Homestead Update: Part 4

It came to pass that I had to go on a trip. The woodland creatures, who never stop watching, observed this. They’re all spies I tell ya!

I believe they categorize Mrs. Curmudgeon and myself differently. She’s “the woman who will shoot woodland animals that cause obvious problems”. I’m “the man who will go old school on problematic creatures”. I just get the vibe that they know. They’re smart that way. When a predator (usually it’s a raccoon) so much as looks at my livestock I’ll plot, hunt, trap, snipe, crush and generally react in the kind of manner that maintains territorial integrity. “Problem critters” seem to know I’ll engage on their level. It just seems the right thing to do. If I have to chase them into a swamp, cut down their tree, burn their home, crush them with a tractor, flatten them with an ATV, chop them with a lawnmower, poison them, gas them, ambush them, shoot them with rifles/pistols/shotguns, and maybe whack ’em with a baseball bat… then so be it. Animals can tell your intentions and I’m not subtle. It’s not like they can read a “no trespassing” sign but I’m pretty sure chicken eaters who lurk in the forest know the situation. They probably communicate this among themselves. “The freak in that house is fully prepared to burst out of the door at midnight clutching a shotgun and screaming like a banshee. He’ll go tearing through the brush in his underwear in a hurricane if it’ll save a three dollar chicken. He’d attack a rhino with a hatchet if the rhino was stealing eggs. Just leave that homestead alone and raid the neighbor’s corn crop.” It works. At least most of the time.

With me out of the picture, the overall threat level on chicken raiding had decreased. Chipmunks and squirrels spread the news through the forest grapevine. Eventually a predator realized my absence. It was probably a raccoon? Or was it a fox? Or a pterodactyl? I’ll never know. All I know is that a bold night-time raid took out several chickens and three of the four ducks. I named this unseen predator Vladimir Putin. Vladimir is always prowling. You cannot reason with Vladimir. You simply have to be ready. Vladimir knew I was gone. Well played Vlad. You win this time. Come back to see me again. I’m waiting for ya.

Skidmark, the sole remaining duck, was a changed creature. He took up residence under my truck. Skidmark got a new name and became Truck Duck. He still stood around like a clueless nincompoop looking to get eaten far too many hours in the day but at night he’d get smart and hunker down under the rear differential.

Meanwhile Fluffy the chicken and her few remaining compatriots had taken to roosting in a well protected tree. Under her leadership, the free rangers are doing quite well. Go Team Fluffy!

Mrs. Curmudgeon tried to convince Truck Duck to act like a chicken. After weeks it has been partially successful. The little critter is modestly more wary and will hang out with the chickens during the day instead of quacking for his lost brethren like a feathery target.

I’ve grown to like the little duck. He’s kinda’ cute. But still dumb. Eventually he moved from beneath the truck to the woodpile. His newest name is Bowling Pin Chicken… which is a perfect match for his size, shape, and intellect. I’m rooting for him but Vladimir is always watching. Bowling Pin is probably doomed.

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Homestead Update: Part 3

The chickens were excellent. These were the free range survivors of several fox incursions. They were battle hardened and wise. They made themselves at home. They didn’t mess with our existing small flock. Our existing small flock didn’t mess with them.

The oldest one, “Fluffy”, was remarkable. I stuffed the chickens in a spare coop for the night and fed them. The next day I let them loose for the day and Fluffly had left an egg. She’s the oldest of them but she apparently knows how to pay rent. During the day they ranged about, at night I put them in the coop. As it should be. We got along well.

The ducks were another story. There were three ducks as white as the driven snow and one that had streaks of brown along with the white. I named the brown and white one “skidmark”. It looked kind of scrawny to me. I was informed it was a young “runner duck” and meant to be skinny. Oh great; a duck that, through genetic manipulation is specifically too useless to cook?

Apparently all of the ducks were meant to be Runner Ducks but due to some mistake at the local feed store three of them turned out to be Peking Ducks. They were also too young to lay eggs. (Duck eggs are awesome for baking.) But at least three were edible. I couldn’t tell which were males and which were females (which at least held the promise of eggs) but all were incredibly stupid.

