Here’s what some think about U.S. border safety today at the nation’s “most dangerous national park”

Dear Survivaltimes Guest:
  Just thought you might want to know what some of our nearby Arizona neighbors had on their minds today.
  Enjoy the read …
Bob Grafe
Editor & Columnist
Fighting drugs and border violence at Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: What about the ranger’s M14 rifle, Yogi?
By Liz GoodwinNational Affairs Reporter

Ranger Ken Hires in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo News)

ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. — On a hot desert morning last week, a group of 20 tourists gathered in the visitor center in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to attend a mandatory safety briefing before taking a guarded van tour to Quitobaquito springs. The springs is part of the 69 percent of the remote border park west of Tucson that has been closed to the public since Kris Eggle, a 28-year-old law enforcement park ranger, was shot and killed while pursuing drug runners armed with AK-47s in 2002.

Organ Pipe was named “the most dangerous national park” that year and also in 2003 by the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, before the group discontinued the series. The drastic increase of drug activity on Arizona’s southern border since the 1990s has turned Organ Pipe rangers into de factor Border Patrol agents, and spurred state lawmakers to pass several laws cracking down on illegal immigrants within the state.

Since 2009, the park has offered van tours to the springs, as long as rangers armed with assault rifles go along to protect the visitors. Now, ten years after Eggle’s murder, the park’s leadership has decided to open up a portion of the closed areas to the public in March, citing improved safety conditions and a big increase in Border Patrol agents in the area.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in Arizona, immigration has once again been a hotly contested topic in the state: Mitt Romney in a debate last week praised Arizona’s immigration laws as a “model” for the country, while President Obama’s Justice Department is suing Arizona to overturn one of those laws, called SB1070. The law–which has not gone into effect because of a federal court order–requires police to check a person’s immigration status during stops if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime to fail to carry immigration papers or for illegal immigrants to solicit work. Drug violence has claimed tens of thousands of lives in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006, but spillover violence has so far been minimal in the United States. Still, Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona, falsely claimed that beheadings occurred in the Arizona desert in 2010, the same year she signed SB1070 into law. Arizona was also the first state to pass a mandatory E-Verify law in 2007, to ensure employers don’t hire illegal immigrants.

Brewer says the law will help police officers combat drug trafficking and crime, but critics say it will encourage racial profiling and interferes with federal control over immigration. Yahoo News went to Organ Pipe last week to witness the challenges of the border as the presidential candidates debate how best to control it.

‘They’ll have M14s at hand. Don’t be worried.’

“There is a chance we might have to cancel the tour if there’s some sort of apprehension in progress,” Park Ranger Karl Sommerhauser, wearing a bulky dark green bulletproof vest, told the tourists last week. Sommerhauser had an ear piece curling out of his left ear. “We expect you to take direction from Ken,” he said sternly.

Ken Hires, an unflaggingly cheerful park ranger dressed in reassuringly normal-looking tan ranger clothes, bounded to the front of the room. Hires is what’s called an interpretive ranger, which means he has no law enforcement duties and does not carry a weapon. (“I spent my five years in Vietnam. Enough shooting,” he said later.) Hires explained that some law enforcement officers would be hiding in the hills and closely watching the two-hour nature hike, while another pair of armed rangers would follow the tourists closely from the ground. “They’ll have M14s at hand,” he told the group. “Don’t be worried.”

“You might see something interesting off the trail, but please don’t go wandering off,” Hires continued, explaining that it made it difficult for the rangers to track people from the hills. “Please be respectful that those people are putting themselves on the line for us.”

As the group loaded into the vans, one woman from Idaho whispered to her husband: “Does it make you worried? They get chest protections, and we don’t get none of them.”

Hires, sitting in the passenger side of the van, began talking quickly into his radio to the rangers. He turned to the back and explained: “We operate this as if it were an incident.”

“You say there was an incident out there?” a walrus-mustachioed passenger wearing a cowboy hat asked warily.

“We’re it,” Ken said, to nervous laughter.

