Sunday, April 7, 2024

A Beautiful Week in the Hills!

 Saturday, April 6th was my dad's birthday. He would have been 98. Gone now 24 years. My mom, gone 19 years, would have been 96. Barb's parents, whose mom and dad would have both been 86, gone 47 years and 12 years respectively.

They have been gone so long that it is hard to wrap our heads around the fact that in a perfectly healthy world all of them could still be around. What would that have been like? How different would our lives be if they were still alive? A lot, to be honest. 

Although Barb and I had great jobs, it was inheritance from my dad that pushed us over the edge that allowed us to retire early and live on the road all those years. The inheritance from Barb's dad helped us build this house. 

That led me to the question; how long do you want to live? For me, the answer is easy. I want to live as long as I can with Barb as long as I am happy and healthy. I do not want to live a day without Barb, nor do I want her to live a day without me. Nor do we want to be a burden on our children. Early to mid 80's would be a great run, although I have a feeling, the older I get the more that number is likely to change. 

These are the random thoughts that went through my head this week as I mentally wished my dad a happy birthday. 

This week was a pretty slow and quiet week for us. We started out the week (actually ended last week) by driving up to our niece and nephew-in-law Alana and Ryan's, house up in Spearfish to celebrate Easter. We brought the girls so they could have a play date. More for Zoey than Dakota, as Dakota hates going to other people's houses where she is not comfortable with their floors. As Ryan put it; "Our floors are lava to Dakota". He was nice enough to put down a blanket for Dakota to lay on, but she opted for Loki's kennel as her "safe space" during the visit. 

The other three dogs had a chaotic day. Have you ever tried to take pictures of three dogs that would not stop moving? Impossible, I tell you! Loki had recently had surgery and had a cast on her leg, but it did not slow her down at all!

After an hour or two, they tuckered out and I was able to get a few pictures of the girls while they were resting. 

We had stopped the dollar store on our way up there where Barb picked up 4 rabbit ears in the hopes of getting the elusive 4-dog Easter picture! Once the dogs had settled down a bit, we attempted the picture. What a sh#tshow! As soon as we started putting rabbit ears on dogs were shaking their heads to get them off. Then Loki would attack the ears trying to destroy them. After several attempts it became apparent that this was not going to happen. So, while Ryan held Loki, Barb and Alana held their respective Frenchies and finally got a picture! As you can see, Dakota only had one ear left by the time we got the picture taken!

It snowed that night and most of the next day, resulting in 5-6" of fresh snow. The nice thing about April in South Dakota, is even though it might snow, it is short-lived. The following day was 50 and the snow started melting. Melt days are hard for Dakota as the snow slides off the roof, hitting the ground in a thundering fashion, even shaking the ground in some cases. Dakota does not like this at all and hid in the bedroom. Barb went out and knocked down some of the overhanging snow alleviating a little anxiety for Dakota. This low stuff is not as big deal of a deal Dakota, it is the stuff that drops from 16' that she really does not like. 

We got out twice on two shed hunts. The first adventure we stayed in the lowlands. An open grassy area, a game production area where we know the elk hang out. A pretty area, but the only thing of interest we found was this cow elk carcass. A beautiful day, a great hike, but no antlers. Our goal is just to find one elk shed a year, sometimes that is achievable, other years, not so much. 

Getting skunked down low, we decided to hit the hills for our next adventure. When we drove up to the parking spot. I pointed to the top of the mountain and told Barb, "We are going up there". Her reaction was "Yeah, right". Little did she know, I was serious!

Starting on an overgrown logging road, away we went! Elk sign was sparce down low as we worked out way up, but the higher we got the more elk sign we saw. 

Here is the thing about shed hunting, you should not walk next to your partner, you should be at least 30 yards apart, so you are covering different ground. We kept in sight of each other for the most part and whistled to each other every minute or so when we were out of sight of each other. 

We left the logging road and started billygoating our way to the top. At over 5,000' you can feel it when you start exerting yourself. There were several points where I would pick out a tree about 10 -20 yards up hill from me and set that as a goal before I rested again. Sometimes I made it to my goal, other times not quite. The bright side of stopping to catch your breath is that you can admire the views!

