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Giant Black Schnoodle

January 10, 2019

We drove to Deer Lodge to receive a puppy—some kind of poodle mix that doesn’t shed—for Bob and Heather.  Melva is quite large and gambols about.  Gunther remains unimpressed.  She’s a big 2 and 1/2-month-old who pooped and peed in our kitchen, then on the rug in our dining room.  I put her into the backyard, but she managed to squeeze partway through our metal fence.  Luckily, I heard her crying.  Her hips were stuck and I walked her legs on through.  

I added chicken wire on the inside, fastened with plastic zip ties.  She cried when I went indoors, so I put Gunther back there to keep her company.  Gunther headed into his little doghouse.  Melva, however, quit crying.  At first.  Oops, I just heard a yip.  Penny went to investigate.  She’s just standing in the backyard looking somewhat forlorn.  I’m bringing them both in.  

Plan:  to be careful when feeding her.  I’ll take her around the block on a leash soon as she finishes eating.  I’m not sure what to do about her peeing, other than to get her to the backyard every two hours.

Tale of Christmas


March 6, 2012

Private First Class Carl Ralph Bonde Jr, died Christmas Eve, 1944, along with 762 of his fellow Americans when a U-boat torpedo sank the Belgian troop ship, the SS Leopoldville in the English Channel.  Bonde, or “Bud,” as his mother and sisters called him, was just 21.

How many times have I tried to say those words in order to explain the early death of Bud, my only maternal uncle?

I don’t know who took this picture of Bud in front of his house in Kalispell, probably in the winter of 1943 or early 1944.

I never even met Bud.  It’s hard to say when I first became aware that he ever existed.  Could have been something I overheard at my grandparents’ house when they played bridge with my mother and her sisters.  In those days the grownups  (but not grandma) smoked heavily and drank whiskey when they played bridge.  All of these adults, with the possible exception of my grandpa, were college educated and absolutely none was overly sentimental.  That is, as long as you don’t count being bitterly angry and chronically depressed as being sentimental.  They were Norwegians and they did not use euphemisms for death.  People died.  They did not pass away.  Bud’s photograph probably hung on a wall somewhere at our grandparents’ house in Kalispell, but no one told about him unless we young kids asked.  Bud’s presence was inextricably part of his parents’ Victorian house.  Are you ready for this?  It and a garage stood alone on top of a hill on the outskirts of Kalispell, Montana.  Like the vampire castle in Transylvania.  This is so corny I am ashamed to say it.  I have to say that I don’t think the place was considered to be valuable real estate when they bought it.  The house was probably 50 years old and the indoor plumbing consisted of one short water line.  Now that I think about it, I don’t know where their water came from. My cousin said from a well. I do remember that the water heater was electric and stood in grandma’s rectangular kitchen on the side near the clothes washer.  Once we heard the cat yowling and grandpa stopped the washing machine, opened the door, and gingerly pulled some sopping clothes from the tub.  No cat.  Somehow, the cat had gotten into the machine enclosure where the motor was.  I don’t know why the cat was there, perhaps grandpa had pulled off a panel and replaced it.

Our grandparents’ attracted all my cousins each summer.  Grandma baked the usual pies and rolls until they were nearly black.  Grandpa smoked and spit and puffed through pursed lips.  He kept his liquor down at the barn, a bottle of whiskey that I tasted once and ran and ran because it burned.  He gave us money.  However, the house itself sucked us in because of its rundown majesty and, at the bottom of the hill, its creek—Ashley Creek—and the woods across the bridge.  Grandpa had five acres with outbuildings: a root cellar, chicken coop, storage shed (that none of us ever entered), barn and a long skinny garage.  I’ll get back to the storage shed and chicken coop later.

The pig wire fence around their acreage had huge fat spiders that would give you the willies whenever you tried to climb over or through.  There were places, like near the chicken coop, where the fence had a hole to crawl through and meet a spider.  Grandpa and grandma had garter snakes, sometimes hundreds of them dripping off a rock retaining wall.  Their place had apple trees that grandpa painted the trunks with whitewash to keep the ants off.  Grandpa said the lime was one of the powders he and I would need to make our own wet cement.  Otherwise we would need some cement and sand.  And water, too.  We never made cement.

We cousins played outdoors and indoors and we often found evidence that Uncle Bud had been there.  There were fishing poles, and lures with treble hooks on shelves above the workbench in the garage.  The garage always smelled of gas and oil.  It was long and skinny with four windows at the back end, all on the south side, none on the end.  The door on the west end was hard to open, so it generally stayed open.  (I don’t have to remember the garage so carefully because I found a photograph of it, taken from the vicinity of the barn at the bottom of the hill.)