‘There’s nothing normal about Organ Pipe’

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 330,000-acre, surprisingly green stretch of Sonoran desert populated by barrel, saguaro and organ pipe cacti, spans 30 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The park became a corridor for drug runners in the 1990s after border security tightened at major ports of entry and in urban areas, driving human and drug traffickers to rural crossings. Alan Bersin, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner until last year, admitted that the Tucson sector of the border was “out of control” until recently. In 2010, half of all border apprehensions and drug seizures occurred in the Tucson sector, which encompasses much of Organ Pipe.

Drug runners would cut across Mexican Highway 2 through Organ Pipe’s dirt roads in a car and then quickly hop onto U.S. Highway 85, which shoots up to Phoenix or Tucson. The vehicles blazed more than 200 miles of unauthorized roads through the park, and rangers found themselves in dangerous, high-speed chases nearly every day. An $18 million, 23-mile vehicle fence put up after Eggle’s murder by the Department of the Interior cut down on this vehicle traffic. Now, cartels have had to get smarter, sometimes cutting into the fence, removing it, driving through, and then putting it back together again. Drug runners also started coming more on foot, dropping their packages in designated spots on the highway for someone else to pick up.

The Department of Homeland Security recently put up nine surveillance towers in the park, making it easier for agents to detect this new foot traffic, so the drug runners are now hiding in the hills, where the towers can’t see them. (A Border Patrol helicopter operation last year in these hills netted 800 pounds of trash and a whole “herd” of people, according to Hires.) Border Patrol set up a check point on Highway 85 within the park in the past year, which has pushed drug traffickers to the neighboring Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Tohono O’odham reservation, adding as much as four days to their on-foot journeys. “They’re very adaptive, more so than us,” said Organ Pipe park superintendent Lee Baiza wearily, during an interview with Yahoo News last week.

Baiza said he spends about 80 percent of his time working with Homeland Security and handling border concerns. “There’s nothing normal about Organ Pipe,” he added.

The superintendent, who took over in 2007, has faced criticism for preventing Border Patrol agents from building new roads in the wilderness areas of the park, which is part of a larger struggle between Homeland Security and national park and land agencies that operate on the border. (More than 85 percent of border property in Arizona is federally owned.) Bob Bishop, a Republican representative from Utah, introduced a bill last year that would waive environmental laws up to 100 miles north of the border, freeing up Homeland Security to build roads through the wilderness to combat illegal immigration and drug running. Bishop criticized the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for preventing Border Patrol agents from driving off-road in the Quitobaquito area of the park because of a pond nearby that contains the endangered Sonoran desert pupfish.

“I may care about the pupfish, but I also care about kids getting hooked on illegal drugs that are coming over that border,” Bishop told Yahoo News. Drug runners cause more environmental damage to the border by leaving trash, he said, than Border Patrol agents would by building roads.

“Every congressman seems to have his own idea of what we’re doing wrong,” Baiza said. “The reality is all of that has improved immensely since 2007.”

Apprehensions in the park were down last month for the first time in three years, Baiza said. Border Patrol would not release park-specific data, but a spokesman, Jason Rheinfrank, said that the Tucson sector overall saw a 40 percent drop in apprehensions last fiscal year, while the number of agents has nearly tripled since 2000. Illegal crossing arrests over the entire border were at a four-decade low last fiscal year, in part because of the flagging American economy.

On March 1, 46 percent of the park–instead of 31 percent–is scheduled to be open to the public. Baiza cited the increased fencing, number of Border Patrol agents, and technology in the park as the reasons for the change.

Organ pipe cactus. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

‘What we are trying to do is retake this landscape’

“The real problem we have with safety is drug dealing, not the people looking for work,” Hires said from a loudspeaker system at the front of the van. Three different border patrol agents riding ATVs raced by, waving. “What we are trying to do is retake this landscape so we can all be free to be out here,” he added.

Twenty minutes later, the vans arrived at Quitobaquito, where two young men toting heavy M14 rifles were already waiting. The rangers arrived at the springs two hours earlier to scour the area and make sure no one was hiding.

