Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lovick's Line

Lovick’s Line

Fire season approaches and every year as it does, my mind is filled with the smells, sounds, and visions of the summer of 2000. Fire season opens doors of opportunity for those who are looking for a little adventure and some extra cash. For me, I needed a little of both during that year. I had moved my family from the Seattle area and turned in my badge after 18 years in Law Enforcement. It was a huge gamble and one that I was not really prepared for. Moving back to the little town where I had been born and raised, into the house my dad had built after WWII. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.
Making a living in Northwest Montana is just not that easy. I was not popular in high school while growing up and most certainly never displayed any ability scholastically. I will be damned if those that used to snub me in high school feel it necessary to continue down that road almost thirty years later, amazing. Life was tough and it was difficult making the money needed to feed my family. Over a period of time I was able to work for a couple, that I consider to be two of my closest friends and the subjects of a future blog that will make you say “holy shit,” more than once.
The summer of 2000 brought to the northwest, record dryness. Wildfires ripped into the state of Montana, like Texas Chile rips into the bowels of an 80 year old Minnesotan. The skies turned orange and grey, depending on the angle of the sun. The fires were out of control and I decided to sign up with the Forest Service as a support member. My 98 Ford Expedition was enlisted into the ranks of the transportation group and I was hired as the driver.
A rugged area known as the Yaak, west of the city of Troy was my assigned area. The Yaak is known for its independent thinkers and has some of the most beautiful forest land in the country, filled with Elk, Black Bear, Grizzly, Moose, to name a few. The staging area for our battle against Mother Nature was established at an old Forest Service facility off of the main Yaak road. Men and women wearing bright yellow FRC’s, (fire resistant clothing,) could be seen throughout the large camp. Small tents in the meadow provided shelter for the fire crews. A large light colored tent served as the dining area set up next to Semi and trailer which housed the mobile kitchen. I was fortunate enough to be able to bring my 32ft. motor home on site which provided me with everything I needed to be comfortable including, a hot shower every night. Not exactly roughing it, but what the hell.
Fires burned out of control all over the west. Men and women had come out of the wood work to help fight the fires and the Forest Service found itself with a shortage of experienced people to plan and direct the attacks on the fires. Help came from Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. A large group of these fire suppression experts were assigned to the Yaak.
My SUV was one of the larger trucks in the small transportation fleet which was lined up waiting to be called into service. I stood next to my truck like a used car salesman waiting for a sale. A tall slender man with glasses approached and asked if I was the driver for the blue Ford. Indeed I was and I found myself transporting a man who introduced himself as Tony Lovick, from Australia. A very soft spoken man with a great sense of humor and as I found out throughout the next three weeks, a very knowledgeable man.
Tony’s expertise and interest was in controlling noxious weeds for Australia’s land management. He of course also had vast experience in battling the fast burning fires in Australia which sometimes feed off of the explosive eucalyptus trees.
Three or four days into the routine of driving Mr. Lovick into areas that at times felt like remote trails designed more for tracked vehicles than the family SUV, I realized that I was on a true adventure with a guy that possessed outstanding knowledge of fire suppression and a true admiration of the Montana wilderness. This guy would have me drive to the top of a mountain. Upon reaching the top he would point to a spot on the road below and say I will meet you right there in about 45 minutes. I was skeptical at first but then after a few days of this I realized that he was very accurate not only in his ability to pinpoint a spot where he would emerge from the woods, but the amount of time it would take to do so.
I was approached by one of Tony’s fellow countrymen who asked if Tony had told me that he is considered a celebrity in Australia.
He asked if I was familiar with the movie, “Man from Snowy River?” Of course I had seen it in a theater when it had been released, and later, on VHS. A very entertaining movie and one of the first from Australia to become a hit in the U.S. The gentleman I was speaking to said, “Well mate, Tony is the one responsible for the idea of turning that story into a film.” He also told me that Tony was well known for his abilities on a horse and was referred to as, “the Mountain Horseman of Australia.” Tony downplayed the information I had been given by his pal. For the next few weeks we talked a lot about it and I learned that Tony was a relative by marriage to the man that actually made the movie at Tony’s suggestion. Tony was also in the sequel as one of the Crack Riders. We refer to them as stunt riders in the U.S. I learned a great deal from Tony, not only about Australia, but fire suppression and being a good human being as well. Tony left me with his Australian hard hat with an autograph across the front.
I keep in touch by e-mail with Tony as do a number of people he met in the Northwest corner of Montana on that dry summer of 2000. He sits high on my list of most interesting people I have met.

