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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Paradise at 57 mm

This story by the RRR starts last weekend on the 11-7 shift at the hospital in the Big City. Mark, the house supervisor was having a care conference for the psychiatric staff. I was a little late and as I stood in the doorway I heard him talking about the possibility he might go back into the Army as a nurse because they are grabbing prior service medical staff. He is certain a big push may be under way in the war in Iraq that may even involve Syria and Iran.

"I wonder if they need a 55 year old 'Nam vet psych nurse." I said.

He grinned at me. "Who are you fooling? You wouldn't want to do nursing, you'd want to shoot the big guns."

Everyone in the room started laughing at me, not because it's true -- they already knew that, but because my face lit up in delight at the thought. So I tried to explain to them as I will to my readers:

As soon as tanks lumbered across the battlefields in WWI, the infantry has tried to come up with weapons the lowly infantryman can use to knock them out. The Brits came up with a giant rifle that shot thumb sized bullets at high velocity into the firing slits on the old tanks. Then came a spring loaded catapult that threw high explosive grenades at them. By WWII the Germans had the Panzer-Faust, a rocket launcher that fired a shaped charge. The Americans countered with the 3.5 inch Bazooka, a stovepipe looking tube, also a rocket launcher. By the time I was in Vietnam we had the LAW, or Light Anti-tank Weapon, a telescoping fiberglass rocket launcher that was disposable after being fired. The Viet Cong picked the used tubes up and made weapons of them. They also had the Communist Block RPG, or Rocket Propelled Grenade which was very close to the Panzer-Faust.

But from the Korean War till Vietnam there was something very special which is what I was smiling about that night. We developed a technology called recoilless rifles. The recoilless rifle is a cannon that doesn't kick back when it's fired. It has slots in the breech and uses shells with combustible cases. When it is fired flame and concussion roar out the back destroying anything for 150 feet, a decided disadvantage should you wander behind it. But it made possible a cannon as large as our 105mm Howitzer that could be fired from the back of a jeep or pickup truck. And a 75mm that infantrymen could shoot from a tripod and was almost as effective as the dreaded German 88mm cannon. And then some bright person had the idea of making one 57mm and replacing the Bazooka with it.

It was a dumb idea of course. The silly thing weighed 45 pounds. It took two men to carry it and the ammo bearers could pack 4 shots at the most in a back pack. But oh my... Dear readers, what that baby was to shoot. For 20 years there existed in the U.S. inventory a cannon you could fire off your shoulder. And I got to do it. I was the medic on a range at a fort in Wisconsin and was assigned to the 57mm recoilless range. As it got towards dark and all the troops had fired and left, we called to have the truck come and pick up the range personnel and the left over shells. We were informed that as the 57mm was being dropped they didn't want the 30 some rounds back and we were to fire them up.

So here was what it was like. I crouched behind a barricade and hoisted the gun up onto my shoulder. The loader worked the breech. I could feel the heavy shell slide into the chamber. He locked the breech down and slapped me on the shoulder and dived to the bottom of the trench and covered his ears. I looked through the sight, leveled the massive barrel on my right shoulder, took in a deep breath, let half of it out, held it, centered the crossers on the turret of the old WWII tank a couple hundred yards away and squeezed the trigger.

I felt like I'd knocked hard on the door of Hell. The earth moved under my feet. There was a flash brighter than the sun. The roar was deafening even through my ear plugs. The concussion squeezed the breath out of me like a giant invisible fist. After the flash I had the quick vision of a small black dot rushing at the tank. A "chunk" noise echoed back and I could see the light of the setting sun THROUGH the turret. I stood shaking like leaf in a strong wind, then began laughing wildly and shouted, "WOW! Let's do that AGAIN!" And we did. Over and over. No experience I've ever had comes close.