“Please be respectful and don’t photograph them,” Hires warned. The park service is worried that cartel members would retaliate against the rangers if their faces were publicized. Baiza says Organ Pipe never sends out press releases announcing new ranger hires for the same reason.

The armed park rangers didn’t greet the group and stayed about 20 paces ahead on the trail. Hires showed the tourists the endangered Sonoran desert pupfish in the pond (the endangered Sonoran mud turtles were nowhere to be found), and answered questions about the names of different plants and flowers. He explained that the springs has been a crossroads for thousands of years, an oasis drawing thirsty desert-dwellers and entrepreneurial shell traders. The tour ended, and two volunteer rangers stood guard as visitors used the restroom in the bushes before the long van ride back.

“You got to show me your visa,” one volunteer ranger joked as people began loading back into the van.

On the way out, Hires pointed out the two park rangers at the top of the hill, green specks on the horizon.

Another border patrol ATV zoomed past the van and stopped the law enforcement park rangers who were escorting the group back to the visitor center.  Two brown packages were tied to the back of the ATV.

“See those bundles? Want to guess?” Hires asked. “Marijuana.” In 2005, the last year the park released border incident data, Organ Pipe park rangers seized 17,000 pounds of marijuana.

The rangers let out a dog from the back of the SUV, as the visitors craned their necks to watch from the van. The dog jumped out and ran to the bundles. He sat down abruptly and pointed his nose at the packages, then looked back at his masters. “That’s the sign,” Hires said. The rangers tossed the jubilant dog a toy, and the Border Patrol agent drove off again in the ATV.

“There’s been a sighting of a UDA,” Hires said a few minutes later, listening to his radio. (UDA means undocumented alien.) “He’s sitting next to a trash can which means he’s waiting for us to pick him up and give him a ride home. He’s given up.”

‘I feel safer here than in Fresno’

Despite all the excitement on the trip, Hires said he thinks the park is very safe because of the law enforcement rangers and the Border Patrol agents.

“I feel safer here than in Fresno,” Hires said after the tour. (He works seasonally in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks near Fresno, California.)

But visitors–or rather, the people who are choosing not to be visitors–still have concerns. In 2010, visits to the park plunged to a 10-year low of 209,600. Baiza says that when state politicians focus on the dangers of Mexico and the border, fewer people visit the park.

“They come here all petrified,” Bonnie Auman, a park volunteer, said. “Then they see all the law enforcement, the Border Patrol.”

Bishop, the Utah congressman, said that while the stagnant economy may have significantly deterred unauthorized migrants who are looking for work, he doesn’t think it has made a dent in the number of drug runners targeting Arizona. “That’s why we need to control the border,” he told Yahoo News. “They’re not going to be affected by E-Verify and the economy, and the Border Patrol needs to have the ability to battle that.”

It remains to be seen whether visitors will be lured back. Hires journeyed to the Quartzsite, Arizona, RV show last month to recruit wary RVers to visit the park. “The No. 1 question: ‘Is it safe there?'” he said. “And the second one was, ‘Are you open?’ People thought we totally closed the place.”

Memorial to Kris Eggle. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

Read more coverage of the 2012 Michigan and Arizona primaries at Yahoo News.

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Mrs. Rumbleheart And Henry David Thoreau Both Continue To Teach

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

First Published:  March 18, 2010

Mrs. Rumbleheart, my fifth-grade public school teacher, was already within the ranks of “senior” citizenship the first day I entered her class at Lincoln School. Her classroom was in the typical style of “adequate for our needs” schools in the mid-1950s.

There was a cloakroom where our jackets, sweaters, hats and lunch boxes or bags were stored until needed. There were mostly individual wooden desks and a few double-occupant wooden tables with accompanying wooden chairs. The windows were wood-framed and the floor was wood.

The radiator for heat was situated along the window wall, the lights were incandescent, the ceilings were tall and there were inviting maps and pictures on the walls next to the blackboard. Air conditioning was never needed as the school was located one block from San Francisco Bay.