Each evening I’d herd the chickens into the coop. The ducks wouldn’t have it. I’d try to chase them around and cram them in the coop door but it never worked. They preferred to stay in their close four square formation and stand in the wide open middle of the yard… quacking.

Bright white, scrawny, quacking, dumb animals, in the middle of the yard with no cover. They were doomed. They spent all night like that.

After a few days the chickens, which had been free range 24/7 in a homestead where foxes prowl like sharks, decided they didn’t want to be locked up in the coop either. I’m cool with it when chickens assert their independence. If you don’t want to be locked up in a coop I don’t have to worry so much about feed. It’s sort of a grand bargain.

The chickens grazed the lawn all day. The ducks too. The chickens kept a wary eye on the sky and vanished like ghosts in the evening. The ducks wandered about clustered in a group of four making noise and simply begging for something to eat them. At night they stood in a group; right where anything passing by couldn’t miss them. Just to be sure they’d quack every now and then. They were in denial about their universe. The world is full of predators but the duck mind must be full of pastels and glitter.

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Homestead Update: Part 2

One fine day, weeks before Mrs. Curmudgeon began inflicting identity issues on a little runner duck, I rolled home to find Mrs. Curmudgeon and The Foxinator standing in the yard chatting. Even from far down the driveway I recognized the scene. Surrounding them were several chickens and four ducks. These were not my livestock. They are about to be my livestock. More mouths to feed. We’d been gifted critters.

Ducks?

Fuck that!

I don’t like ducks. They’re dumb enough to make chickens seem smart. Their eggs, while excellent for baking, aren’t ideal for breakfast. Every duck I’ve had (which has always been a “refugee” from some other farm) has eaten a crap-ton of feed, crapped it back out in gooey piles and accomplished little else. I hate ducks. As if to prove my point about their uselessness, the four ducks clustered together on my lawn, MY lawn. All the room in creation and they were so tightly packed as to make a small square of duck.

I roared up in the truck and the chickens, wisely, scattered. This was my chance. The square of duck waddled to and fro ineffectually. Like congress; they failed to move in any particular direction but did it quite loudly. Removing them from the global index of dumb was necessary for cosmic balance. Duck dinner!

I mashed the accelerator. The ducks sat there like sitting congressmen.  The term “lame duck” suddenly made visual sense. It was going to be gory.

At the last minute I relented. I couldn’t squash the Foxinator’s ducks while she was just standing there. I pulled up short. The ducks remained in their self imposed square and made noise. “You almost accidentally hit the ducks!” Mrs. Curmudgeon accused. Accidentally indeed.


“I’m going to Alaska!” The Foxinator smiled. “It’s going to be great!”

This explained the ducks. Couldn’t she carry them as luggage? The ducks stood about six feet away in their square… radiating stupidity. They were my problem now.

It turned out that not only was Foxinator going to Alaska but also a fox (yet another one, her property is cursed) had been rampaging around her homestead. She’d lost several of her free range chickens. Rather than tempt fate, the remaining handful of ducks and chickens had been granted citizenship and asylum at Curmudgeon Compound; a place where I’ve so far been able to maintain a fox-free perimeter.

More to come.

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Homestead Update: Part 1

“You are a chicken!”

Mrs. Curmudgeon was standing on the lawn yelling at a cowering creature.

“You’re a chicken understand? Just accept that you’re a chicken.”

She wasn’t getting her point across. The creature looked confused.

“All your friends are dead. But not her. See her?” Mrs. Curmudgeon waved toward ‘fluffy the chicken’, one of our better free range chickens. “She knows the score.”

She wagged a finger accusingly.

“Be like Fluffy. It’s for you own good. Be a chicken.”

The creature looked up at Mrs. Curmudgeon…

“Quack?!?”


Eventually the duck figured everything out. Later I caught on. I’ll explain next post.

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School Of The Road: Part 5: Wrapup

Eventually we got to civilization.  I bought my kid a new charger to replace the lost one. It was $45 and we both though that was an insult to humanity. Then again, neither of us wanted to even think of going back to get the charger and laptops don’t run on unicorn farts. (We tried calling to get it mailed to us but it was like trying to talk to muppets. Lost cause.)