We made it to the top at different places at different times and eventually met up at the highest point which was 5,555'. These pictures just do not do it justice. As beautiful as these pictures are, in person, it is twice as beautiful. 

In the end, it was another antler-less day and probably our year as time is running short to get back out. Oh well, we found two last year, so I guess things averaged out. 

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Somer has finished her latest travel job in Savanah, so Forrest packed up the camper and headed back up north to spend a few more weeks with Jessica, Shane and the kids. Baby K (Kendall), turned 10 this week! I suppose we are getting to the point where I have to stop calling her Baby K. 
It is so good to see Lily (left) hanging out with Kendall (right) and Dylan, they are all they have for cousins. 

We got together with Dan, Bonnie, Kevin and Cheryl three times during the week. Once for supper at Kevin and Cheryl's, and twice at the Pringle Bar for supper. The last night was more or less a goodbye party for me. No, I am not dying yet, but I am headed north for a few weeks. It is planting time in North Dakota!

Friday, March 29, 2024


 It looks like spring has sprung up here in the north land! The birds are singing, the turkeys are gobbling, and the cows are calving. True signs of spring. 

The robin is the first sign of spring in our area. They start appearing one by one, then flocks of dozens. Next up is the bluebird with their colorful breeding plumage. We see them mostly in the open country sitting on fence lines and checking out the bluebird houses.

The last bird to show up in the area and the truest sign of spring is the meadow lark. They too are open country birds whose call can be heard from a long way away. We saw our first meadow lark earlier this week. I went out on a hunt for one with the camera, but of course they did not cooperate. 

We continue to go for "Shed Walks" but have yet to find any. We did find the last resting place of this coyote. One has to wonder how it met its demise.

Of course, when we do not take the girls the wabbits show up!

We have been reserving our past few Sundays to work with Kevin. That is the only day he takes "off" so he can work on his bunkhouse. This past Sunday was no different when Barb and I went over to help him put up some tongue & groove planking in two bedrooms. 

Kevin and I worked on the ceilings while Barb worked on putting blocking in some sidewalls. We had a system; Kevin was in the house shouting me measurements, I would cut it, bring it in and using two ladders we would get the piece in place. Kevin would then nail it in while I went and got the next piece and he would shout another number at me. I did not get any action shots as we were always running. 

6 hours later we had one room completely done and another room 1/2 done. Barb had all the blocking done. If you compare the before and after pictures you can see the blocking that Barb put between the studs on the walls. She not only did this room, but every room in the house. 

One thing I forgot to mention. See the grooves on the ends of the boards on the "after" picture? Each one of those had to be hand beveled into the boards. Not terribly difficult, but a pain and time consuming. 

Later in the week we were off to one of Kevin's job sites to get some free garage doors! This is the same site that we got the trusses from last week. To give you an idea of the scope of this job I need you to use your imagination. In the picture below imagine just a plain garage with a normal roof, nothing on either side of those garage doors; no windows anywhere at all. Kevin replaced the roof with a steeper pitch, (that's how we got our trusses) added the dormers on top, added the RV garage on the right, added a kitchen area on the left (the room with the 3 windows) and added the open patio on the far left. 

The owners want new garage doors, and they were generous enough to give us their old ones! So away we went! Although it looks like Barb is doing all the work, I did have my own impact and did my share of work too.... no really I did!

Like much of the country, we went from spring back to winter at the end of the week. It will be 4-5 days before we see temperatures above freezing again. So, what does one do on a snow day? Taxes. Ugh! But after that, I set up the tripod and took a 2-minute video of the activity at the bird feeder. Those little critters sure flock to the feeder on cold days! I did a slow motion of a little fight between two birds. It is amazing what happens in the matter of a second or so. How many different species of birds do you see in the video?

There are several other species of birds using the feeder, and I am trying to get pictures of each, but some are more elusive than others. I now have by camera close by so hopefully I will capture them in the coming weeks. 
Did you know the nuthatch is the only bird that can walk down a tree face first? Other birds have to face up and kind of bounce their way down whereas the nuthatch can actually face down and just walk.  