Behind Mrs. Rumbleheart’s large wooden desk were several book shelves where she housed her favorite works of literature together with a collection of history, geography, philosophy, art and science books and many reference materials.

One of the pictures on the wall next to her book shelves was that of an image of a well dressed gentleman, white shirt, bow-tie and boutonnière dated 1856.

At first view, I thought it was an image of President Abraham Lincoln — the namesake of the school. But, upon closer examination, the name underneath the image clearly read “Henry David Thoreau.”

Thoreau died before he reached his 45th year, but this American author, poet, naturalist, surveyor, historian and philosopher certainly understood much of the importance of living a long life and wrote about it beginning at a young age. Much of what he wrote certainly applies to those in their senior citizen years of life today.

Even though Mrs. Rumbleheart made a few passing comments about this “Henry” man, I’m sure that she knew that most fifth-graders (including me) would have never understood or appreciated much of what Mr. Thoreau wrote about — especially at that early age in our lives.

It wasn’t until much later in my life after I had read many of Thoreau’s writings, and after several sojourns to visit Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts specifically for the purpose of attempting to get the “feel” for the place that Thoreau wrote from and frequently wrote about, that I really began to understand much of what he had to say in his writings as being very applicable and helpful to our senior citizens today.

Today’s senior citizens frequently have the luxury of time to really study what is and what is not important in one’s life.

Here are some comments about life as seen through Thoreau’s eyes. See if they’re not still applicable today … nearly 150 years since they were first written.

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Just think about how often we might think we “have to” do this or that when in reality we really do not and we would probably be better of by not doing “this or that.”

“Men have become the tools of their tools.” Yes, we’ve created many jobs for companies and public agencies in this life to help pay for the “things” that we have been taught that we “need,” but has the person in the job become nothing more than another tool to help create the widget that is sold to the public to help pay the wages of the worker who 8 to 10 hours each day effectively puts “tab A” into “slot B” and then sends the widget along its path to the next “tool?”

Do we really need the “things?” Or do we need to spend those 8 to 10 hours each day doing something that is much more meaningful while we’re on planet Earth?

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” We have often been reminded that our country is never more segregated than at around 11 a.m. every Sunday morning. It’s still not too late to change.

“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.” There’s little worse than attempting to enjoy a $50 steak dinner on a $10 budget. Beyond money, the price we pay is just too great!

Keep that steak dinner in mind as you contemplate that Thoreau also taught that “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” This quote make one wonder just how many of our current senior-citizen-age or younger politicians have bothered to read and/or study Thoreau’s teachings?

Keep these Thoreau teachings in mind when you try to “keep up” your image for whatever reason. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

And, “Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.” Perhaps most importantly, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Mrs. Rumbleheart taught me many things that I have applied throughout my years. Her introduction of Henry David Thoreau to our class stands out in my mind as one of her more important teachings.

I’ll always be thankful to Thoreau, a wee bit before my time on Earth, but who taught eternal truths such as this: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Every Minute In Life Counts!!

By:  Bob Grafe, Columnist

© Did you know that you only have 10,512,000 minutes left to live?  That is correct if you are now a senior citizen age 65 and you expect to live to be age 85 – allowing for 20 more years of living.

  Put another way, you have 7,300 more wake-up calls and a little more than 1,000 weeks to get all those things still remaining to do in your life … done!

  Look at it this way:  You have the same time available and remaining to complete an entirely new career – the same as does a man or woman just beginning a 20-year career in the military.  And, you have the side benefit of no one actually shooting at you.

  There’s still plenty of time to get done what you want to get done – but, you have to go about the task with a well thought-out plan in place.

  So, where do you begin?

  Perhaps the first order of business is to inventory all of your personal time and financial expense commitments that now encumber your personal 24-hour day and your bank account.

  The financial expense commitments portion of the inventory will probably be the easiest to complete.  The personal time commitment portion is much more difficult because it is much more personal involving your emotional investment with many friends and relatives in your life. 