Update: June 2nd E-mail from Tony Lovick.

Hi Randy
I was overwhelmed and very flattered with this but very pleased that you thought enough of me to write it . A little too flattering I think but it was good to reflect on our experience together as it was one of the good things I really enjoyed - you and your mob were very good to us Aussie's.

You have real ability as a writer and photographer.

cheers mate

Tony Lovick
Program Manager - Victoria East & Pest Plants
Farm Services Victoria
Department of Primary Industries
89 Sydney Rd

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What I See Out My Window

It has been sometime since I have had the chance to post anything new. I am working some extra weeks on the slope and I am out of my normal routine. I will be back at it soon but in the meantime take a look at the new link. "What I See Out My Window" This is a pretty cool idea and encourage everyone to add your view.


Monday, May 19, 2008

My Boys and the Sergeant

In one of my earliest post I told you about a trip that I took my two sons on in December of 2005. It is hard to believe that so much time has past since that trip. One of the things that stands out in my memory, is our time at Arlington National Cemetery. I am so glad that I was able to take them to see so many things that so many will never get the chance to see. While walking the paths that lead to so much history and emotion, we heard the sound of Taps being played in the distance. My youngest asked what the tune was and I explained it to them the best I could. Some distance from the visitor center we could make out the horse drawn caisson carrying the coffin of a soldier. It was a bit surrealistic and for me somewhat emotional. The family and loved ones were out of my view but not out of my mind. I do not know the circumstances surrounding this person’s death, only the grief. We continued on to the areas I felt the boys needed to see and when we completed the tour we entered the visitation area. We were in the gift shop when I looked up and saw a young sergeant of the Army’s Old Guard burial detail. Tall and professional with a trace of mud clinging to his boots. As he past by I said, “Sergeant,” and he paused. “Yes sir,” he responded. I asked him if he would be kind enough to pose with my sons for a photo. He said he would be proud. He snapped to attention and my boys fell into place like little soldiers, they too standing at attention. The difference was the smile on my boy’s faces. The sergeant, who had just buried someone’s son or daughter, or maybe someone’s father or mother, looked straight ahead and professional. I wish I could have had the chance to visit with him but I did not want to take up anymore of his time. As we parted I shook his hand and told him that my boys and I were proud of his service. My sons shook his hand as well and the young sergeant turned to me and said, “thank you, we need your support now more than ever!” The military has my support, I served in the U.S. Air Force for four years and the Army National Guard in Washington State for two years. If my children serve, may they be as professional as the young Sgt. at Arlington, and may they never have to be laid to rest from the wounds of war.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shae, God and The Spider

This is short story I wrote with idea of someday submitting it as a child's book. I simply changed my mind. I share it now with you and I dedicate it to parents with special needs children. I have had my share!

Shae, God and the Spider

The day that Shae Carson was born was a sunny summer day in a small town in the Northwest. Shae was a beautiful baby and her mother and father were so proud. Shae did not cry very much and they thought how they had been blessed. As Shae grew older she would not speak nor show much emotion. Sometimes she would point at things and make a humming sound. Mr. and Mrs. Carson were concerned and at times sad, for it became clear that Shae was not to be a normal child.
When Shae turned seven she would go to school but just sat and stared and the other kids would laugh at her and make fun of the way she was. Shae would just sit unmoved, as if she did not hear the other kids. When Shae’s mother would pick her up from school she would take her home and bring her outside and try to get her to walk around the yard for exercise. Unless she held her hand and walked with her she would just stand in one place not even blinking her eyes. Mrs. Carson did notice that when there was a breeze. Shae would slowly start to sway back and fourth and from side to side as if she were a blade of grass. She found herself staring at her daughter, realizing that she had become as graceful as the wind that moved the leaves in the trees. It was such a simple thing but it made Shae’s mother happy.
One day while Shae was outside. She stood, eyes fixed on the fence that surrounded her backyard. Her mother, curious about what she was looking at, walked up to her. Shae was looking at a large perfect spider web and in the center was small spider. Shae did not move for hours and when her mother tried to lead her away she refused to move. As Shae stood near the spider web, a small breeze started to move the web as though it were a made up of living butterflies. Shae started to sway as if she were a part of the web. She started to hum. The humming became louder and it was no longer a hum, but she was singing without forming words. Mrs. Carson moved closer so she could hear. Tears started to run down her cheeks as she heard the most beautiful sound she had ever heard. The notes Shae sang were as perfect as the spider web. Shae’s mother was so proud.
A few days later, Shae was sitting on the sofa. Her mother sat near by reading. Shae stared at her mother’s old violin which was hung above the fireplace. She hummed and pointed at it, surprising her mother. Shae's mother carefully removed it from the wall and Shae looked as if she were smiling. She stood up and took her mothers hand, leading her out to the spider web on the fence and Shae reached for the violin. She placed it under her chin as if she had played it many times before. She took the bow and began to play. Neighbors looked over the fence as Shae stood before the spider and the web and played the violin as though angels were moving her hands. Everyone who heard this music could not help but cry.
The doctors and experts who cared for Shae could not explain why these things happened. But many who had heard Shae play and sing, said that even though she was so different from everyone else, her message to the world was beautiful, just as God and the spider had planned.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Whispers of Our Fathers