Of course when the snow flies, it means a fire in the fireplace. Which means Zoey gets toasty warm! I do not know how she can stand it!
Over the past couple of weeks Barb has slowly been working on some stone stairs in front of the house. We go for drives in the side by side in search of the perfect flat rocks for the stairs. They have to be at least 18"x18", preferably bigger, but not so big I cannot lift them. We have been out three times now and have brought home over a dozen rocks. It is slow and tedious work, but she is getting there!
Meanwhile, I finished hauling all the gravel for the garage. Kevin came over the other day and flattened it all out. We used his laser level to set the final grade. An hour later, it was all done, and he was off to his next job!
Now, we just need mother nature to do her thing and let it settle over the summer. With luck, we will get the slab poured this fall! 

The highlight of the week though was when the dogs got a bath in the dog wash. As you can see, both were over the top excited!
Have a great week!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Tears & Laughter

A strange title for a blog post, an even stranger title for a book. No, I am not writing a book. I sometimes wish I had the skill and confidence to write one, but that day will never come. Instead, I read. 

The book I am currently reading is the title of this post, Tears & Laughter by Gene Hill. One of the best outdoor writers of all time. He had the ability to write in such a way, it takes the reader back into the forests and marshes of their youth, reminiscing about past hunts, lifelong friends and of course dogs. Even if you are not an outdoor enthusiast, I think you would appreciate his writing. 

But it is not his writing that inspired me to write this post. It is the book itself. 

I have written before about how we search for Gene Hill books whenever we are in antique stores. We have found a couple, but when Barb found a complete set on an on-line auction, I just had to have them. We won them and they are now displayed proudly on the bookcase in our bedroom. 

I pulled down Tears & Laughter this week and started reading it. The first thing I noticed when I opened the book was this. 

A handwritten note from Bill to Paul dated Dec. 1985. That got me to wondering; who was Bill? Who was Paul? They were obviously hunting buddies but from where? Below that were more handwritten notes I assume Paul wrote, noting the dates he had read the book. I assume he read it once when he got it, then picked it up again in 2004, 2010 and 2021. A few pages later, it was even signed my Gene himself!

I was on the second chapter of the book when some newspaper and magazine clippings fell out of the back. Intrigued, I unfolded them and looked them over. The only date I could find on any of them were from 1981 which happens to be the same year the book was published. The article on the far left was about writing contest winner; this one featuring "A Listening Walk" by Gene Hill. The middle article was torn from a magazine. "I Never Met a Dog I Didn't Like" by Bill Tarrant. A quick search of Bill showed that he wrote for Field & Stream magazine in the 70's and 80's. I got a kick out of the cigarette ad on the back of one of the pages. The last clipping was out of an old Fins and Feathers magazine and showed several ads for hunting dogs. 

Paul, I assume put these in the back of this book decades ago. Any hunting dog he may have purchased has long ago passed away. But what kind of bond did those two have? What memories did they make? What marshes and fields did they walk? 

As all this transpired, I was sitting on our bed on a snowy afternoon with Dakota lying beside me. I folded those pieces back up and put them back where they belonged, got up, put on a coat and took Dakota for a walk in the woods. 

Although it was still cold and snowing, she was having a blast. Nothing makes her happier than a walk in the woods looking for rabbits. She runs from brush pile to brush pile sticking her nose in there looking for a wascally wabbit. Some she would pass by and give a cursory sniff, while others she would dance around sticking her whole head in. 

When she does find one, she harmlessly chases it for a few yards before the rabbit heads off to another brush pile somewhere further into the forest. She's a good dog. Had a rough beginning, but now is living her best life.

No rabbits were to be found this day, but she was still happy. Ears up, eyes alive and tail tagging. She'll be limping tomorrow, but it is worth it. As for the book, I will finish reading it, start my own "read" log and put it back on the shelf. 

Gene passed away in 1997, I am guessing Bill and Paul are probably gone as well. Someday, if all goes as planned, Forrest will read this book after I am long gone, see my handwritten notes and the dates I read the book, think back at past hunting trips we've had together, the dogs that he had and perhaps, take whatever dog he has at that time for a walk in the woods.