  As you review your personal time commitments be sure to ask yourself, for example, if you are committed to spending one weekend each month away from home with grandchildren, or a special civic organization’s project, or teaching special classes at your church, or with helping out with duties at your senior citizen center, or maybe committed to visiting dear friends and relatives in rest homes, or maybe working at a part-time job that you really enjoy, or maybe just spending a quality weekend at home with your spouse … or any number of other good things to do “one” weekend each month. 

  Well, something has to give because you run out of month before you run out of that special “one” weekend each month – it looks more like “every” weekend is taken up and then some.

  A high level of personal time commitments for on-going activities that are not considered by you to be “very” important may interfere with your desire to complete your list of things that you want to get done – while there is still time to do so. 

  Once that current inventory of personal time commitments is completed, take a deep breath and prioritize the inventory list into three areas:  Very Important; Less Important; and Not Important.  Keep the list private for a few days while you ponder what you have written down.  Then, review the list and make appropriate changes that you have thought about.

  Now, with a blank piece of paper, using the same inventory list categories of Very Important; Less Important; and Not Important, write down those things in life that you really want to accomplish during this “next” 20-year career of yours that is just waiting to begin.  Prioritize your list and then let those private ideas incubate for a couple of days before you make changes to your “final” prioritized list of things you want to accomplish.

  Like it or not, the “other” list of financial commitments that you will have to complete during this life’s inventory process will help to bring into focus those important items that you want to get accomplished – and that you can actually afford.

  For best results with your future list of accomplishments, be totally honest with yourself when you complete your financial commitments analysis.  Don’t be tempted to over-state or under-state either projected expenses or income.  

  These simple steps will help to un-clutter your life allowing you a better picture of what you want to accomplish with your remaining years – what is truly important to you.

  It will help the process along if you begin by placing all of the televisions in your house in the garage sale that you should have.  Garage sales help to un-clutter your life.  Or just drop all your “junk” off at a Goodwill Industries collection site.  Remember, one person’s “junk” is another person’s “bargain.” 

  Be sure to get a receipt for your donation since you also have another 20 or so annual IRS tax return forms to complete between age 65 and 85.  Maybe you’ll find some hidden tax right-offs among your treasures donated to Goodwill or other charitable organizations.

  To help with the “financial” un-cluttering process, you might consider canceling those subscriptions to unread magazines, special “discount” membership offers for “seniors,”  those “special” credit cards now infrequently used, and other commitments that may not provide you with the benefits once promised but seldom delivered – but still cost you that monthly or annual fee.

  Likewise, it is probably a good time to continue with your personal time commitment inventory tweaking by evaluating your membership in various worthwhile organizations.  Some community organizations may still offer you an opportunity to be of service within a specific area and some national organizations may continue to offer you an opportunity to contribute time or funds for good causes.

  But, some have outlived your ability to contribute either financially or with your time and they may need to be dropped from your list of commitments.

  Once your life is a little less cluttered, your personal time commitments and financial commitments inventory tasks are completed and well thought-out, your next 20-year career will be ready to tackle with gusto – perhaps just in time for the new year!

 Submitted by Bob Grafe for publication on Thursday, December 10, 2009.

Is Alaska Still The Last Frontier?

Is Alaska still the last frontier? ©

By Bob Grafe
The Gazette-Enterprise

Published July 16, 2009

Most senior citizens can look back on their life and reflect upon those “What if?” questions by answering with the emotionally soothing conclusion of “Well, it wouldn’t have made any difference in the long run anyway.”

In most cases, I would probably agree.

But, when the local summer high temperatures for the day reach into the 100s, day after day, the question of “What if I was still in Alaska?” absolutely required a decisive and honest response.

“Go north, young man!”

Well, OK. Make that, “Go north, old geezer!” was the clarion call recently heard repeatedly in my heart and mind. Or, as some prefer to describe it, “It was just another excuse for him to go fishing!”

Going north to Alaska these days means competing for nearly everything with the other 1.5 million or so tourists who show up on Alaska’s various doorsteps during the May through September tourist season — for everything from combat fishing along Alaska’s rivers and streams to stampede shopping at inside passage cruise ship stops.