We cousins figured the adults were hiding something.  Of course we were right.  Adults are always hiding something.  Should I start in telling how I took a tape measure to the interior walls of the Kalispell house to locate the hidden rooms where they kept the corpse?  Otherwise, what happened to Bud?  The ceilings were so high, perhaps 10 feet.  In the hallway were built in closets and cabinets up close to the ceiling.  This house was no bungalow, but a big, square wooden frame house that seemed to center around the wood furnace with gravity flow air heating.  When grandpa had the fire going good in the winter the house smelled of pine wood smoke and I could huddle over one of the silent grates with warmth drifting up and play with my toys and grandma’s cat.  She named it “Ting Ting,” or some such nonsense.  Everyone, even she, called it “Kitty.”  Kitty was a great companion for me.

My mother told me about her little brother Buddy whenever we sat on our couch in Missoula to turn the stiff black pages through her photo album.  I was not old enough to read, but she showed me pictures of Bud as a five-year-old dressed in some sort of two-piece bathing suit with stripes that made him look silly like a little convict.  He was outdoors in glaring sunlight and had an umbrella and a sly grin.  The picture was taken at one of the houses his folks rented in town before they got the big place on the hill.  Kalispell gets especially hot in the summer and Bud was being squirted with a hose.  He looked bright and cheerful, almost maniacal!  My mother’s reaction to seeing her little brother’s photograph added to my impression of profound loss because I could see my mother’s grief through her stoicism.  My mother dearly loved Bud and she was my best source of information about him.

The striking thing about the photographs of Bud was their paucity.  All were on just the one page.  There was the picture of the happy five-year-old next to a teenager smoking a cigarette; then he was pictured in an Army uniform in several more.  At last one showed him with a hunting rifle.  It was snowy.  After that, no other pictures.  My mother made no secret that he was soldier who died.

My own childhood calamity had come in 1953 when I was four when my father died of brain cancer.  I remember crying in my bed nights the way children do.  My mother had me say ritual prayers and we talked about my father’s death (he died, but his spirit lives on).  This segued to talking about Bud’s death (a dead soldier who was such a good private that he was private first class).   My grandma often referred to empty bottles as “dead soldiers” with no irony at all.

I think just about every child in the early 1950s played “army.”  My friends and I played army in our back yards and alleys and basements often.  Even the older kids let us play army because we could be the Germans.  Many neighbors had dads and uncles in the war.  That distinction gave them authority to direct play.  For my part I told them about Uncle Bud, and even though I didn’t have much information about him, I got to join in the play with the character “Uncle Bud.”  He was a tough army man, or something.  It was okay to just make up the rest of the heroic story, as long as the good guys beat the Germans.  The neighbor boys had dads who survived the war and even if the dads didn’t have much to say about their experiences, they invariably had guns or other gear—souvenirs tucked away in cabinets or drawers somewhere.  We boys sometimes made the rounds on the weekdays when the adult men were at work.  I only had photographs of Bud.  (“See? He is marching with a hunting rifle!”)  My dead Dad (yes, that’s how I referred to him in elementary school when speaking with friends) had not been a soldier, nor had his father.  His grandfather, George Struckman, had been a soldier for the North in the Civil War.  My mother kept the civil war pistol hidden during my army-playing years.  It turned out to be excellent for playing cowboy once I had found out where she kept it hidden up in the closet.

Bud’s absence made a sort of hole in the fabric of reality, especially when we cousins stayed at our grandparents’ in Kalispell.  We kept finding stuff of his that we couldn’t explain.  In the garage we found boxes of large bullets that did not appear to fit our grandpa’s rifle.  We had a ritual of two steps:  declare them our property (done) and take them apart by closing the projectile end into the vise and simply breaking it free of the brass casing.  Done.  Oh, I almost forgot the third and best step of all:  lay the casing with gunpowder onto the oil-soaked wood of the garage floorboard, make the powder spill out perhaps an inch out, and light the powder with a match!  The powder would burn with a white-hot flare, hesitate a moment while it burned into the brass, then … POP!  The primer within the brass would explode.

At first just my cousin Mike Judd and I did this.  Many times.  Then we invited Mike’s brother Carl, two years older than we.  He liked burning the bullet too, although he was chicken to try it until we showed him how.  Then we invited David, the next oldest.  He also liked it.  Then we invited the four oldest:  Tom, Dick, Blaine, and Carol.   By this time the adults found out what we were doing and we got a stern warning to stay the hell away from the bullets.  Grandpa was too wheezy to get after us, so the duty usually fell to Corinne, our eldest and most authoritative aunt.  The consequence of doing dangerous “dumb stunts” was never a spanking, just a few words of warning followed by a declaration of how we frightened them.  All this while Bud’s presence was … not there.  And yet he seemed to have recently been there the way my mother could tell that I had been recently watching television when I was supposed to be home from school sick in bed, pretending to be asleep.  “Still warm,” she said, placing her hand on the set.  I was not only pretending to sleep, but the civil war pistol was under the covers with me.  In pieces, of course.