And that's why I grinned so wide at the care conference. I've shot the big gun.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Things Can ALWAYS Get Worse

One more adventure by the RRR and Youngest Son on the long trip down the Des Moines River follows:
We were floating down towards Rutland, Iowa and the river began widening and slowing. As we came around a bend we began to hear a dull roaring up ahead. As happened almost every day on that trip, rain was threatening. The river ahead of us got much wider we saw a dark line all the way across it with a brick building on the port side and mist rolling up from the line. “Dam!” I shouted. (NOT “damn”). The dam at Rutland was high headed with a forty foot drop behind it and the slowing of the current changed and we were being pulled right for it. Youngest Son had the oars. We had been floating forward just using them to steer. Now he jumped around facing the stern and began pulling for the building at the port side with all his might as I guided.
Wouldn't it be awful, I thought, if there were also a spillway on the far left side of that building? And there was! The building was the old powerhouse and had its own intake from the river. I shouted the news to him and he angled the boat further and pulled even harder. We just made it. I jumped out and tied to a tree and we stood looking at the disaster that had almost befallen us. Had we gone right instead of left or not gotten past the powerhouse inlet we would have been swept over into the boiling cauldron below.
As we picked a path around the dam to portage the boat and gear it began to rain. Thunder and lightening followed. We took the gear first and the boat last. We were both soaked and shivering almost immediately. As we made the last trip carrying the boat, it suddenly began to hail marble sized hail stones. We were getting bruised and pounded. Youngest Son shouted back to me over his shoulder, “Relax Dad, nothing worse than this can happen!”
Lightening instantly struck a tree 20 feet from where we were carrying the aluminum boat. The whole world turn brilliant pink for an instant and the roar of the thunder was a physical, mind numbing presence. We stood dumbfounded, our ears ringing.
“Kid,” I yelled, “don't you EVER say that again!”
It really, really, happened.

Mackerel Alfredo

The RRR relates an adventure of he and Youngest Son on a river float trip:

Our flat bottomed row boat, Sherman had faithfully floated us down the Des Moines River for over two weeks. On this day we had entered Saylorville resevoir behind Saylorville Dam. We had no motor, no sail, and no current. So Youngest Son rowed much of the day. On and on we creaked as the sky grew darker and more ominous. We started looking for a good place to camp long before dark, but nothing presented itself. Steep hills, far too steep to pitch camp on sloped straight into the water. Finally we spotted a fairly level spot 100 feet up from the shore on the port side.

The first rain drops began to fall as Youngest Son ran Sherman aground. I jumped out and jammed our Swiss Army entrenching tool into the mud and tied the boat off to it. The rain came down harder as we climbed, slipped, and slithered taking the gear up to the "level" spot. He rigged up our tarp to the walking stick and push poles as I got out the Coleman stove and pumped it into life. When I opened the chuck box, it was not a promising sight. Only two items still sloshed about in the grimy water at the bottom of the box. One was a rusty can of discount store Jack Makerel, the other a flaking, water logged pouch of noodles with Alfredo sauce. The only choice was obvious. I opened the can with my Swiss Army knife and poured the unappetizing mess into the skillet and put it on the stove. When the juice from the can started simmering I dropped in the sticky mess of noodles and started breaking up the caked sauce powder into it.

The rain was pounding now, running down the back of my neck under my poncho and soaking my shirt and pants as I sat on the upended bucket. Youngest Son had unrolled our bedrolls under the tarp and lit the candle lantern. After rowing most of the day he was famished, not to mention chilled from the soaking rain and needing something hot to eat. I divided the gray goo into two parts and after shutting down the stove crawled under the tarp. He looked at the disgusting food on his plate and asked, "what IS that?"

"Mackerel Alfredo!" I reported proudly.

He looked for a long time at his plate grimacing, then blew out the candle and ate every bite in the dark.

It really, really happened.

Understanding Tanglish

The RRR records his difficulty with global understanding. Beginning some time ago I have been reading the blogs (and occasionally commenting) from a group of interesting people in Malaysia and have been gratified at their interest in mine. They are Indians living in Malaysia and often write in an idiom called Tanglish. I assumed that Tanglish was the Tamil language converted to English form by using the English alphabet, much as modern Vietnamese is. I was wrong. I discovered this when I tried to find an English/Tanglish dictionary.