Be that as it may … as we were on approach to Anchorage International Airport, I couldn’t help but absorb the beauty of Cook Inlet and the surrounding mountains with their slowly melting snow-capped tops barely melting into the background. I knew from past experience that the air was different near the top of the world — and I couldn’t wait to breathe it all in.

As I neared the baggage area once inside the terminal, I spotted my near-life-long friend, Wilton, who had driven in from Trapper Creek to pick up his fishing buddy from Heatwave, Texas.

After the usual pleasantries, it was time to get down to business, “I hear the Reds are running in the Russian. How’s the King run around the Susitna? Are you dip-netting the Copper River yet? What about the halibut derby in Seward?”

Wilton thought for a moment and just nodded knowingly and patiently saying, “We’ll have plenty of fish for smoking!”

As soon as we stepped outside the airport terminal’s walls, into the open air, it was clear to the memory of my youth and young adulthood that this was truly the last frontier … the land of the midnight sun. Alaska — I could tell it by inhaling the fresh, clean and brisk air.

It was also quite clear that Anchorage had rapidly become “Seattle North!”

“Is that a Starbucks?” I asked Wilton with a look of disbelief ending with an obvious grimace.

Wilton responded by noting that there were far too many “way too clean” SUVs in Alaska and that Anchorage and a few other communities in Alaska had now become too “citified” for his liking.

A couple of stops in town to pick up supplies, then it was up the road north where Wilton’s wife Carol was preparing supper. The over two-hour drive provided a passing look at parts of Alaska that now seem much closer to Anchorage than I remembered.

The agricultural center of Palmer, home of those huge state fair cabbage entries, now was an easy “freeway” drive from Anchorage. My comparison memory dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when the winter drive between the two towns was frequently impossible.

As we drove through Wasilla, I couldn’t help but look around a few shopping areas to see if I could spot Alaska’s governor. No luck. I also strained to see if I could get a glimpse of Russia from anywhere in town. No luck, again.

After passing by the familiar turn-off to Talkeetna along the Parks Highway, I couldn’t help but think back on those days of owning, but not spending much time at, my Talkeetna homestead.

Those were the good and the bad old days. Yes, I had the homestead — but I couldn’t afford to live there because there just were no jobs available.

Back then, my primary contact person in the Talkeetna area was neighbor trapper John Tolefson. He had retired from many years of work on the Alaska Railroad to live in his two-room cabin on Question Lake — fronting on the Talkeetna Spur Road.

No car, no power, no telephone, no running water except from a nearby year-around creek that fed into the lake — and no property, sales or personal income taxes. His only luxury items were good quality pipe tobacco and high-priced coffee that I would often replenish during my visits with him.

As Wilton and I drove on northward towards Trapper Creek, my mind began to play that inevitable, and often painful, “What if?” game.

The temperature was in the mid-60s. There was blue sky. The difference in the Texas and Alaska high temperatures for the day was nearly 40 degrees — with Texas posting the high score!

Passing across several rivers and creeks, I could tell that there were plenty of fish there just waiting to be lured. We were now driving into the Alaska that I remembered the most. My eyes could already spot a few moose feeding just inside the highway tree-line where most eyes would not spot them.

A quick stop at the Trapper Creek Post Office to check the mail, then down a couple of gravel roads, across Trapper Creek and onto the road that slides through the wilderness into the remnant of Wilton’s homestead.

A few years ago a drilled well replaced the hand pump well that provided water directly to the kitchen sink — the cabin’s only sink. Then came the composting toilet about ten years ago. It still has not been used since the outhouse “works just fine.”

The original wood stove still provides most of the heat but is supplemented with a wall-mounted propane heater. And the few propane lights were replaced a few years ago when the borough brought in electricity.

“Real progress.” Wilton remarked. Twenty years ago, we had no bills coming in the mail. Now, we’ve got about the same number as city folks.”

Carol’s grilled halibut was excellent that night — even though it seemed odd to re-heat it in the microwave oven.

As I climbed into bed that first night, with the buzz of mosquitoes circling my head, I recalled just how much I really didn’t like putting on that smelly insect repellent — just like 40 years earlier.