“That’s coming outta’ your savings.”

“Sigh… I know dad.”

It was a long final day and the sun had set many miles ago. At the last fuel stop I was tanking up and the kid was inside paying when the pump shut off. Huh? Back out on the road I asked about it.

“I just paid enough to get home.”

“Not a chance! We left with a full tank we return with a full tank. That was the deal.”

I’d been clear at the start and he agreed. I can’t fault him for trying though. If I wasn’t paying attention he’d have snuck 3/4 tank of pricey diesel past me. Maybe there’s a future in politics (or thievery) for him?

We agreed that we’d stop at the last town before home and top the tank off. Once the tank was full the rest of the money in the tattered envelope would be for him. Unfortunately the last fuel stop was closed up. One of those towns where they roll up the sidewalks at night. We were both beat. I said I’d tank up the next day and that’d be close enough.


The next day he was sacked out on the couch. It had been a long trip. I had to get right back to work.

“I’m gonna’ tank up the truck. You want to come and pay?”

“No dad, I’m toast. Plus I just landed a babysitting gig and want to sleep some first.”

Sounded fine. We agreed that the money left in the envelope was just about enough to top off the tank and have $45 left over to cover the laptop power cord. “Call it even?” He said.

I agreed.

Note: I am such a schmuck!

When I topped off the truck I had $23.15. I’d just accepted $23.15 in lieu of a $45 charger. I didn’t know whether to be pissed or impressed. In the end I decided my son was going to be a slimy used car salesman and also probably wind up living in a solid gold house.

Lesson learned: Your kid might be a heck of a lot more devious than you think.


So there you have it. I have attempted to teach my children everything I know and aside from a few hiccups from geography/GPS routes I’m happy to say John Connor is ready for the Terminator. When the time comes he’s going to kick ass. How do I know this? Because I gave him a real world test and he cleaned my pockets.

My son and I just went on a road trip.

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School Of The Road: Part 4: Here They Be Dragons

One highlight of the trip was a particularly windy plain. It was plowing season and epic dust devils were on the horizon. Larger than anything I’m used to seeing. I was entranced.

As a colossal dust devil loomed ahead. The mightiest of the many we were seeing. I judged the road would nearly cross its path.

“Dust devils aren’t tornadoes right?” I reasoned.

“Whatever.” The kid was in space cadet mode again.

“Can’t lift a car or kill a cow right?” I mused.

“Huh? They’re pretty cool to watch.” When I started mentioning flying cows he decided he’d better pay attention. He had no idea what I was thinking.

I rolled to a stop. Then turned the engine off so it wouldn’t suck half an acre of dust into the air filter.

“Get your kite.” I announced.

“Awesome!” He was out the door in a flash. We hoofed it to the edge of a dusty field and he launched over the fence; right into the belly of the beast.

This is an element of nature I’ve never messed with. It was a good 500′ tall or maybe more; hard to judge. Thirty feet or so wide at the base; with sharply defined and oddly beautiful edges. At the base I saw blocks of dirt about the size of cement blocks tumbling about. I wondered what they weighed. The land was dry. Maybe those chunks weighed 20 pounds each? There was nothing else blowing about in the base but then again the field was barren. With nothing else for it to pick up was a 20 pound dirt clod it’s carrying capacity or would it suck up a dishwasher if one was sitting in its path? There are dust devils and there are dust devils and this one looked pretty bad ass to me. If it blew over us would the dirt blocks pummel us to bits? Would the blowing grit sandblast us? How would I explain that to Mrs. Curmudgeon? ‘Our kid is battered head to toe, I have a rock stuck in my ear, and the truck is sandblasted to bare metal; but the kite flew super high’. She’s heard me say things like that before.

It missed us by 60 yards or so. That’s close enough. The kite survived and indeed flew like a champ. We had a great time tempting fate. Good clean fun. Actually good dirty fun.


A few days later I stopped at a crossroads.

“Look, I’ve lived here. There’s a north route and a south route.”

