This year when I pulled into camp the owner Al VanDenBerg handed me the latest Lake County Star and told me to take a look. It was folded open to two pages of police reports and both pages were filled with arrests by CO Josiah Killingbeck. My friend said the county was in an uproar. I said “Good, you can bet there are multiple warnings with every citation. People think they can run wild in this county.”

Josiah and I begin by visiting a trapper who called in to report taking an otter in his beaver traps. He’s young guy and mom and dad are there too and it’s clear he didn’t intend to catch an otter and he tells Josiah he can  have it, but Josiah tells him to keep it and to tag it and to take it in to be certified by wildlife. Honest mistake, self-reported, no priors. This guy wants to do the right thing and this alone makes the man standout in a community where a lot of trappers have more of an outlaw mentality. Technically Josiah could take the animal, but instead he uses discretion and gives the family cards with his service cell and tells them to call if they see anything looking funny.

Impressive handling by a young officer. We bat our way through some muddy, snowy roads and find a blind on the edge of a clear-cut. The blind has a huge over-bait,  but nobody hunting. We decide to come back tonight and re-check it.

We then head to an area where he had suspected some shenanigans and trespass yesterday and we find a man and woman from Battle Creek going out to post their property lines which they have just had surveyed. On the way we hear that a vehicle has killed a 250-pound bear up near Luther. This couple said they had a sow and two cubs go through their yard last night and that the trio has been hanging around the neighborhood. He says earlier he found a tree with a big hole and it only dawned on him last night that it’s  probably a den. We get the spot pinpointed and take down information. The landowner says Wildlife can come tag cubs if they want. We give him a card and move on.

Around noon we meet up with new PCO Ethan Gainforth, who is assigned to Osceola County. Josiah talks him through the processor check. The processor is a quarter mile over the Lake Co border, inside Osceola, but lots of Lake Co. folks bring their deer to be processed at the facility. The owner is a good man and very receptive and happy to see young enthusiastic officers at work. Gainforth is built like an NFL linebacker. He grabs three heads and we grab a couple and move on. As dark falls we encounter a vehicle with tail light problems and pull it over. There is a hunter driving, rifle behind him. He is up for the week from somewhere in the Detroit area, living with his parents. His wife is also hunting but went back to Detroit for a couple of days. She’ll be back on Thanksgiving. One of them has already bagged a deer and Josiah asks some questions, but there’s nothing suspicious and we go our separate ways.

We end the day checking the blind we began with in the morning. Still no occupants. We close the day sitting on a field after following a trails into the snow in an isolated area and checking a hunter in a vehicle in the area. He seems to be legal but Josiah will probably revisit him this coming weekend when his wife comes up from downstate for Thanksgiving.

I drive home to Portage and get back at 2200 hours, beat, but had clear roads the whole way.

No more DNR work until Saturday, and we are not going to Lonnie’s relatives for Thanksgiving. It will be just us, which is a first. Three days off  will help me let me catch up on sleep and fuel my tank for the weekend. I can’t wait.

2015 Deer Season, Part 3

Reserved parking spot for CO trucks.
Reserved parking spot for CO trucks.

DAY 6: Thursday, November 19I talked to my partner CO Rich Stowe yesterday and this morning I drove from Benzonia over to Traverse City this morning to bunk several nights with Joe and Nan Harris, old friends from the Kalamazoo, Upjohn, hockey and soccer days.

Rich picks me up at Noon at the Harris hacienda, and off we go. Our first destination is the so called Hoosier Valley area and Rich, who is my 50th solo DNR partner, tells me about the so called “Hoosier Valley Range War,” which concerned dispute over the operation and hours of certain gun ranges in the area. It’s also a popular area for dumping stolen vehicles. I’ve known Rich for some years. CO Bobbi Lively and I once helped with him on a case over in Presque Isle County, and some years after that I saw him at the Atlanta DNR office during the Pigeon River Annual December Elk hunt. Rich was a long-time Grand Traverse Dep and is an ardent hunter and trapper and one of the department’s best ambassadors to the public. He is friendly and laid back in all his contacts with people.  He can also morph into Godzilla with amazing strength when the need arises.