Falling off to sleep with nearly 22 hours of sunlight that first day made me think about “What if?” I had stayed in Alaska for a lifetime. I concluded that except for the air quality and pleasant summer temperatures, much about Alaska would be different today than what I was familiar with — perhaps except for the mosquitoes who have remained as aggressive as ever.

Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.

Senior ‘wild life’ can be truly entertaining


Published May 14, 2009

One of the advantages of being a genuine, bona fide senior citizen is the ease in which one can set aside one’s previous “younger days” wild life — for the wildlife.

Once a senior citizen gets into the graying of America, the thrill of fast dates and even faster cars, exotic dinners by moonlight later resulting in a romp in the pond — skinny-dipping of course — becomes a wee bit passé.

That is, of course, unless you are spending your senior days where the real wild life for seniors still exists … in rural America.

If you are at least partially out in “the sticks,” there is no longer a need to chase or attempt to attract the elusive prospective mate or to worry about whether your car or your new dress is “hot enough” for the occasion or whether there’s still enough money on the credit card when the bill for the gourmet meal arrives at the fancy restaurant table.

Relax. Now is the time to sit back and enjoy and reflect upon the true lessons of life taught by others who continually practice the real wild life … our wildlife friends.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I discovered that our pond, in the rural part of our county, was a natural attraction for both wild and domestic water fowl. We first started to notice that when we become a featured watering hole for our flying feathered friends when blue herons began to arrive on the banks of the pond with complete fishing regalia — including their long and sharp beaks.

For hours upon hours these very skinny-legged birds would stand without movement in the shallow edges of the pond just waiting for a delicious perch, bass or catfish to wonder into their small spear-fishing zone.

One day we observed a heron pull a near-two-pounder catfish from the water and attempted to fly off with it still speared by its beak. No luck. Three attempts down the runway was enough for this resourceful feathered pilot.

With the large catfish flopping around on the bank, and still thinking he had a chance to get away, the hard-working heron began his butchering duties resulting in several flight-size filets which were quickly flown off to wilderness parts unknown.

Enough senior wild life? Hardly. It gets far more exciting than just providing a meal or two for some drop-in (make that fly-in) friends.

Numerous other species of birds make our habitat their home for a day or two … or in some cases for months at a time.

For over half a year now, we’ve observed most of the antics of two black bellied whistling ducks. No surprise. There now are 10 whistling ducks who receive their forwarded mail at our rural address.

We’ve learned a thing or two from this sometimes noisy fowl family.

Yes, we acknowledge that we were a little taken aback when we concluded that the original two whistling ducks were not legally married when they first arrived. At least, they were one male and one female duck. That gave us some comfort.

Shortly after their arrival, mamma duck disappeared and papa duck decided to perch himself atop our roof where his view of the countryside was unobstructed. This became the perfect outpost to provide protective surveillance from.

For several months, papa duck performed his protective duty never failing to ward off potential predators. From other fowl to an errant rooster to several wandering dogs and cats, papa duck kept them all at bay.

Even Rambo, our fully-horned “bull” sheep was totally intimidated by papa duck’s wing span and strength when aimed at the unsuspecting king of the herd.

After one unsuccessful attempt at getting close to where mamma duck was suspected of being perched upon her nest performing her motherly duties, the wrath of papa duck swooped down from the rooftop directly into the face of Rambo. The forever lame barnyard bully never came close again.

Then one day, we were taught more by our two pond guests. All of a sudden, there were eight more little ducks following the now visible … Octo-duck! Yes, we now had a family of 10 frolicking (even skinny-dipping) in our pond. Sometimes at midnight to the light of the moon.

Four months later, the eight newborns are nearly as big as the parents. They forage for themselves, have been taught by the parents to swim, to talk nicely among themselves, and now they can even fly.

For the most part, it appears that mama duck has taught the children most of what they now know while papa duck has seldom slept while providing constant protection for his “wife” and children.