Our basement in Missoula smelled strongly of gasoline because of the motor scooter I took apart.  The scooter came from Kalispell, from Ted, the kid who lived across the road from my grandparents.’  Ted’s dad had been a soldier in WW II and Ted’s dad was so frightening that none of us dared to speak to him.  Ted did all the talking (out of his dad’s hearing, of course).  According to Ted, all motors worked because of mysterious things called “coils.”  This seemed patently false to me.  I never repeated this nonsense to anyone else, especially not my grandpa.

Grandpa spent much of his days in his reclining chair because he had a hard time catching his breath from emphysema.  This made him ideal for any sort of game that didn’t require him to move.  He also had a tobacco can about three-fourths full of pennies.  I was not aware of the second world war until I found steel/zinc pennies in amongst the copper.  The 1943 pennies were minted from steel because the government needed the copper for ammunition for World War II, grandpa told me.  I also found a book about the army.  The wall in the sitting room had a floor to ceiling built-in bookcase that ran clear across the wall from room corner to doorway.  The ceiling was really high, all lath and plaster, so the uppermost shelves were nearly inaccessible.  Well, inaccessible when an adult was in the room.  When I was alone I could climb up there like a monkey, of course, and I often did.  That’s how I found the book about “Infantry Tactics and Training.”  Not only did the book once belong to Buddy, but also Buddy built the bookshelves.  My grandfather had unknowingly increased my knowledge several times over about Bud.  And there was a photograph in a desk drawer in the parlor, over by the piano.  It had been folded, but an aunt, probably, told us that Bud was a member of whatever Army unit that was.  “Where is he?” we asked.  We searched the faces until we found one that someone had circled with a pencil.  That was him!  The pencil made a sort of dent in the glossy surface of the photograph, so you had to sort of hold it to see how the light reflected.  “That’s Buddy,” went the word as it spread through all of us cousins

I am tempted to declare that Bud’s bedroom upstairs was kept intact, exactly the way it had been the day he left for war.  Unfortunately, my grandparents had a chimney fire and the room was damaged by smoke and water.  In fact, one winter I helped a mason clean up mortar he dropped on the floor when he was making chimney repairs.  Perhaps that’s why I hounded my grandpa to help me mix up a batch of wet cement.  I overheard my grandparents talk about how grandpa’s Norwegian friend noticed the fire when he was coming to visit them.  For some reason, grandma seemed to resent the friend who saved their home.  Was the problem that he and grandpa spoke Norwegian and she did not?  Did she really want her house to burn down?  I doubt if she did.  In fact, she and grandpa remodeled a sunroom on the southwest corner of their house.  Now I wonder if they used the US government insurance money from Bud’s death?

Nothing about this story is simple or easy.  Bud’s absence, like his presence, was ethereal, hard to grasp.  We did have pictures of him.  We did have the things he owned as a boy.  Why couldn’t we meet him?  Why couldn’t we go hunting and fishing with him?  I got involved with Bud more recently during the past 11 years.  I didn’t even realize how much his person meant to me until I found myself on the front porch of a house that had been built on the site of Bud’s childhood home trying to explain to a freckled frightened looking 12-year-old why I wanted to get some dirt from his driveway.

I tried to tell him in as few words as I could that my uncle grew up where he lived and he died on Christmas in 1944 in the English Channel and I wanted to get some dirt and put it in the water there.  For him.  I started to cry.  I hadn’t rehearsed my speech for the lad, or even thought how I was going to ask.  The boy looked sort of shocked.

“Sure, mister, go ahead and help yourself,” he said.

An unfortunate occurrence required a desperate move

December 19, 2019

At a quarter to six yesterday morning I kept my appointment with my psychiatrist for followup after he stopped all three of my antidepressants.  He said I was doing well and did not any further followup with him.

Don’t get me wrong, here.  I didn’t just quit my meds.  He tapered me off them one at a time, excruciatingly slowly.  Like over a year.  Turns out I felt better than I did before I suffered my bout with depression, which started, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago.  I feel sharper, somehow. He said other people had a similar experience.

I strongly recommend anyone with persistent sadness to talk to their doctor about getting help.  Depression is not trivial, you knew that.  I was in denial, though.  Doesn’t everyone feel sad sometimes?  Sure.  Doesn’t everyone self talk about what an asshole they are?  Sure.  Not constantly, though. Meds got me by.

What about anxiety? asked my doctor.  I reflected on the anxiety I felt about getting my wife a Christmas gift.  However, the anxiety will abate once I find her something.  I told him that, yeah, I have some anxiety, but it is not crippling the way it is for some people.  Anyway, he said I am good to go, but I should phone his office if I have depressed feelings that last for two weeks or more. I told him I have him on speed dial.