Apparently Tanglish is a patois made up of Tamil and other languages mixed with English. English has become the Lingua Franca of global business and politics. One website carried the interesting comment that Tanglish is not taught by parents to their children, but rather by children to their peers and used to communicate in code to keep parents and other adults from understanding what the rebellious youth are saying to each other. At least that was the case 10 years ago. Now it is becoming a "hip" language that upwardly mobile Asian college students and young professionals use to communicate with each other.

As a child of the 60's I understand the concept, if not the idom. All generations do the same thing. It's a sort of generational shop talk.

I remember the famous drug culture Three Universal Answers which could be used to answer any question. They were:

1. Drugs, sex, and rock 'n roll.

2. It must be the drugs.

3. Wow! (said in a slurred, drawn out fashion)


What is the meaning of life? "Drugs, sex, and rock 'n roll."

How can you be so shallow and ignorant as to believe that? "It must be the drugs".

And if the person is too wasted to be even able to answer with 1. or 2., simply "Wowwwww!"

To quote oldest son, "You 60's weirdos ruined America"


A philosopher would have a great time explaining the "I - Not I" progressing to "Us - Not Us" principle involved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Happy Birthday To Me (2)

It was as much fun as I thought it would be, and now I'm back at the county jail remenising. I turned the jail over to Scott and Tom at 0700 after the hectic business of passing out breakfast and passing out medications (suprising this job is so much like psychiatric nursing, even has the same clients). I went home and collapsed in bed. At 0930 Youngest Daughter called to wish me happy returns. Youngest granddaughter, one day past her first birthday babbled happily to me.

I went back to sleep smiling and my youngest brother called. He's an investment banker. One of the brothers had to amount to something. We laughed and joked and talked about old times. Then back to sleep. By noon Bay Toe Ven was ready for a walk. We wandered down by the river and across the bridge and met Mrs. RRR as she drove home from work. She'd bought me an ice cream birthday cake that she had designed the decoration for. After lunch I got to see it. A green tent with a man and his son peering out into the rain depicted me and one of the boys camping. It was a shame to cut into the frosting, but worth it. Vanilla ice cream on top and chocolate on the bottom with crushed oreos in between. Before we ate Mrs. RRR and Bay Toe Ven sang Happy Birthday to me. I already had my present, the equipment I used at the Reserve shoot Sunday. She gave me a beautiful, romantic card.

I spent the next couple hours peeling, coring, and slicing apples from our tree and placing them in the dehydrator. This year we started using the oven also. We have a couple extra oven racks from an old kitchen stove. I bought a 5' roll of 2' wide 1/4" hardware cloth and made a tray for each rack, so with the oven at 150 F dozens of apples can dry at once. I went back to sleep with the wonderful smell of drying apples wafting through the house. At 2030, Youngest Son called and I got to talk to him and 19 month old second youngest granddaughter. Once more I fell asleep smiling to get up at 2200 and come back here to the jail for another night's work.

Life is good. Even at 55.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Happy Birthday To Me...

September 20th finds the RRR celebrating his 55th birthday. Ironically, I am spending it in jail. At least I'm working here and not on the wrong side of the door. In a few minutes I will give Mrs. RRR her wake up call so she can wish me a sleepy happy birthday. Today will be spent napping and slicing and dehydrating apples. I should mow the lawn also. But most of all I'll be glad to be alive and still able to drive home and hug Mrs. RRR. And be an embarrassment to my children and grandchildren.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ranger Competition