“Uh.” Zombie mode again.

“North route is pretty empty but it’s no big deal. South route is longer but highway.”

He fiddled with the GPS. “This way.”

I looked at the road, remembering a thousand old road trips. This didn’t look right. Then again who knows? I’ve been everywhere but I can’t remember every single route.

“Are you sure?”

“Yep.”

“Pay attention.. there’s nothing out there but coyotes and dirt. I want you to be sure.”

He consulted the GPS. “Yes, this is the correct way Dad.”

And so we went. He was about to learn another lesson. The bad part of lessons for a kid is that you’ve got to let them happen when you’re an adult; which sucks because you know better… that’s what being adult is all about. Every few miles I’d ask if he was sure this was a good route and every few miles he’d tell me to chill out.

Many miles later I stopped the truck and stepped out. It was time to swear. “Where the fuck are we!?!”

He looked concerned. “This does seem a bit weird?”

I took a leak in the middle of the road because there was nobody to see. I could have taken a dump on that road, built a cabin there, taken a nap, it wasn’t going to have traffic for a while. I stretched. We listened to the wind. A vulture drifted overhead. Time to summarize our situation:

“Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the middle of nowhere. You might say I’m an aficionado of nowhere. I generally like the taste and texture of every place that’s a long ways from everywhere else. I once took a solo vacation in Death Valley because people annoy me and I wanted to detox after exposure to California. I camp in Canada where there are no roads and… well there are no Canadians either. You might say nowhere is my favorite place.”

“Uh oh.” He was definitely concerned.

“And this isn’t nowhere. This is fifty miles from where the fading edge of the idea of nowhere was still on the horizon.” I paused. “Where the hell are you trying to go? How can this save fuel?”

“It’s a straight shot?” He reasoned.

“I’ve been driving 14 hours. It’s getting dark.”

He noticed.

“See those antelope. Notice how they’re the only living things we can see?” I ignored the vultures and a nearby jackrabbit because I had a point to make.

He nodded.

“Remember how I said that antelope are addle headed freaks that wait to sunset and try to mate with your front bumper?”

“Better stop for the night?” He concluded.

“Yep. I agreed.”

He smiled. As ‘navigator’ he’d been playing an active role in picking hotels and stopping times. We’d stop and catch some sleep and all would be well. It was all settled.

“Find me a hotel.”

His jaw dropped. That was a monkey wrench in his plans. We were more likely to meet the Ghost of Custer than find a Super 8.

“Um.”

“Shall I take over navigation?”

“Yes. Please.”

Maybe I’d been too hard on him. He and I had been through a lot. I’m a adept traveler but he doesn’t even have a license. “I wish I’d remembered our sleeping bags.” I groused. It truly was peaceful. I had a couple cold beers in the back. Sleeping under the stars would be fine.

“We can pick some up at WalMart and camp…” He stopped when he realized there was no WalMart. At that time and place it felt deeply and viscerally that there would never be a WalMart again.

“OK here’s the plan, you turn that GPS off and I go out of our way, burn all the fuel we need, and get us to somewhere where we sleep under a roof and maybe buy a steak?”

“Good idea.”

A hundred miles later we swung into a one building “town”. I bought a steak from a genuine cowboy who cooked it up on a George Foreman Grill at a bar that looked as rustic as John Wayne’s outhouse. In the parking lot I stood in the back of the truck next to a derelict combine (the only other vehicle) and held my phone just so. If I stretched real high I had a half a bar. I dialed a hotel that was only 30 miles away and eagerly booked their last room. Disaster avoided!

On the single fuzzy TV in the bar Quigley Down Under was playing. You gotta’ watch Quigley when you’re in a cowboy bar! We played pool. I had a beer. I hated to leave.

After sunset a zillion antelope tried to die under my wheels but we made it to the hotel. It was a dump. We didn’t mind.


Shockingly, the dump of a hotel had wifi. He checked Facebook. Facebook from there was out of place. Like cable TV on Mars. I was out like a light.

The next morning when we rolled out he accidentally left behind his laptop’s charge line. (At least that’s where we guessed it went.) Thankfully the laptop was with us.