Brings me to my morning.  I sat in my pajamas as I listened to a program of NPR Christmas tunes on P’s computer until about 8, then got dressed for Gunther’s morning walk.  We made it to the end of the block where I snapped a photo of a persistent rabbit, a wild neighborhood bunny who blends in well with the lawn there.  A few steps more and Gunther did an enormous poop (for him.  You know, a decent handful) which I caught in one of the plastic bags I bought from Petsmart.  I get them in lots of 360 each.  They come on little rolls.  I made a dispenser, five dowels drilled into a board.  Each dowel holds two rolls of bags.  But I digress, as usual.

I plopped the knotted bag of Gunther’s poop into a dumpster in the alley, then snapped a photo of a graffiti’d garage.  Realism, I thought.  I shared it on Fb.  We had been out of town for a week, so I figured I’d continue the rest of the way around the block to see if anything had changed.  I picked up a bit of litter along the sidewalk.  “Service is the rent we pay for living on the world,” I recalled my high school English teacher saying.

Gunther kept wanting to veer onto the lawns, the way he does when he has to poop.  I thought, hey! He already pooped and I already used the one bag.  I pulled him back to the sidewalk.  Gunther persisted, so finally, I let him have his way and sure enough, he hunkered down.

He started to poop again just as the front door opened and a man stepped out.  He glanced toward me. “Nice,” he said, not smiling as he walked toward the street.

“Good morning,” I chirped, and in desperation, I grabbed up Gunther’s second enormous poop with my bare hand.  Well, I couldn’t just leave it there could I? I had nothing else to pick it up. I couldn’t even use any of the litter in my pocket because the bits were too small. I smiled in the direction of the man, but he wasn’t looking. He crossed the street. Maybe he didn’t live there? I felt a twinge of remorse that I had defiled my hand.

The poop was well-formed and warm, luckily.  I tried not to think about it as I picked up yet another small bit of paper from along the sidewalk.  I knew I could drop Gunther’s work into another dumpster when I passed the alley again on the other end of the block.  This I did, then I wiped my poopy hand on somebody’s lawn. The lawn of the woman with the crazy teenage son. I still had brown residue on my hand.

When we got home I faced another challenge, to take off my coat without getting any bits of poo from my hand in the sleeve.  I satisfied myself that if I made a fist no poop would rub off.  Man.  I am sorry to be writing this.  Am I depressed? I don’t think so. Not now. I mean, I could have told the man I’d return to pick up the turds. That was P’s idea when I told her my story.

In the end I didn’t make a fist, but I sort of formed my hand into a claw to keep the poop from getting into my sleeve. 

I carefully washed my hands twice, but I’m not eating any toast until I wash them again.

Steamship — rock?

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Gunther behaves like a dog.

December 4, 2018

Years ago I heard about someplace north of town called “Steamboat” or something like that, a cool place to visit on a dry and sunny day in December.  We had a wild hair so we headed up through the heights of Billings to highway 312, then we took the road through Shepherd, then to Ah Nei.  It is on BLM land, divided into a large portion open to OHVs (we had an argument about what that stands for.  I think it is Off Highway Vehicles.)  We passed the huge parking lot (empty) and maybe five miles north we came to another parking lot with picnic tables and an outhouse.  This portion of Ah Nei was signed to allow for horses, hikers, and bicycles, but not for motorized vehicles.  We immediately ate our lunch.  At one of the picnic tables.  We turned toward the sunshine and away from the wind.  It was, like, 34 degrees.  Gunther drank a little from a new water bottle we bought him.

Gunther’s water bottle, the “Gulper,” is ingeniously made to allow us to dispense a drink of water into a sort of fold-out basin.  Today, Gunther did not gulp.  In fact, he didn’t drink very much at all of the few drops of water we squeezed into the Gulp’s reservoir.  Afterward, Gunther hung around my feet, hoping some of my Sriracha chicken Pita Pit would fall near him.  In fact, some of the wrap did fall.  I noted jalapeños fell, but I don’t think Gunther scarfed.

P. and I walked the perimeter of the area east of the road, then followed a pair of ruts on the larger west side.  We saw some prairie dogs (we think.   I used to shoot at gophers, and maybe the varmints we saw were gophers?)  Anyway, Gunther didn’t chase the varmints.

After Ah Nei we drove north to highway 12.  Our check tire pressure light went on, so we drove to Roundup, then back to Billings.  I’ll check out our tires tomorrow.

 

Lobbying Congress for Veterans Issues

November 17, 2018

If you are a military veteran you might be interested in helping with public advocacy for veterans issues.  I can vouch that you don’t have to be a war hero.  Okay, sure.  It’s not for everyone.