As his readers by now must have guessed, the RRR loves the sport of competitive pistol shooting. Shooting and archery are about the only sports where middle aged and older men can compete with, and even excel over younger athletes. Unfortunately, almost all shooting events are held on Sunday and if I went as often as I wished I would never get to go to church. But I allow myself one Sunday each year to skip going to church or preaching and participate in the Iowa Reserve Law Enforcement Officer's Association shooting tournament.
For the last couple weeks I've been practicing. Competitive shooting is different from the regular police weapons qualification in that the target has a bullseye with graduated rings of varying scores, each getting larger and each time larger, a lower score. The tiny oval in the middle is 10 points, the next 9, then 8, then 7. Any hits outside the 7 ring gives no points at all.
I set the alarm for 0430 this morning and cleaned and oiled the guns I was to use for competition and organized my gear. At 0530 I awakened Mrs. RRR so she could get ready and go with me. It was almost 0700 when we left for the Big City and the tournament. We arrived and met with my fellow officers and their wives. John, Roger, and I were Team 1; Jeff, Doug, and Randy were Team 2. We were in competition with the eight best teams in the state and in all, 45 individual shooters, representing the best Reserve Officer shooters in the State.
The first match was the individual shoot for semi-automatic pistols. I used my beloved old .45 Colt and went up to the line. All the “strings”, as each group of shots is called are timed to make the shooting more realistic of real life situations. The first string was from 75 feet. We had 65 seconds to draw our gun from the holster, drop to the ground and shoot 6 shots from behind a barricade with our strong hand, reload the gun, rise to one knee and shoot from behind the other side of the barricade with the weak hand, reload again, and fire standing with the strong hand back on the right of the barricade.
For the next stage we had 6 seconds to run from 75 feet out to 45 feet, draw and shoot twice holding the gun two handed, then wait and have 3 seconds to shoot twice more, then wait again and two more and yet again 2 more. Then we had 20 seconds to run up to 21 feet, draw and shoot 6 times, reload, and shoot 6 more.
Lastly we had 20 seconds to run up to 15 feet, draw and shoot 6 times with just one hand, reload, and shoot 6 more with just the other hand.
There were 50 shots fired, each with the possibility of 10 points, so the highest possible score was 500. I shot 453, the best I've ever done. It was the second best in my division, fifth best over all. I walked back to the bleachers and hugged Mrs. RRR. Life was good. After the rest of the semi-auto shooting was done, it was time for the revolver shoot. This time I used my wonderful old Smith and Wesson, also a .45 caliber. It was a gift from Grandpa Ranger years ago. As it is a revolver, it can't be easily reloaded like the Colt auto can. It uses “full moon clips” which are star shaped metal pieces that each hold 6 cartridges in the same configuration as the cylinder in the gun. After shooting 6 shots, I swing the cylinder out, punch the ejection lever that dumps the 6 empties onto the ground, place another loaded clip of 6 rounds in, slap the cylinder shut and fire again.
The revolver shoot followed the same pattern as the semi-auto. I knew I hadn't done as well when it was finished, but was surprised to see that neither had those in my division and I had come in first! Then we fired the team match where Roger, John, and my scores would be added up for an aggregate. It was 60 shots instead of 50 and even more complicated with different firing positions and situations. While I didn't shoot as well as I had in the individual match, I did quite well and our team won 3rd place in the state. Our total score was almost 1600 out of a possible 1800. We all came home very pleased.
Lastly was the off duty shoot. This is a shortened version of the first two done with little short barreled “back-up” guns that officers carry hidden to use as the last resort when all else fails. I had borrowed a tiny .38 caliber Colt with a barrel less than 2 inches long from Grandpa Ranger. It has to be loaded one shell at a time to start with then reloaded with gadgets called speed loaders which hold the cartridges in the right position and drop the new ones into the cylinder when everything is done exactly right. I did not excel with the borrowed revolver, but did make a passable showing for using an unfamiliar weapon in a match I've never tried before. The most important thing is that it was fun. I got to compete with some of the best in the field, out shoot many of them and enjoy the comraderie.
Best of all, I had my most enthusiastic fan, Mrs. RRR there to watch me do it. We drove home and she made a delicious tuna salad to celebrate.
You won't see the results on ESPN or in the sport pages of the newspaper, but there are some very happy deputies in our county tonight

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Saga Of The Lost Pig

Behind the RRR in the police lab, there is a 4 foot by 4 foot 1/2" steel plate set into the floor. It covers a story that proves that truth is stranger than fiction. The plate covers an old collection pit where the sewage and waste water from the the court house once collected to be pumped into the city sewer system. Some years ago, the lift pump started shutting off without completing the emptying of the collection resevoir as though the connection was blocked to the city system.