In the meantime, our commercial feed-fed domestic ducks raised by us from week-old ducklings, six in total, continue to wonder around basically clueless. They “mess” around — not a married pair in the flock — and the males constantly fight. The females wouldn’t know a nest if they tripped over one.

We call them our welfare ducks. They can hardly fly at all and rely on us for most of their daily bread — literally!

Lessons learned by this senior moment experience: New neighbors who take care of themselves may become good friends; even those with the biggest horns in town have very real fears when you get in their face; and its tough to get off welfare once you have perfected the habit.

It’s past 8:30 p.m. Shut off the light. I’ve had enough senior wild life for one day.

© Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.

Senior Citizens Need To Speak Out Loudly To Control Our “Out Of Control” So-Called “Government Officials” At Every Level – They Use To Be Called “Public Servants!”

It’s that time of year again.  Those hazy, lazy, “crazy” days of summer.


But, hold on a minute.


According to those high-paid environmental so-called experts, our local “haze” is no longer such—it’s now categorized as smog.  Translated:  smog means that life here will now cost us more since we’ll have more government-salaried  “enforcement” employees not embarrassed to cash-in on the economic/environmental scam of our time—the government’s “green machine.”


You just thought automobile emissions devices were expensive before.  Wait until the Environmental Protection Agency’s engineers gets through with their “scientific” review of  our automotive so-called bad habits.


The old patriotism-building “Made In The USA” signs are rapidly being recycled with  biodegradable material-made signs imported from Bangladesh reading “If You Aren’t Green You’re Mean.”


Brother, you ain’t seen “mean” yet until you push a group of highly trained patriotic seasoned senior citizens into a corner—economic or otherwise.  The younger generation together with those older “stayed-in-office-way-too-long” government officials and other “public non-servants” better correct their self-serving ways—while there’s still time for them to do so before a bloody battle over “rights” ensues in this great country.


And “Lazy.”  Give me a break.


How much blood, sweat and tears do you expect to get out of this old turnip?


Frankly, if I choose to be lazy this summer … that’s exactly what I’m going to be.  The great equalizer for the likes of the Al Gores, Al Sharptons and Al Capones of this world is time.  If I have sufficient resources for “my needs,” not some other elitist clown’s phony gather-the-wealth expectations, then I own the 24-hour time-clock—not them—not in this country—not now or ever—and certainly not on my watch as long as my trigger-finger doesn’t have too much arthritis!


This summer, don’t just let “crazy” be.


We seniors have the advantage of wisdom gained through much experience over time.  “Crazy” behavior is in the eye of the beholder—unless of course you’re a school psychologist these days with the power of the pen to place a psychological dysfunctional label of some sort or another on way too many school children.


Perhaps the public school leaders (I believe they’re suppose to look out for “the public!”) would provide a better public-service by having the school’s psychological personnel diagnose the “crazy” behaviors of those in control of the local school system, judicial buildings and community hospital. 


Am I the only one in this local community who thinks that it is absolutely “crazy” for our local school district, hospital and judicial district officials to support placing senior citizens and all other local tax-payers at great financial risk by taking on hundreds of millions (yes, “hundreds” of millions when combined together) in new financial debt for the citizens of our community to pay for years and years while our country is on the brink of economic recession and/or a 1929-type depression?


I don’t think so.


Perhaps local officials upon taking on their respective offices should be required to make a pledge to the citizens they serve of:  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”  Most senior citizens reading this column recall those words of wisdom practiced by their parents and grandparents—and  by themselves today.


Seniors, if you haven’t at least filed for all of the legal property tax exemptions that you have earned, now is not too soon to get that done.


And, if that mortgage hasn’t been paid off, this summer would be a great time to get that accomplished.  Look into a life-estate for you and your heirs to use (see an attorney) if necessary to assist with getting out of home mortgage debt—now.


It’s not too late to let your fingers do the walking right across the election push-screen to mark “no” when governments get out of control financially and otherwise.


Even with arthritis, the trigger-finger still has the strength to display great wisdom at the touch-screen battle ground—even during the heat of a long summer.


© Submitted by Bob Grafe for publication on May 7, 2008.