Here’s what happened to me, definitely no war hero, but nonetheless a military veteran.

You see, a couple months ago, Rick Hegdahl, who works for Vets Vote on the West Coast somewhere, phoned me to help make a TV ad of veterans endorsing Montana Senator Jon Tester for re-election.  Tester is a senior senator for veteran’s affairs, endorsed by Vets Vote.  Rick got my name from my son Bob, speech writer for the AFL-CIO union in DC.  I guess these guys often talk to each other.

Well, my wife P. and I had been door knocking for several months for Tester, so I emailed Rick a copy of my official military discharge certificate DD214.  (evidence I was a bona fide veteran).  Rick also got a brief biography of my military service.  I didn’t provide many details of my seven years as a soldier with the marines.  I worked in supply.  That’s what I said on camera too.. . . Hmm.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t use me in the TV ad.  They had a Korean War veteran and they used him.

Although I enlisted during the war in Vietnam, I didn’t tell Rick that I never went there, although my DD 214 had that information.  

In fact, my family and I lived during the 1970s in Orange County, California.  Military pay was low so I delivered the Orange County Register before work as a supply sergeant at the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro.  I repaired volkswagens too, but only for transportation.  We finally saved enough money to make the move back to Montana.

Like I said, Vets Vote did not use me in their TV ad, so I didn’t get famous for that, although it was a cool experience.  There was a sound guy who held a boom with a microphone that looked like a giant caterpillar.  A director kept having me repeat my speech about being a veteran and whether a given candidate supports veterans’ issues.  Another guy fixed up this huge white reflector and an American flag was set up behind me.  Someone had me sign a release and another person tossed a sandbag on the ground where I was supposed to stand for the camera.  They worked me for about half an hour.

Anyway,  a couple weeks ago Rick gave my name to Garett Reppenhagen, a combat veteran who works for Vets Voice Foundation out of Colorado.  Vets Voice is a non-profit to promote military veterans’ political involvement.  They often visit DC to lobby.  I couldn’t pass it up.  I like military veterans and I like public lands.

Back before this trip to DC, Garett asked me for a brief military biography.  This time I painted a more realistic picture of my service in the Marines, plus my service as a commissioned officer in the US Public Health Service.  

I thought my honesty would disqualify me from making the trip with Vets Voice.  I didn’t want to misrepresent myself.

Would they reject me for being lack luster?  People know I can take being rejected for being authentic.  Besides, I was a member of the Billings Symphony Chorale and I knew I would miss rehearsals during the concert production week, and thus be unfit to sing with them.

To my surprise, Garett said I was good to go.

Here’s what I had sent him for a bio:

  • I enlisted as Private in the USMC November 23, 1969, at Butte, Montana.
  • Trained at MCRD San Diego, Camp Pendleton, and Millington, Tennessee.
  • In Tennessee, at Captain’s Mast for AWOL, I struck my commanding officer in the face when he dared me to do it.
  • I was convicted of assault at court martial, but the conviction was reversed the following year by the U.S. Court of Military Appeals.  (Do a web search: Daniel Robert Struckman v. The United States of America).  I was permitted to remain in the Marines in the mean time, while my case was under appeal.  The conviction was stricken from my record.
  • Assigned to supply section of HMM-161 helicopter squadron in Santa Ana, California.
  • Deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, for 12 months with Marine Air Base Squadron 12 supply.
  • On return to the US, assigned to Third Marine Aircraft Wing supply, El Toro, California.
  • Reenlisted in 1973.  Continued as wing-level supply sergeant for Third Marine Aircraft Wing.
  • Honorably discharged as E-6 (Staff Sergeant) from USMC in September, 1976.
  • Studied journalism and pharmacy at the University of Montana using GI Bill.
  • Commissioned as US Public Health Service Lieutenant in 1988, assigned to pharmacy in Lame Deer, Montana, Indian Health Service Clinic.  Also served as pharmacist at IHS Hospital at Crow Agency.
  • Retired as USPHS O-6 (Captain) in 2005.

I loved hanging with about a dozen other military veterans.  This diverse group ranged in age from about 30 to 70.  They were of many races and national origins.  Most were men, but we had two women, both marines.  Many had lost buddies in such places as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. One man from Southern California grieved for friends lost in the recent shooting in Ventura.  

We lingered at war memorials listing the names of our soldiers killed in action.  I saw tears well and heard voices break at the memorials,  all the while we stamped and shifted in the cold and snow that hit DC.  Seemed like we were always walking to offices miles apart, then waiting in office building hallways.  I don’t know how many times we went for coffee while we waited 45 minutes until our next appointment with a senator’s staffer.  How many trips to the rest rooms (which in these DC buildings had marble floors, walls and fixtures).