I was born in 1955. I grew up in a time of this country when Americans made great strides and suffered numerous setbacks: from comic book space flight to landing astronauts on the moon, the civil rights movement, the birth and death of great leaders. Three channels on a black and white television was a blessing. Everyone stood and knew what to do with their hats and right hand when the National Anthem was played. As we stood and stared at the American flag, we would at times get goose bumps as it was gently “aroused” by the wind. It always amazed me that sometimes at just the right moment, this beautiful symbol was guided into its inspiring ballet by unseen hands and the breath of a thousand unheard voices.
My father, Wilbur, passed away on a sunny, cool day in September of 1998. Like most young men of his generation, he served his country in a war that had definition, support, and an understanding of the American people. They knew of the high cost should the war be lost. Our symbol, our heart of the nation, our flag would never enjoy the freedom to fly above its own soil without retribution.
My father loved the flag. Year after year he would march in our small town Memorial Day parade, proudly carrying the red, white and blue. He looked sharp and determined wearing the World War II uniform of an Army Staff Sergeant. He was a proper choice as bearer of the flag.
The day of my father’s burial was a busy day. Details, preparations, laughter and tears. I found myself at the funeral home asking to inspect the hearse my father would be carried in. It seemed silly even then but you would have had to have known my father to understand. I also made a request on behalf of our family. I requested that the funeral procession take a slightly different route to the cemetery than normal. A route that would take my dad past the house that he built with his own two hands after the war. A house that gave his family the protection, warmth and a place we could all call home.
The American flag had been hung on its support over the front door. The yard had been prepared for one final inspection. The air was still but clear. The hearse slowly approached my family home and the thoughtful driver paused for a few moments. The flag, which had hung motionless all day suddenly and respectfully, began to beckon my father to join the thousands of his generation who had gone before. Could it have been just a sudden breeze that unfurled the flag or was it the unseen hands, breath and whispers of our fathers?
For those of you who are of my generation, it should be easy to look at that flag and see the faces that surround it as well as hear the whispers. They are from our fathers and they are asking us all to help younger generations to hear, see and understand them as well.

Randy Cole

This story was originally published in the Western News in 2005.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Imagine That

Top Photo: Piano player and violinist with Chaniya and myself.
Second: Wonderful hostesses Century Park Hotel.
Third: Front of Century Park Hotel.