Up in the Hoosier Valley we find a vehicle registered to an individual who has been  convicted on a 4th –degree CSC. There is a rifle case in the vehicle and tracks in the sand show which way he went, so we commence to look for him. RSS shows that he has the necessary deer licenses and there is no reason to try to run him down to make contact, but we do several passes through the two-track maze looking for orange, but find no one and move on. We check if the vehicle is stolen; it’s not. It may in fact be borrowed by someone and the hunter is afield and it’s too early in the day to sit on the situation or to walk in and disturb the hunt.

Not long after this  we encounter a fellow slow-rolling and we stop and he stops and Rich asks him how things are going and he says, “Not great,” says, adding that he’s headed for work and took this route.  The road is a well-known road-hunting route. The man’s rifle case is in the front seat. The man allows Rich to check the weapon, which has a round in the “cooker,” but no clip. Still the man is carrying a loaded weapon in a vehicle and gets a ticket and the contact ends with the man shaking Rich’s hand. All of Rich’s contact end the same way.

Later we come across a tree blown down across the road by the afternoon’s heavy winds and we use a pull strap to yank the thing out of the way to clear the way for traffic. Rich said he fueled his chainsaw in the morning but then forgot to throw it in the bed of the truck so we decide we’ll head for his house at some point to pick it up, that we could have more downed trees and branches before the patrol’s end. It’s beginning to spit snow.

Along the way we check a pair of hunters, and then three more, no problems and license and weapon checks are taken as no big deal and most of the talk is about the hunting season and what Rich is seeing and where, and what they have been seeing.

Here’s a little story to give you a picture of the kind of man Rich is. He and his wife and daughter one night are going out to Northport to see his mom and along the way they see two young boys on bikes. They’re dressed like Batman and Robin. Batman’s cape has gotten caught in the pedals and he can’t free it or ride the bike, so Rich pulls up, frees Batman and he and his caped partner boogey  fly on down the street, free again, free again. You get the picture. Rich Stowe is about fair play and fairness and he believes that public service is truly about helping people. His acts prove his convictions.

During the day he talks about how different it is to be in Grand Traverse County  vs Posen in Presque Isle County,  where he was in his previous assignment. He keeps reminding himself this is NP, Not Posen, or from the other angle.  Its Traverse City, ITC so I come up with NPITC as a new code: Its Traverse City,  No Posen.

At dark we drive down to an area where three is a walking trail, cross-country ski area, etc and find a vehicle with the engine running, lights on, and doors open. What the heck is this? “Rich tells me, “Don’t jump to any conclusions. It could be anything. ITC.” We laugh and moments later see a flashlight and a woman comes hurrying out of the woods all exited and breathless and tells us a friend of hers was running her three dogs in the woods and one of them has somehow run onto a stick and gotten injured and she has called the vet, and she is en route, but she has to drive out to the trailhead to fetch her. The two unhurt dogs are with the woman and wary of us, circling and sniffing and growling. (I think Grady Service would be suicidal!) We follow the trail back a couple of hundred yards and find the woman and her dog. She is trying to sooth him, but we can see a piece of wood (a branch about a half-inch in diameter) protruding from the animal’s thigh. It is an unpleasant sight. The two other dogs are concerned and watching us. The three are Belgian Tervurens, Belgian shepherds, beautiful dogs that resemble German shepherds. Rich and I keep our voices low and relaxed telling them they are good and to be gentle and we try to keep everything as low key as possible and Rich helps the woman and they look at the inside of the thigh and there is some blood but not a lot. The dog actually ran onto a staub protruding from a tree, and got impaled. He didn’t even yelp. The woman found him that way and managed to cut off the branch with her knife and get him to lie down and relax.