We wore suits and ties for our visits on capitol hill.  Dress-up clothes weren’t warm enough for the freezing weather in DC, but I thought we looked damned respectable.  We hurried cross campus to stay warm.  After the outdoor exertions we got into a senate office to sweat profusely.  I didn’t know lobbying was such an athletic endeavor.

We went to lobby members of congress to (1) permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to (2) get dedicated permanent funding for it, on parity with other such federal projects, such as funding for the backlog of maintenance for the national parks.  

We found support both from Republican Senator Steve Daines and from Democrat Senator Tester.  Well, we didn’t actually speak with the senators, who were in session at the Capitol.  We spoke with their various staff members.  Turns out most of the senators and representatives support veterans and support the LWCF because there is hardly a county in the US that hasn’t received funds for improving battlefields and local park infrastructure, to provide access to islands of public lands surrounded by private.  

Like I said, before I spoke to Garett I had never heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  Turns out it had been funded for more than 50 years by offshore oil and gas royalties.  Recently the LWCF has lapsed.  

Our mission was to lobby senators and representatives to reinstate LWCF permanently through authorization and dedicated funding, preferably during the congressional lame-duck session.  A staffer in House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office assured us the LWCF was one of the four top priorities for public land legislation.

One of us reminded a congressional staffer that our military veterans had unselfishly sacrificed themselves for the United States of America and many were passionate about outdoor issues, especially preserving access to public lands—lands which accessibility had been paid for by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The American people owe a debt to veterans, he said.

People who have read many posts in this blog, know that I have been for years an ardent hiker along with my spouse P, and eager dog, Gunther.  People know how I struggle with depression.  We walk the dog, I pick up his poop.  In DC I still had a couple of poop bags in my pockets.

Walking our dog Gunther on the primitive trails in Two Moon Park aided my recovery from depression.  Oh yes, prescriptions and the attention of a psychiatrist as coach.  (I don’t know if Gunther alone would have been enough therapy for my recovery, but I am sure he helped.)

As you know, my psychiatrist has tapered me off all the antidepressants, a process that took, perhaps, a year.  I murmur, “Gunther.”

Because now I continue to rely on Gunther and our walks in the parks on trails using roads and parking lots paid for, in part, by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  That’s right.  I found a list on line of the projects in Montana, listed by county, funded by LWCF.  Almost every of our 56 counties has been benefitted.

In DC I learned that my struggle with post-military mood disorders was common among veterans.  I wasn’t alone.  We know depression is potentially lethal.  We often hear of veterans committing suicide.

Our leader, Garett, told us that upon returning to the United States after his combat tour as an army sniper, he drove to a wilderness trailhead, then spent two weeks hiking by himself in nature to get his life back together.  He said he benefitted and wanted to help other veterans.

Garett told how he guided a group of military veterans to Alaska to fly in to the interior to canoe back through the wilderness.  

Other veterans told me about how hiking and camping in primitive natural areas was essential to their readjustment.  Could be Alaska, could be Nevada, Colorado or Montana.  For me it was the city parks in and around Billings, Montana.  Also other places, like the LWCF-funded improvements to Lone Pine State Park near Kalispell, Montana.  Last memorial day we discovered Lone Pine after visiting the WWII memorial at Conrad Cemetery where my uncle Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr.’s name is listed.  His nickname was “Bud,” like the name of this blog.

I have a new appreciation for mundane things.  Things one might overlook,  like short gravel roads and parking lots, features that are too expensive for many municipalities to build, but can become realities with the LWCF moneys.  Yet there are many projects remaining, hence the need for the permanent re-authorization of the LWCF.  I am thinking of the Terry Badlands in Eastern Montana, worth visiting, but I was told by someone who lives near there, that you need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to get near enough to hike there.  I can think of other important outdoor places that have no public easement, being islands of public land, surrounded by private land with fences and “no trespassing” signs.

Soon as I’m done with writing a draft of this, P., Gunther, and I are headed to a primitive riverside park a few miles away that was improved through a $20 thousand grant to improve access.

Are you depressed? Here’s how it went for me.

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Gunther, emotional supporter.

October 24, 2018

Two days after my mother’s birthday.  She would have been 106.  

Domestic front:  About two weeks ago my psychiatrist finished tapering me off all my antidepressant medications.  I was on three such meds for several–I don’t know, five?– years. 

I don’t know what happened to make me ill.  Well, maybe I do have a few theories, but I was in a pit of despair for a couple years there.  At the time, one friend told me to “get the fuck in to see someone” about my depressed, suicidal mood.  Gee!  A grandson even phoned me to tell me he would always be available to talk with me if I felt hopeless.

I shared my diagnosis and experience on this blog.