Do you ever find yourself looking for signs that the decisions you make are the right ones, you know, little things that validate the way things are. A good example is seeing a rainbow after having your favorite dog of all time put to sleep. It’s a sign! Well anyway you get the picture. I often ponder this notion and when I do, it takes me back to one of the most amazing places I have ever been, “Thailand.”
Now, here is a guy who at the age of fifty, had never ventured outside the U.S. any further than Canada. Even serving in the Air Force I never left South Dakota, and yet, with love at the helm I set course for Bangkok Thailand. I had met a young lady online and I took the steps necessary to meet her in person. A passport in hand and a 16.5 hour flight and I was there. The sounds and smells highlighted what my eyes could see. Although it was night the heat radiated off the pavement like a stray dog humping your leg. The woman I had flown so far to meet was there and gave me a big hug. It was a very exciting adventure that Mr. Cole had booked himself I thought to myself.
Chaniya was as lovely in person as she was on the web cam. We had spent many months talking by E-mail and of course by phone, thank the powers that be for yahoo phone service. She has a degree in English literature and communication was not a problem.
My first night in Bangkok, where Chaniya worked as a tour guide was spent in a very small hotel which was located down a very narrow alleyway. To be honest I was rather apprehensive as we traveled down this path. The space on either side of the taxi was not enough to open the doors. Just as I started to feel like I was in a submarine with no escape, the driver turned into a space in back of a large and unattractive building. We were greeted by a snappy security guard who took our bags from the taxi into a spotless white hotel room, not a great room but it was white everywhere and not even a speck of dust. We spent the first hour talking and then I found myself sicker than a dog. Not sure what caused it but I thought I was going to die. Chaniya made me as comfortable as she could and even went out and found some Ginger Ale and crackers to help settle the stomach.
The next morning we checked into the hotel that I had booked for the next three days, “The Century Park Hotel.” This is where later that evening I would find the sign that would tell me all was well and that I had made the right choice by coming to this place once called Siam.
I recovered from my illness and basked in the suite fit for a king. It was beautiful. It was also almost twice as big as the duplex that I called home in Montana. The lobby was amazing, full of beautiful things both living and inanimate. A large grand piano sat polished and awaiting the arrival of its pilot. Chaniya and I decided that we would go to the lobby that evening and have something to drink. We sat in a large comfortable sofa and moments later a beautiful hostess came and gracefully floated to her knees before us and asked if we would like to have something to drink. By this time the piano player had arrived and he was accompanied by a violin player. You could not ask for a better marriage of instruments. Now here is where my sign comes in. I am a lover of the notes put down on paper by McCartney and Lennon. Solo work as well as the miracles they put together as the Beatles.
Chills went up my spine as I listened to one of the most beautiful renditions of John Lennon’s, “Imagine” I have ever heard. I no longer felt like I was so far away from home. All was right in the world at that moment. I talked to the piano player during one of his breaks and told him how much we had enjoyed the music especially “Imagine.” He was a very nice person as was the violinist. It was magical. They entertained us for another hour playing McCartney, Lennon music. I can’t say enough about that experience. It was moving and oh, what a sign. I made it a point to stay at The Century Park on my follow-up trip and the results I am happy to say were just as grand.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ross Creek

If you are ever in the northwest corner of Montana, one place you should take the time to see is the Ross Creek, big ceders. A short distance from Libby and Troy. It is a nice pleasant walk that everyone can enjoy.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What Would Ben Do