The vet and her assistant, and the first woman we met, arrive and they have a wheelbarrow and a large blanket and the vet looks at the dog and says she thinks that pressure of the stick is pressing the femoral and keeping the dog from bleeding out internally, but we have to get him to surgery and do it without causing the internal situation to change for the worse. We discuss how to best do it and Rich and the Vet and the tech lift the injured dog into the barrow and wrapped up. Rich takes the main weight of the barrow and the women all help steady the dog and I use my SUREFIRES to light our way out, noting all the roots and bumps that could cause problems for the patient. We get out to the vehicles, load the animal into one of the vehicles, and lead that vehicle out to the trailhead while the first woman takes the two remaining dogs with her to the owner’s vehicle which is at the trailhead, some distance away. Rich loads the wheelbarrow into the truck parked there. The woman loads the mutts and heads for the surgery to be with her friends.

Rich and I head for his house where we fetch the chainsaw and then have coffee with his wife and daughter. Wife Sandy tells us she found a wallet today near a store. Rich looks at the ID and calls the woman to tell her the wallet has been found, would he like for us to deliver it. She would. We do.

The address is not easy to find. It is in a complex of lakes and curvy roads Rich calls the Rayle Road Triangle (I think). Meanwhile I am getting cell phone calls, but when we got new phones up in Houghton last summer, the installer put a damn password into it for the phone-mail, and the password, which Lonnie has printed on the back of the phone (for my feeble mind) but this doesn’t work. Turns out he put another password into it, which Lonnie only figures out on Nov 30 is actually not the one he told her it was and she somehow figures out the right one. This is of no use to me.

The woman who lost the wallet tries to give Rich money for finding and returning it. He explains patiently that officers can’t and don’t do that. She insists, “Then put it in the office party fund.”

He says, “No ma’am, thank you, but we don’t do that sort of thing.”

Rich drops me at Joe and Nan’s and we spend a few hours yakking and drinking some vino and I don’t crash until 0100 or so and Rich and I are rolling again at noon tomorrow, so I will get a good night’s sleep. Meanwhile, Joe and Nan have had a call from Sheriff Mike Borkovich (one of my former DNR partners) and when I call home, Lonnie tells me Mike also called he too. I quickly surmise that it was him on my cell phone as well. Call me Sherlock.

DAY 7: Friday, November 20 – I don’t call the sheriff until this morning and tell him that once Rich and I get going we’ll give him a bump and arrange a meet-up. He wants me to sign some books for him. Our first task of the day is to figure out a question that comes in from a citizen about the legality of trapping rabbits and moving them. We actually heard this call the previous day but today Rich makes some calls and we get the answer, which goes through my brain to wherever such things end up, i.e., I don’t remember the answer and my notes are indecipherable. Typical. (You try writing legible notes in a patrol truck.)

We stop by the T.C. office to grab some forms we’re out of and the supply there is depleted, so we move on with our rounds. We check a couple of hunters along the way, check in with my partner for tomorrow, CO Sean Kehoe, and called the Sheriff Borkovich, and arrange a rendezvous at the west Bay Boat launch and when we get there, the sheriff slides in a moment behind us and he tells Rich a story about a time when he and I were out on patrol and we all laugh and I sign the books and he gives us a quick catch-up on his family and their doings and how his job is going (he loves it). The air is in the 20s and the wind howling and we are freezing, but we take our leave and press on back into the woods where we continue finding and checking hunters. At one point a four wheeler comes by and stops and we chat with the man. He’s wearing orange, but not hunting and has no weapons on board and he moves on and we go on looking for hunters, but Rich gets to wondering if the man is legally operating on the road we’re on. We are in the afternoon “quiet period” and the road cuts through public land where there are several hunters and Rich makes a call to Sean who said he had a similar situation in the morning and  really didn’t have the answer. Another phone call up the chain and some reading of the regs on line indicates that as long as the road is classified a county road, the ORV and other vehicles can legally operate. The morning and evening quiet hours are meant to keep ORVs off ORV trails and out of the woods while hunters are afield. COs must know a squat load of laws. This alone makes the job demanding.