How am I now?  I fear the return of the sadness and anxiety.  Oh yes.  My psych told me to phone him if things got too rough and I felt I needed help.  Yep, I almost phoned him during the first week when I wasn’t taking meds, but hey!  If I can swim through life without water wings, I’d love that.  I’m swimming!  Yeah.  The world still has to cope with a fascist president, global warming, homelessness, racism, but I can still enjoy the fall weather when I walk Gunther, my dog.  This morning I saw a cat drinking from a birdbath.

My memories of that tumultuous time, years ago, of maximum depression are mixed around in my mind like swirling colors of paint in a can, but I recall profoundly hurting, but not the physical kind of pain.  I don’t remember even what I did with my days then.  I wrote in my blog, I walked the dog.  Gunther was a great and enduring comfort to me.  I guess I took more than my share of naps.

I strongly recommend people who even suspect they might be depressed get in to see a medical doctor for anti depression medication and to get a pet.  In either order.  A scrappy, scruffy-looking dog worked for me, but you might need a different species.

A friend brought me over a vest for my dog, Gunther, proclaiming him to be an emotional support animal, or “ESA.”  My psychiatrist wrote me a letter in support, but he stopped short of advocating Gunther accompany me inside a grocery, or even on an airplane.

My oldest son asked me if a blind person needs a dog inside a store, to which I replied yes.  Then he asked me if I needed Gunther in order to go in the store.  You can guess my answer.  No.

In hindsight, I feel fortunate I had topnotch medical care available to me.  Any doctor appointments are hard enough to get, but in Billings, Montana,  psychiatric care is damned near impossible (I’ve heard of people having to wait, like, more than six months for a first appointment), and if my doctor hadn’t referred me to a psychiatrist, I doubt if I’d been able to get in to see one.  He referred me to a psychiatrist because I scared even him.  He said I needed a specialist.  My internist had me on two antidepressants but they didn’t seem to work.

As it was, I got a psych appointment in just a few weeks, although I frequently had to take appointments at odd times, like at 6:30 or 7 a.m.  Those days I stood on the icy steps of the psychiatric center waiting for someone to unlock.  I didn’t dare miss an appointment.  I had heard of people getting fired by their psychiatrist after missing one appointment.

Thanks to my internist I had been on Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, for several years before I went in to see the psychiatrist the first time.  My internist had tried adding first Celexa, then Prozac, to the Wellbutrin, but I felt by turns, no better, then terrible, antsy, nervous, crazy.  My internist referred me out.  He said he didn’t have the experience to tinker.

The psych stopped all but the Wellbutrin, then added Effexor, then had me return in a month.  In many later visits, he adjusted the Effexor, then added Abilify.  

These products are not merely brand names for me, but they have specific properties that work in a variety of ways on the central nervous system.  A lot of it is theoretical and molecular.  The thing is, if a drug has an effect on dopamine, that outcome on dopamine is at most “nice” or “interesting.”  The real outcome of interest, which is hard to gather into data for a study, is if a drug has an effect on whether a person commits suicide.  I call that a compelling outcome.  The nattering about serotonin and whatnot holds little importance for me, but psychiatrists find those concepts useful.

Whenever I talked on the phone about the specifics of my medications, a couple of my family members would chime in about their experiences with their psychiatric meds.  Whoa!  We aren’t talking about whether rhubarb pie is better than apple.  Each person’s experience is bound to be different.  I press home the concept of having a psychiatrist or other qualified practitioner be the coach.  My job (as patient) is to do my best, but the coach is, well, the coach.  Teamwork.

I realize people and the medications they take react together uniquely.  Also, a combination that works well for a person at one time in their life may not work at another juncture.  People change as they age, also the cumulative effects of prescriptions also makes people change.  Ain’t we something?

There are protocols these days for prescribing other kinds of drugs, such as cardiovascular medications, based on data from tens of thousands of people studied for 10-20 years with defensible study endpoints. Like comparison of patient deaths from any cause.  Hard to argue with data like that.  Of course, patient survival isn’t necessarily the most important thing, but if one is taking high blood pressure or cholesterol pills, one can respect an outcome like that.  (Doesn’t address whether the life is tolerable or not.)  Also doesn’t address other aspects of the study.  Are we looking at men? Women? Over age 80? You get the idea.  At least there is scientific evidence to consider with care.

On the other side, psychiatric medicine combinations do not have many large, long, studies, so individual psychiatrists must fly by the seats of their pants.  Well, there are certain pearls of clinical lore, for example:  If one treats the side effect of a medication with another medication, it might (but not always) be a prescription for trouble.  

Depends on their training.  Some psychiatrists believe in dosing a marginally effective prescription up to its maximum before switching to something else.  Medical lore.  A pharmacist I know who has clinical privileges in Billings based some of her choice of med on the effectiveness, as well of the cost to the patient, preferring older generics over newer drugs only available as a patented brand-name product.  An added benefit of her method of using older drugs was the increasing availability of clinical evidence based on many providers’ experiences.  