But the city sewer didn't seem to be blocked. Worse, when the maps of the sewer system where checked, there was no connection to the court house. A professional sewer cleaning service was called who attempted to open the outlet and found that it wasn't plugged within reach, but mearly full. Meantime, the sewer lines that ran close to the building were checked and all were open and running freely. Worse, no line to the court house could be discovered. Finally the cleaning service used their "pig" to explore the outlet pipe.

A pig is a small robot that "swims" or crawls through pipes to find blockages or leaks. They are used regularly in oil and gas pipelines as well as water supply lines to cities from resevoirs and sewer systems. The pig crawled down the outlet pipe and instead of going to the blockage, started wandering side to side and disappeared! It was worth 1000's of dollars and the cleaning company tried everything to get it back. They soon found that the outlet pipe did NOT go to the city sewer. It led into chambers and down and down and down. Realizing the implications of what had been found, the courthouse was quickly attached to the city sewer, the plate placed over the pit and the whole thing forgotten.

The only possibility to me seems obvious. The county court house sits on top of a limestone cavern. When it was built in the late 1800's the builders discovered an opening as they dug the basement and to save money simply ran the courthouse drains into it! The whole thing was forgotten over a century and the cavern just kept filling with waste water and sewage. Finally the cave was full to the brim and the lift pump couldn't squeeze any more into it. The little robot pig, designed to swim through a 4 or 6" pipe found itself wandering through chambers in the cave. Is it wandering down there still in the darkness?

Before its batteries died did it cry for its mother?

It's something to speculate about late at night between rounds and sweeping the cell block.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Jail Night

The RRR finds himself working this night as a correction officer. This is what it's like.

The call came from the Head Jailer on tuesday. There's been a shake up in personnel and help is needed urgently. Can I work a night shift? Ask an old soldier to get in uniform. Better than holding up a meat scrap for a puppy.

Wednesday night arrives. I've slept since 1830. Up as always a few minutes before the alarm rings. Get the uniform ready. Polish the golden badge on a soft cloth. It always goes on the left side over the heart. Name tag over the right pocket. Short sleeve kakhi shirt. Pager clipped to the right epulette. Forest green trousers with kakhi stripes down the leg. In the left front pocket the police radio. Cord stretches up to the microphone clipped to the left epulette. On the belt a handcuff holder and the snap clip for the jail keys. In the small of the back, the hide-out holster.

Mrs. RRR prepares my lunch. I heat up a cup of coffee. Before I walk the dog, the final ceremony. Get the .45 out of the safe. Drop out the magazine. Work the action to clear out the cartridge from the chamber, leaving the action locked open. The deadly looking fat little cartridge rolls across the table, twinkling in the light. Slap in a different magazine, release the slide, it snaps forward peeling off the top cartridge and chambering it. Set the safety. Now the magazine is one cartridge short. Drop the mag out and press the cartridge from the table in on top. Chunk the mag back into the gun. A ritual performed every time I leave the house to go on duty. Make sure the gun is ready. Keep rotating magazines. I will carry the .45 all of 20 minutes to the jail. Once inside it will go immediately into a gun locker and stay there till I leave. Why bother? Easy... most jailers are attacked between their car in the parking lot and the door or on their way to the car at the end of the shift. It's the one time they are vulnerable and in a position to be used as a hostage in an escape or have revenge wreaked upon them.