We were almost home.

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School Of The Road: Part 3: Mountain Passes

The profit motive is the superhero of the world’s motivations. The kid became a steely eyed, mathematically adept, logistics genius. At every gas stop he asked about prices in the upcoming state (at truck stops they know this sort of thing). At every exit he checked the price. He got in the habit of running my truck’s vast tank near to it’s limits. He started to grok the whole “nobody wants to buy stuff in expensive places” logic that eludes politicians.

Then things got interesting. Some fool put the Rocky Mountains in our way.

“The GPS routes us where?!?” He moaned.

“Yeah, the highways sorta’ go ‘around’.”

“But that’s many more miles.” He was distraught.

“Life is like that.” I was delighted.

“Can we go through? I mean, you drive places.” He’s aware that ‘places’ in my book can mean anything from a simple back road to a frozen lake.

“Yeah, check it out. The truck’s in good repair, I’m not scared of mountain passes. You’re buying the fuel, you pick the route.”

Note: I knew this was playing with fire. I wanted him to know that all choices come with drawbacks. There simply is no ‘perfect’ cheap, easy, flat, low fuel, way to cross the Rockies.

Ten minutes later he’d planned a different route. I gave it a reality check. Most of the roads I’d done before anyway. It looked do-able.

“A warning about Jackson Hole.” I offered. “Rich people live there and I expect yuppie diesel will bleed you.”

“OK.” He agreed. He made allowances to tank up in advance and then skip to a freehold (Idaho).

The truck started climbing. And climbing. And climbing.

I was enjoying the view. The kid was in back fiddling with his laptop. I realized he was watching Gandalf and pals climb a mountain… on a little LCD screen… while we were literally climbing a mountain in the real friggin’ world. He was ignoring the real Rocky Mountains to watch people in Dwarf outfits climbing New Zealand’s mountains? It wasn’t the first time I’ve wanted to chuck a media device out a moving window.

Even so it was gorgeous. Photos were taken. Etcetera. At one pass we stopped and played in the snow. I’m a great dad!

Between passes the fuel cost more than he wanted. No worries, the tank is huge. We cruised on with half a tank. I pointed out the MPG. It was as low as you’d expect for dragging a dually up a mountain pass and we hadn’t started climbing the last round on a full tank. We would be sucking fumes by Jackson Hole. He started to fret.

“If we run out, we’ll have to hike to where there’s cell service and call a tow truck. That will take half the day and cost maybe $200.”

The kid had a heart attack.

“…or maybe hitch hike to get fuel. I have a 5 gallon can in the back.”

The kid looked at the desolate terrain. He knew I wasn’t bluffing. I’m exactly the kind of lunatic that’ll drive a truck over a glacier and run the tank dry as a “learning moment”. Also I’ll hike ten miles with a gas can; I’ve done it before. We were definitely further than ten miles from anything.

At a ski resort he saw a diesel pump. “Get fuel dad!” He was relieved.

“Fine.” I walked to the pump. “I’ll pump, you go in and pay.”

Thirty seconds later he came flying out of the ski lodge. “Stop now!”

New lesson; fuel on the top of a mountain costs massively more than at the Flying J on the highway. We got 3 gallons; which was enough to satisfy me that we’d get to town and enough that he’ll learn about heading into the mountains on half a tank of fuel. His “education” was going as planned. I’m a genius!

Jackson hole was more or less reasonable. He elected to top off rather than risk ski resort prices.

We rolled out of town. This was a pass I hadn’t taken before. It was a short one. What it lacked in distance it made up for in slope.

“Aaauuuuugghhhh!” I said.

“Blewauuugghhhh!” He agreed.

It was a sphincter lever 6 event as I used Spiderman gear to climb up Teton Pass and exhaust brakes to get back down. (Exhaust brakes are the greatest thing since sliced bread.) It was paved and certainly safe for a mellow summer afternoon but I wouldn’t want to be up there in the dark or a blizzard.

The next day we were behind schedule. We drove hard to make our plans. Another lesson, the fastest route between two places is a straight line… but not if you’re in Wyoming.

Stay tuned…

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