Back to my experience.  After perhaps a year on the triple antidepressant formula I had gained about 40 lbs, mostly around my belly.  I’ve been skinny most of my life, but psychiatric medications are notorious for weight gain.  The worst for me was the prescription med, Abilify.  Many times I lay awake at 3 a.m. thinking about food before going to the kitchen for a couple bowls of cereal and four packages of ramen noodles.  No, the Abilify is but a tiny, low calorie, pill.  The getting up in the night with a craving for food is a common symptom that I didn’t know how to handle.  Still don’t.  I still have a lot of fat on my belly, but I hope now that I’m not taking psych meds the fat will go away.  I think it will not go away.  

About a year ago my psychiatrist came up with the idea to taper me off all the antidepressants.  I was apprehensive, but he had me return every month while he discontinued first the Rexulti (a brand-name only Abilify-like drug, purportedly causing less appetite increase.  Oh yeah.  Rexulti cost about $15 for a daily pill), then the Wellbutrin, then the Effexor.  He tapered the Effexor over three months.  Like I said, I finished the taper just over two weeks ago.

The good news is I feel well, so far.  I’m thinking that since these antidepressants took more than a month to start working, they may well take that long to stop.  I’ll check myself frequently for the next two weeks, until I visit my psychiatrist again.

He warned me that with each dose decrease of Effexor I’d experience symptoms similar to having a bad cold.  Malaise, mostly.  Sure enough, but those symptoms lasted just a few days, but they were pronounced.

I spoke to my sister Carol yesterday by phone.  I told her about a great opera singer I heard Sunday who sang so magnificently I wept.  To the point where others were thrusting tissues at me as I soaked them one after another.  Carol told me my bladder was too close to my eyes.

What I did during the Vietnam War

65 Ralston

Believe me, although I joined the marines in the fall of 1969, I’ll spoil the story right away.  The most important thing I did was . . . I guess I’d better leave that up to you, the reader.  What a tumultuous time for me and for the rest of the country.  I was 20 years old.

I’ve told my story many times, including once to some friends of my late uncle Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., killed in World War II on Christmas Eve, 1944.  One of the elderly guys, a tall, lanky soldier like me, said I should have been decorated a hero.  Another, a Southern Gentleman, a retired heart surgeon, said I should have been shot.  Like that.  Kind of like my life has always gone.  Hard to know if any one episode constituted a win or a loss, even looking back over 40 or 50 years.

In 1969, during the months leading up to my marine corps enlistment, I quit college, broke up with a couple of girlfriends and hitchhiked north to work in Fairbanks, Alaska, for a carnival.  I thought I was lucky to get a job with the Golden Wheel Amusements.  Huh.  More like greasy wheel amusements.  The pay was $1.25/hour, so me and this other kid had to move steel carnival ride parts from the back of a truck three hours to earn enough money to buy a sandwich from a concession.  Steel parts, painted silver, caked with lots of grease.  The owner of the carnival company was from the deep south, and so were his permanent staff.  The ones I met were vocally racist.  They talked about murdering blacks if any tried to break into the carnival compound at night.  As far as I know, none did, but the carnival people bragged about carrying weapons.

One other young kid and I did unskilled labor, like I said, lugging steel carnival ride parts from the backs of trailers, then helping setting up the rides for the midway.  I don’t remember the kid’s name, but he had braces on his teeth and was from California.  We both worked for a 5-foot skinny southern guy, an ex-marine, named Benny.  In Fairbanks during July, the sky never quite goes dark, so we worked until Benny was too tired to keep awake.  Once there was a rainstorm and Benny and the kid and I sat in the cab of a semi to wait for it to quit.  We had been working a couple days without sleeping, so Benny nodded off.  You can bet the two of us caught some sleep too.

I had a rucksack with a sleeping bag, two pair underpants, a pair of jeans and a few shirts.  That’s when I discovered you didn’t have to launder your clothes to feel cleaner.  You wore a set until you couldn’t stand them, then changed into the other clothes that were once too filthy to wear, but now seemed a whole lot better than the ones you had on.  I did that day after day, sleeping in the cab of another carnival semi, washing up in a strangely deluxe public men’s room.  We both wore raggedy greasy coveralls we found in a pile in one of the semi trailers. Like the clothes in my rucksack, seemed there was always one set cleaner than the rest.

The California kid and I quit the carnival after about a week.  I had maybe $50 when we hitched rides south to Anchorage with some GIs from a nearby base.  I remember getting an earful of curses from the carnival owner when he paid us.  The guy had gotten into a dispute with the owner of the amusement park so he was packing up the rides and concessions and leaving early.  We wanted no part of that heavy work.  I suppose if they had offered to clean our filthy clothes. . . .