To work... the jail is still in the basement of the old county courthouse. It is over 100 years old. Soon there will be a new jail outside of town, but I like this one. It has character. And ghosts. At least one. It doesn't bother me and I don't bother it. Designed for maybe 20 prisoners, it is now licensed for 11 which is my census for the night. The cells are mostly cages in the middle of a large basement room. I can walk all the way around and check each prisoner as I do rounds. There are the usual requests and complaints. I deal with each as I make first rounds at 2300. Check all the doors to make they're securely locked. At each cell I push a time clock that records I was actually there. Shut off the phones in the cells. Shut off the power to the TV's. Bedtime for the guests.

Move laundry from the washer to the dryer. Begin the little busy jobs of cleanup that keep the jail neat and presentable. Pray there will be no arrests to book in. Call Mrs. RRR and wish her goodnight. She will worry.

One more night. One more paycheck.

Ranger Visualization

The RRR shares the healing visualization he is currently using to deal with his Hepatitis C. Let me hasten to reassure my readers that I believe all healing ultimately comes from God. But I also believe God expects me to take what action I am able, whether medication, life style change or visualization.

I turn on the heating pad and tuck it up under my tee shirt over my abdomen on the right side and lean back in the recliner with my feet up. I do some deep cleansing breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. My consciousness becomes smaller and smaller, almost microscopic. I enter the ice choked cavern that is my diseased liver. The tunnels and caves (arteries, veins, and tubules) were lined with white ice, but with the volcanic heat (the heating pad) the ice (scar tissue) is melting and running down the red clay and rock walls and trickling away down the small fissures in the rock (the lymphatic system). I'm hunting hep c viruses. They are bright yellow, evil little flying reptiles with stinger tails and sharp teeth.

It's hot in the tunnels. I'm stripped down to jeans, a camo tee shirt and my jungle boots. An olive drab bandanna keeps the sweat out of my eyes. I'm carrying an A.L.I.C.E pack of ammo (herbal medicine) for my M 16. The Hep C's see me coming and try to flit away, I nail each one with a short burst. The braver leap at me and I blast them and they fall to the floor fluttering and kicking, flicking their stingers hopelessly. As they die, they desolve in the melting ice and are washed away. When attacked by too many, I drop the M 16 to dangle from its sling and snatch the pistol from my belt. Each shot kills another. When the pistol goes empty, I grab the K bar fighting knife and each swing takes off heads.

Sometimes the tunnels are large and echoing, sometimes so small I have to crawl through them. But the heat and melting never stop and I never stop going forward and doing battle.

The tunnel begins to cool, the timer on the electric heating pad has shut off. I quietly leave the tunnel. But more ice is gone. There are less Hep C's. I roll up the pad and go hug Mrs. RRR.

We will win.

We will.

River Rat Explained

After realizing from a comment on another blog, the name River Rat Ranger could be confusing, the RRR explains.

In the U.S. of A., especially the midwest and south, a river rat is a person who lives on the banks of or close to a river or stream and spends much of his time on it. River rats are often unemployed or seasonally employed and derive a portion of their living from small scale commercial fishing and fur trapping. They are usually poor and the fish they catch and animals they hunt help feed their families. Frequently they are the most skilled outdoorsmen in the area. Their knowledge of animals and animal behavior usually far exceeds that of wildlife biologists. For example, river rats knew long before the "experts" that mountain lions had re-established populations in Iowa. They were the ones who figured years ago that bobcats remained in the state but have learned to hop over trails and not leave tracks. They were the first to observe the migration of otters, etc.

Rangers got their name in Europe, mostly the British Isles from the volunteers who "ranged" about isolated rural properties protecting their families, crops, and wildlife from wandering brigands. In the U.S. when the west was opened, because the mountain men, cowboys, and native Americans wandered about the wilderness, it became known as "the range". Thus cowboy songs like "Home On The Range". In the early days in Texas when Apaches from Mexico and Commanches from the north and Mexican hoodlums called "Comoncharos" raided the settlers, they hired professionals to range about the country and protect honest folk. That was the beginning of the Texas Rangers. During the French and Indian War before our Revolution, woodsmen formed a band of warriors known as Roger's Rangers. In his movie The Patriot, Mel Gibson plays the part of one of those who went on to fight in the American Revolution.