When dark comes we pull up to a lake and see lights across the way and Rich guesses where the vehicle will come out. In out of the way places it’s not unusual for hunters to keep loaded guns handy in case they light up a deer on the way out, so we calculate an intercept course,  and head that way and after a while we spot headlights coming down a two track and move to make contact. We find a couple of hunters, everything shipshape and legal, but while we are on this contact we see the lights of another vehicle, coming out on the next two-track. This is probably the one we first saw and we head after that one, but he is moving too quickly and gets off onto the concrete and away from us and we break off and continue doing what COs do.

Rich was a tanker in the army, and in Germany; at one point he got the chance to go to Fort Bragg to jump school and the day he graduated with his shiny new jump wings the Army was organizing a new Ranger outfit and they told all the men who were interested to get in line and Rich was interested and fell in and when he got to the front of the line, the sergeant said what’s your MOS (which I think means military occupational specialty, or something like that, which is of course identified by a number rather than language)  and Rich tells the man who looks up at him and says, “You’re a tanker? Get out of my goddamned line.  This here is for infantry, not tankers.” Rich was disappointed, but fate did not intend for him to be a Ranger so he went back to tanks and finished his hitch. He liked being a soldier, liked being in a chain of command, liked knowing rules of engagement and all the other things that go with professional soldiering.

We talk about a wide range of things from styles of public contact to hydrostatic shock (which is a condition caused by trauma, usually a bullet pulverizing blood and mashing tissue into fat cells. It’s a condition COs sometimes use to determine if an animal has been found. Sometimes you can’t find the slug, but if you lift the skin you can always find evidence of hydrostatic shock from a bullet and even gauge the round size by the size of the effected area. Over 15 years I see officers learning more and more about how to evaluate causes and timing of death of animals, using all sorts of scientific and technical methods. It makes it difficult to lie if the forensic evidence points to something other than what the suspect is claiming. The DNR goes to great lengths to train officers in all sorts of skills, and it shows in how they do their jobs. Rich drops me off at Joe and Nan’s. CO Sean Kehoe will fetch me in the morning at 0800 and I don’t get to bed until around 0100 but I live most of my life on five hours of sleep so I’m good to go, sleep-wise.

DAY 8:  Saturday, November 21— CO Sean Kehoe is Irish and widely known for his quick and relentless wit. He greets me with “Two Irishmen go into a bar,” and I say, “Know them both, they’re me relatives.” On this basis we begin our patrol and the banter rarely relents. We first head into a piney area to check an grossly over-baited blind, but no hunter is in the blind,and we move on into the upper Boardman River country, a maze of two-tracks in scrub oak and jack-pine country. We hit an open area and a truck comes up besides us and stops.  The driver announces “I just got a five-point buck,” so we stop, climb out, and take a look, check his license, etc. The man has his 10-year-old son with him and the kid looks like Opie Taylor, great huge smile and, clearly, he is enjoying hunting time with dad. The father tells us the boy actually saw the deer first and pointed it out and he scoped it at about 120 yards and was sure he saw three points on one side, which the Antler Point Restrictions (APR) require. But, the third point on the one antler is not one inch and we try to hang a ring on it and no dice for that approach either. If it could hang a ring, we might stretch weakly to call it a point, but no way this will happen. Now we have a quandary and Sean’s professional judgment and discretion come into play.

There's paperwork in EVERY office.
There’s paperwork in EVERY office.

He runs the man’s RSS and priors and learns that his wife has a Personal Protective Order (PPO)against him. We get into the truck and talk and we agree that the kid is so excited that a ticket could break his happy. It’s so great to see a kid out hunting with dad, whose record is clear. He’s made a mistake, perhaps bowing to his son’s pressure. The deer is sublegal by strict constructionist APR definition, but he has validated the license and tagged the animal properly.  As for the PPP the man tells Sean this was supposed to have been removed, that he and the woman have “made up, and that he even gave him hunting gear back to me.” Sean decides to give him a warning and add that if the kid wasn’t with him he’d be getting a ticket and losing the deer. Instead he gives the man a business card, explains the break, and urges him to call if he sees any crap taking place in the woods. We congratulate them in front of the boy and away they go.  Nothing’s ever easy.