I am a sloper. That is I work on the North Slope of Alaska and I have the privilege of living in the North West corner of Montana. I fly back and forth every two weeks. Two weeks on, two weeks off. Being away from my family is hard but it is a small inconvenience compared to the true sacrifices endured everyday by our military personnel and their families.
I am a frequent flyer and as a result, I receive upgrades on a regular basis into the first class cabin. In August of 2004, on one of my return home flights from Seattle to Spokane, Washington, I had the privilege of meeting a man named Ben Stein. Ben is a summertime resident of Northern Idaho. The name is known by many and associated by most with a comical game show host. He is comical and perhaps one of the friendliest celebrities I have met. There is a great deal more to Ben then being funny and friendly. Ben is extremely wise. He did after all work for two U.S. Presidents. A man of values who speaks his mind and tells it like it is. When Mr. Stein writes or speaks of our armed forces, it is done with passion. Being the son of a veteran, and a veteran myself, I appreciate these traits.
The year 2004 is my year to be home for the holidays. I left the slope on the morning of December 20th. I had not slept well the night before, most likely because of the excitement of going home. During the brief sleep that I did manage, I had a dream. In the dream, I was standing in a line at an airport. A young soldier approached the line and waited. During a conversation, it became clear that he had just returned from Iraq. In my dream, he wore green fatigues of another era. I thought to myself, how strange that the soldier was traveling in his fatigues but it was after all just a dream. I boarded before the soldier and I found myself asking, “What would Ben do?” I took my seat in the first row isle and waited. As the soldier stepped through the door of the aircraft, I stood up and told him that he would take my seat and I would take his. The dream ended there and when I woke, I remember thinking, “What the hell was that all about?” Although just a dream, it made me feel good. I assumed that articles written by Mr. Stein had prompted it or had at least played a small roll in my subconscious travels.
The next morning as my plane left the slope, headed for Anchorage, I gave little thought to the dream. Due to a number of delays, I arrived at the SeaTac Airport later than planned but I was fortunate enough to get a seat in first class on a slightly earlier flight to Spokane than I was scheduled for. As I stood in line waiting for the boarding process to begin, I looked toward the airline service desk and waited momentarily while my mind absorbed what my eyes were telling it. A young soldier stood at the counter. The uniform was that of a new era. An era brought on by a new kind of foe. Desert fatigues, designed to blend in with the blowing sands of a Middle Eastern battlefield. As in my dream, I found myself thinking how strange it was seeing him travel in his fatigues. The soldier took his place in line and was immediately engaged in a conversation with curious travelers. The patch on his left shoulder told me that he was a member of a Mechanized Infantry unit. The big red “1” on his right shoulder identified his battalion. He said that he had just flown back from Iraq and would not be returning. He explained that he was a gunner on a Humvee and when asked by the less sensitive people around him, he gave graphic descriptions of events that one day might not be so willingly given up.
All of us who stood around him were thinking how it must feel to return from battle in one piece. Although we did not know him, I am sure everyone else was as glad as I was that he had made it home. I knew that once we boarded the aircraft I would be giving my seat too him. The dream that I had the night before was not just a dream, it was opportunity knocking. An opportunity to show some appreciation.
As if from nowhere, an outstretched hand reached for the soldier. A tall thin kid with wide eyes stood in front of him. We all stood looking at the kid who wore the dark long belted coat and spit shined shoes of someone fresh out of basic. The first thing he asked was, “Did you just get back from Iraq?”
“Yes, yes I did!”
The younger kid looked at him with a thousand questions in his eyes. “I get shipped out after Christmas!” Suddenly the good feelings I had moments before when the first GI announced he would not be going back were down graded a bit. I looked at the youthful face of this young man and contemplated his fate hoping that one day he too would be standing in his fatigues announcing to strangers that his tour was complete. A moment of silence penetrated the air. The older experience GI looked at him and asked, “Are you old enough to drink?” The reply was yes, and he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and they walked away from the rest of us heading for the little establishment located near our gate. It reminded me of something from an old World War II movie. I wish I had had my camera at the ready.
As I boarded the aircraft, I took my seat in one D and waited. People poured into the plane, and one of the last people to board was the GI in his fatigues. I stood in front of him and asked what his seat assignment was. I told him that he could stow his gear and take my seat. He looked at me for a moment and said very slowly, “Ok.” As I turned and headed to the coach seat, I noticed that behind the soldier was the younger soldier, but before he walked through the first class cabin, the man seated in one C stood and told him to take a seat. He too then moved to coach. That was truly outstanding. It is a short flight from Seattle to Spokane but it will always be the most memorable for me.
Just prior to landing, the flight attendant approached me with five photos. He handed them to me and told me that the man I had given my seat to wanted me to have them. I was thrilled. The photos were of the typical Iraq scenes, everything light brown including the buildings. Children posing for the photographer, tanks, Spanish soldiers. Great photos that I shall keep with other items I consider valuable. One of the photos depicts a line of Humvees near a village. The scribbled message on the back choked me a bit, “VILLAGE RAID AFTER MY FRIEND DIED!”
We landed in Spokane and after I deplaned, I walked through the terminal heading for the shuttle bus. The two GIs stepped out of the bathroom I was passing and my friend in the fatigues walked up to me and shook my hand. He then reached out and gave me an awkward hug thanking me. The best I could come up with was, “Thank you two for your service to this country.” I walked away and down the stairs into the main terminal lobby. Standing there where several family members of these two and it was easy to tell which one was the mother to the one who had just returned from Iraq. How she must have felt at that moment.
Still high from the experience, I wrote an E-mail to Mr. Stein and told him about the dream and the actual events that followed. His response was what I had expected. He said he would have upgraded them both and if given the opportunity I know he would do exactly that.
For those who read this, let me ask, what will you do when given the opportunity? Will you pretend that you do not see them? Will you simply buy a sticker that says you support them thinking that this marks you as a caring American. Opportunity is knocking at your door. Take a moment and walk up to the next person you see in uniform and shake their hand, say thanks. Buy him or her, a cup of coffee or pay for their lunch. When you see a vehicle in the store parking lot and it displays the license plate of a POW, walk your kids up to the driver and let them shake his hand. It will make a number of people feel good.
Saying thanks to those who serve should not be exclusive to Veterans Day, Memorial Day but rather inclusive to everyday. Opportunity is knocking! What will you do?

Randy Cole

This story is the one that was edited by Ben Stein a few years ago. The story was used as the bases for a column in the Spokesman Review written by Rebecca Nappi and published on January 1, 2005.