I chose the web name The River Rat Ranger out of admiration and identification with those groups. I too, live close to the river and love to tramp up and down its banks. I have a battered old aluminum boat. Each year Youngest Son and I put our camping gear in it and choose a river in Iowa and using only oars float down it for several weeks. It is always a time of physical and spiritual renewal. I suppose this will spawn more blogs. (Sigh)

Politically Correct Tomatoes

Today was a red letter day at the RRR's house. 1st was health news. Regular Ranger Readers know that I struggle with Hepatitis C brought home from Vietnam 35 years ago. Last April my virus count was over 1,800,000 IU/ml. After the program of heat applications, prayer for healing, visualization, and striding about the deep desert in Texas, the count was down to 583,000 IU/ml, more than a 2/3rds decrease. Very Good News!

Also this was tomato canning day. There used to be three ways to can tomatoes. Open kettle, water bath, and pressure cooker. About 30 years ago, the powers that be in the Nanny State decided that open kettle was too dangerous and dropped the name water bath and began calling it open kettle. Does this all sound strange? Too true. But the old, original way of canning is disappearing simply by renaming. Let me explain. Pressure canning is done by cooking up the tomatoes, packing them in jars and cooking under high pressure which raises the temperature of boiling. It's very necessary for meat and low acid vegetables, but silly for tomatoes and fruit. Water bath is cooking them up, placing in jars which are placed in a pot of water that covers them and boiling for a long time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reluctantly approves it, but has changed the name to Open Kettle to stop the practice of doing it as Mrs. RRR and I do. Here I will give you the way it's been done since canning was developed on the orders of Napoleon for the French Army in the 1800's


Go to the garden and pick all the ripe tomatoes: Two 5 gallon buckets full today, plus another 2 1/2 gallons donated by Elder Raymond.

Put a large kettle on the stove with one quart (just under a liter for those of you in Malaysia) of water and turn up the flame to start the water boiling.

Cut the stems and bad spots off the tomatoes, cut them in halves or quarters based on size and dump into the boiling water. (The water keeps them from burning and sticking to the kettle)

Stir now and then and keep adding tomato quarters till the pot is almost full. When it is, start another pot. By the time all the tomatoes are cut up and simmering the skins will be loose and everything will be getting mushy.

Take the kettles of cooked tomatoes off the stove and run them through a Victorio or Squeezo Strainer. These are wonderful magical machines made in Italy (often available used on Ebay) which let you pour the cooked food into a hopper and turn a crank and the juice and pulp run into a pot and the seeds and skins out into another one. When you have a full pot of juice, put it back on the stove and bring to a boil and then let the juice simmer.

Meanwhile, in our household, Mrs. RRR has placed a roasting pan across two burners and is boiling a couple inches of water in it and has canning jars, lids, and rings "sterilizing". She takes a jar out with tongs and sets it on an old towel by the kettle of boiling juice. I put the initially boiled canning funnel into the mouth of the jar, add a heaping 1/2 teaspoon (my international readers will have to figure that measurement out for themselves) of sea salt and ladle the jar full of boiling juice. The ladle has been in the boiling juice to sterilize it.

Mrs. RRR fishes a canning lid and ring out of the boiling water with the tongs and lays it on the jar after I set the funnel aside. I hold the jar with a hot pad and screw on the ring and lid. "Presto!", a quart of canned tomatoes. Today, 26 quarts, and a few liters as we slowly accumulate Mexican jars. The most fun is hearing them seal. "Ping, ping, ping" as the jars cool and the lids pop down. There is an eclectic collection of jars. A couple of old blue glass ones over a hundred years old that my great grandmother used. Newer round clear glass from the WWI era, then the newer square dating clear up to the U.S. Bicentennial ones Mrs. RRR and I bought in 1976. And also old mayonnaise jars from when they were made of glass. Now also, Mexican 1 liter jars from Mexican goat's milk caramel.