Sean tells me the story of a woman who calls him to her house because there is a sick raccoon on her porch. By the time he gets there, the animal is dead and she tells the officer that she is certain that the animal had been trying to reach her door to scratch on it to attract her attention so she could help it. I think: ITC, It’s Traverse City. But the story isn’t finished. The woman then tells Sean, “I once saved a raccoon from dying by breast feeding it.” Sean, who is rarely without a comeback, has none for that moment and said only a choked, “OK.” (This is standard cop-talk, which means only I hear you. It does not mean I agree with you. It is merely the equivalent of a grunt acknowledgement of active listening.)And this is still not the end of the story. The woman then reports that she took her breast-fed raccoon to a store in town, and was showing it to friends when a woman came up and said, “I’m with the Raccoon Underground, let me have that animal.” The astonished woman handed over the animal. The woman stuffed it coon under her coat, whispered conspiratorially, “I was never here,” and marched off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard of again. Bizarre. Sean swears this is all true and having spent 15 years in trucks and seen a lot of weird stuff, I accept it as true, or at least possibly true. Bizarre is an understatement. Breast-feeding a raccoon? Hoboy.

Sean Kehoe was a troop before becoming a CO. We visit a processor to check the animals there we pull five heads out of the shop to follow up on. We talk about new officers who hit the field with overflowing enthusiasm (“with their hair on fire”) and Sean tells me of advice he got from one of his first sergeants, later a lieutenant: “I’d rather have you go home wishing you had written a ticket than going home wishing you had not written it.” That advice has stuck with him his whole career, which is pushing 20 years.

Life beside death
Life beside death. This scene struck me at a deer processor. A customer just dropped off the deer in the background and the chickens pay no attention to it.

We end up near Fife lake looking for an individual. One person dropped seven deer at the processor. One of the seven tags comes back to a woman, and another to a youth; both deer are sublegal, but it’s possible that they were shot in non-APR counties, in which case they would be legal. We can’t find the individual, but we do locate his girlfriend and his daughter. Sean asks the young teen if she’s been hunting and she says, “Only in  the youth hunt.”(Earlier this fall) Sean asks where her license is and she says her dad has it. She has been to dad’s camp but isn’t sure exactly where it is, you know? We gather that it’s somewhere near Curran on the east side with a vague address. We ask about the adult woman with the license and say only who is X and the girl said, “That’s my grandma.”  Sean asks if grandma hunts, and the girl says, “Not anymore…not in a long time.” Clearly two of the heads are borrow-and-load tag deals and illegally tagged. We call CO Warren McNeil over in Alcona County and he takes the information to do the follow up. The girlfriend says her man won’t be back from camp until Monday afternoon. He’s already brought in seven carcasses. How many more are to be forthcoming?

We move south to Manton (Wexford Co)  to talk to a woman who bought her license at Walmart in Cadillac at noon, and killed a deer at 1245. From Walmart to deer on the ground was roughly 19 miles. The woman is at home and we take her through the time line  several times, and she is insistent that when  she saw how nice the day was, she decided to go hunting, drove  herself down to Caddy, bought  the license, drove back home, got her gear and rifle,  and drove 8-9 miles out to the family hunting ground, walked out to her hubby’s blind (he was hunting a different one ) and up walked an eight point, which she dropped on the spot. It’s a nice buck. We are there because the license was not fully validated and when we question her she said she got so excited that she called her son, who drove out to the hunting land, gutted the gear, tagged it and filled out the tag and took it to the processor for her. We ask to see her phone, which should have the text to her son. Sorry, she says, I automatically erase all that stuff. This all took place on on opening day. There is no evidence that she is lying, but if her story is true, everything had to go absolutely perfectly in terms of timing. Not saying it couldn’t happen, only that it’s unlikely. We call her son and arrange to go meet him at his home. Which is close by in town.

The son admits that he screwed up the tag and if there is a ticket coming, it should go to him, not to his mom.  And oh yeah, his phone has been erased as well. Sean can’t write someone for messing up the tag of another person’s deer and this son seems to be telling the truth as well. He knows the timing is unbelievable, but he insists that’s how it “went down.”

When we asked mom why she called her son instead of her husband, she said she always calls her son for help. After we visit the son, we return to the woman to give her the head and the rack and we meet the husband, who appeared to be not up to snuff and the calling of the son makes some sense to us. Weird circumstances, but sometimes weird is real. In hunting season we sometimes find ourselves asking what is normal? It’s not a clear-cut question and answer.

Three of the five heads are now accounted for in one way or another so we head off to another town to talk to a fellow whose tags seem confusing. Warren is doing follow-up on two of the heads. We stop at the Subway in Manton to grab something to eat and head north. He’s not there, but as we leave, a vehicle comes down the country road and we stop and ask if he’s the man we’re looking for and he says he is so we follow him back to his place to talk. The man seems open and forthcoming and we explain why we’re there.  He gives us a spiel of how his dad had hip surgery last year and didn’t hunt, but this year he is better and buys a license after church on opening day and drives out to the hunting camp and shoots and seven-point buck. The father and son have the same first initial and the deer we have is a seven pointer, but the by the tag we can’t tell if it’s the father or son. Sean questions the man carefully and it comes out that he brought both his own and dad’s bucks in for processing and his eight-point which he shot shortly thereafter. No foul in this. We give him the antlers and head and decide to wrap up the day. We have one more head in the truck, which we will investigate tomorrow. It is snowing like the dickens when Sean drops me at Joe and Nan’s. We’ll go back at it again tomorrow. Been a long day and so much interviewing takes a toll. We are both beat.

DAY 9: Sunday, November 22 – CO Kehoe and I roll at 0800. We have picked up 5-7 inches of fresh wet snow overnight, but it is tapering off this morning.  We start right off by checking the same over-baited blind we checked  first thing yesterday morning.

Following tracks
Following tracks

Today we approach from a different direction and find we find where a hunter got dropped (snow is the hunter’s friend and the CO’s friend as well). But nobody is in the blind and the drop off  walked by it but did not go near it. We then get a cell phone call from a hunter who has had a snowmobile blow by his blind during quiet hours. He hears the machine but it was snowing so hard he couldn’t give us any sort of ID of driver or machine. We drive over to the area, locate the snowmobile’s tracks and proceed to follow it for 10-12 miles back into Hoosier Valley and just beyond there we catch up to the snowmobile. He could not remember seeing a 

First snowmobile ticket of the season.
First snowmobile ticket of the season.

In another part of the county we drive into an area following fresh vehicle tracks, turn around after we find the truck and run the plates against RSS. The man has his licenses. Just down the road the full-body pumpkin steps out and shows us a nice buck, on the other side of the two track, not five feet from our tires. Neither of us saw the hunter or the dead deer when we drive in and we look at each other and roll our eyes. Sean says “Seasoned professionals.” The hunter has he has tagged the animal with the wrong tag. If he had used the correct one, he could keep hunting, but this one finishes him for the year. Sean helps him fill out the correct tag and works out support documents for the man and on we go. He tells him how to go find out if he can get the other license replaced.

Sean tells me a story about chickens and a ski pole, but my notes are illegible and unreadable, and my mind to full now to recall the details. We subsequently check two hunters and their rifles, then three hunters and their weapons, no violations. Later we check another hunter and his gun. It is snowing like hell again in the evening when Sean drops me off at Joe and Nan’s. Joe helps me load the truck and I head for Benzonia in the snow and darkness. It is an ugly drive and the roads are snow-covered and slippery. Nasty drive, nasty. I loathe snow.