The U.S.D.A. germ police are throwing up their hands in horror. But tomatoes are high acid and very forgiving, as is fruit. I've never known a jar that sealed properly to go bad. You do this at your own risk, of course. Today one of the jars didn't seal because I'd cross-threaded the ring, but that one just went into the refrigerator to be the first one used.

Mrs. RRR and I each have a half cup of home made tomato juice each morning. I also have one each night. It also makes wonderful tomato soup and I use it for making The World's Best Chili.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina Touched

The RRR returns to work tonight at the hospital for the first time since his trip to the desert. The tragedy in New Orleans happened while we were on our journey and cut off from communication. It has had an unreal feel to it as though it happened on another planet. But then everything has felt unreal. As though the time in the wilderness was crystal and the world here is fuzzy and out of focus. I felt no connection with victims.

I had just arrived at work when an emergency call came over the radio, "Code Green!" and the hospital unit name. "Code Green" is hospital talk for Psychiatric Emergency. It means someone is out of control and help is needed. My friend James from the previous shift and I rushed up to the floor. In the bed was an emaciated African-American gentleman. The nurse addressed him by my name. There is power in naming and we shared that power. He was a refugee from New Orleans. He had been highly agitated and needed a shot of tranquilizer and had threatened to tear out the I.V. if she injected it.

I introduced myself as also being Mr. ******. He sat with his hands folded in front of him. I took them in mine and held them and told him the medication is safe and would help him. I told him that I have given it dozens of times without ill effect. I told him I would take it willingly myself should it be necessary. As I talked the other nurse injected it into his I.V. line, then turned up the speed on the pump to get it into his system. The communication flowed through our hands as the medicine was flowing into him. Suddenly this man and I, brothers of name were in the crystal focus and the surrounding security guards and others who had answered the call retreated into the unreality of the current world.

When I knew the medication was in, I wondered when it would be safe to let go of his hands. The nurse said to him, "You should be all right now, you can lay down." With great personal dignity he stated in a lovely liquid southern black accent, "I prefer to sit up, thank you". I knew he was safe and let go. Katrina had touched him and he had touched me. I came back to my own floor amazed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Desert Rat Ranger

The River Rat Ranger has been off line for almost a month. There have been inquiries by phone, email, and on the blog, even one from a Ranger Reader and fellow blogger in Malaysia! But now the truth can be told:
Mrs. RRR and I have since May sought to make a retreat to the wilderness to seek physical healing and spiritual renewal. May was when we found my Hepatitis C had returned despite the year on chemotherapy. We had two ideas of destinations, one was to head North to the Alaskan wilderness, the other to go south to Big Bend Texas to the deep desert.

On Tuesday, June 7th this quote was part of our daily devotions: “While the world rushes headlong to its doom with its fingers in its ears, the Lord says to His own, 'Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a while' (Gospel of St. Mark, 6:31)”. The die was cast and we sat our eyes on one of the last wild, empty spots in the continental United States. The experience changed both of us. Over the next weeks I will write in detail of the adventure. In a way the story starts in the 1830's.

A famous mountain man upon whose life the movie Jeremiah Johnson is based, is said to have spent much of his time scaling mountains in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Park regions and there would stand with the beauty of creation spread before him and shout to the Creator, “Almighty God, look at what you made!”. Likewise, several weeks ago, after a trek on foot through burning desert, I stood in the pool below a waterfall and with the water from the rock pounding down on me like hail, raised my arms to heaven and shouted with tears running down my face, “Almighty God, look at what you made!” Should I not be healed and Hepatitis claim me tomorrow, I will recognize him in an instant as the one into whose face I looked that day. That moment validated the whole journey for the both of us. You will read more about our trip as time goes on.