The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for August, 2013

Father’s love, Love’s Daughter.

Daughter plays upon the heath

Father’s watchful gaze beneath

Innocence a halo’s wreath

Kept aloof by sword and sheath

Daughter wayward flees

Climbs aloft amidst the trees

Sword cast down, abandoned seas

Father’s guard exchanged for pleas

Daughter love her Father gives

Daughter’s love and Grace forgives

Pain and sorrow, love outlives

Freeing love, hate falls captive

Father lets his daughter go

kiss a memory, free her soul

Child to Woman, heaven’s glow

Another child begins to grow

Father watches time pass by

Daughter’s love is grace’s eye

Wife and husband edified

Father’s love is testified

The Tragic Demise of an Innocent Trout

I still remember the way my little brother looked at me with sad, melancholy eyes the first time we went fishing. The stoic, shocked stare at what I had done haunts me like malevolent demon of shame.

 It was a fine, hot summer weekend, the sort that you can’t really get away from in Southern California, unless you flee to the beach or the mountains. We were a camping family, so we headed for the mountains. We weren’t rich folk, my dad was still a medical student, but we still took the time to get out, and were well prepared with tent, sleeping bags, and a mother who could conjure a good meal out of almost anything. On this fateful trip, we had left the house with dreams of going a big adventure further into the mountains. Upon arriving at our favorite site, though, we found it full. The adventure was spoilt! Being intrepid adventurers, my parents decided we would simply find another campground. We worked our way back down the mountainside full campground by full campground until we found ourselves at a small fishing campground, with a large puddle filled with hapless farm-raised fish, circling the puddle, awaiting their foregone fate. Normally we were above this kind of pandering commercialism, but we had left the house to camp, and by golly we were gonna spend the weekend out camping if it killed us.

There is much I don’t remember about this place. The memories of it are vague and fragmented, but one single event stands out as clear to me as if it were yesterday’s news. We had scarcely gotten camp set up before my brother and I realized that the proposition of fishing meant we had the opportunity to kill things with our bare hands, and possibly even eat them. All it took was walking over to the camp office, renting a pole and tackle, and waging war with the Murky Deep of the Puddle. With my dad facilitating, it wasn’t long before we were outfitted as steely-eyed killers. I, being of the ripe age of 8, needed no assistance, and in no time had managed to throw two hooks into the pond. Sadly, the line had not followed. But eventually, I managed to get set up. I found myself a sprig of grass, imagined myself a straw hat, and lay back with the pole dangling into the water for oh, at least 23 seconds. I then realized that clearly, no fish were to be had here, and moved on. For reasons that escaped me, the fish didn’t flock to me as I hopped around the lake, throwing worms into the water and frothing the waters.

My little brother – 4 years younger – was infinitely more patient than I, and sat quietly with the rod set up for him, and while my dad went back to finish with camp. within a few minutes he had caught a fish. This was especially good news to me, as it relieved me of my requirement to actually sit still and fish, and instead went to my little brother’s rescue. My attention span being as short as they come, I had never caught a fish in my life, only read about it. My boyish hunter instincts told me that I was supposed to whack the fish on the head to stun it. I have no clue where I had gotten this idea, but action was required NOW, before this slimy wriggling package got away. Since my brother didn’t seem to know what to do with the monster of a fingerling he had reeled in, I took charge. I whacked that thing on the forehead with God’s Own Official Hammer – the pliers.

It kept wriggling.

I was nothing if not proud of my sense of determination, so I whacked it again. The fish clearly lacked the sense to die properly – it still moved. I popped that poor piscine forehead about 15 times with all the muscle my 8-year old big brother arms could muster. My dad saw the flailing from across the street and came jogging over to see what Sea Demon had attacked us.

What he found was my brother, standing in speechless horror as the first landed fish of his life was slowly being reduced to fertilizer before his young, innocent eyes. I explained, in frustrated tones, that the fish was still wiggling. He had approached the scene thinking that I was assaulting my brother’s fish in some sort of jealous fraternal rage. The realization that my violence was actually an act of brotherly love left him momentarily without a solution to the commotion. The fish hung limply from my determined grip, channeling the mother of all migraines with a dented forehead and still weakly wiggling with reflective determination. 

I stood before my father, and furtively tapped the fish’s forehead one last time trying to make it stop before having to explain to my dad why I could not seem to kill the thing. My brother stood, quietly grappling with the horror of an older brother who meant well. My father stood, trying his best to abide the parenting principle of never laughing at your child openly. In the end, we all failed miserably at our respective tasks.

I’ve had to grapple myself with this question of wanting to be helpful to others, and yet not smack their fish into metaphorical fertilizer. Over the last several years, my wife and I have volunteered to foster children with disabilities. Our own youngest son is disabled, and after years of struggling through the process of figuring him out, connecting with resources, navigating medical and education needs, we had the idea that the experience qualified us to help others. As it turns out, there is nothing that qualifies you ahead of time for those kinds of challenges. What keeps one child safe from himself has kept another child away from independence and freedom. Each child, each set of circumstances, is different from all the others. The only qualifications that have gotten us through the misunderstanding, and the pain of being misunderstood, is an open mind – a willingness to understand the next set of challenges differently than the last, and compassion.

My wife has supplied more compassion to the world than anyone else I have ever personally known. She taught me to care again after the circumstances of military service had left me unable to reach beyond my own self-interest. About the same time, the tragic demise of my brother’s trout – along with the years of endless retelling of the story at family gatherings and the inevitable mirth – finally began to sink in. My brother has forgiven me decades ago, but he still won’t let me touch his stuff. Between my wife’s example, and my brother’s forgiveness, I’ve learned to be cautious of assuming too much when the urge to help someone strikes.

After all, stunning is momentary, but pulverizing lasts forever.

Explaining the Gizmos

I can neither confirm nor deny that I may…or may not…have been born with an mischievous streak.  I’ve heard the whisperings, but to date, little evidence exists.  Well, there are two bits of evidence.  The first is a rare photo:

Innocent and pure as the driven snow

Innocent and pure as the driven snow

The second is a bit of anecdotal evidence:

So there I was, Sonar Supervisor on watch, in an undisclosed zone somewhere in the Atlantic, hundreds of feet below the surface, when a tightly-wound and naive O-gang non-qual comes sniffing around for signatures. He’s been in before, and frankly, isn’t picking up stuff as fast as he thinks he is. He wants to know what the gizmos in the back of the shack do, and by golly, I’m the guy to teach him, apparently,  He plops himself down in front of the BQR-25 and awaits his lesson. Me, being the all-wise-aleck 2nd-class that I was, sense a victim.

I commence to explain to him that this is a top-secret listening device connected to the towed array. The little crank-knob dial (which is for steering a virtual listening beam) I explain “actually turns the end of the array around in the ocean like a snake’s head, and can stick to the side of a Commie submarine with a suction cup hydrophone on the end.”

I feel his sense of wonder, and it’s pure fuel to me. Being aware that we only have one distant merchant contact at the time and no expectations of anything remotely entertaining, I begin to explain to him that we can listen to soviet wardroom conversations in the right conditions, right through their hull, by steering and attaching it via this steering knob. I quickly add that of course any such actual contact would be HIGHLY classified, and that sonar would instantly become an exclusion area – only people with “need to know” allowed, regardless of security clearance level. I set him to training the listening beam around with the crank knob, and hand him a set of headphones from out of the patch panel to practice with. I neglected to tell him that the phones he has are actually the secondary set for the main broadband stack – the one with the big hydrophone array in the front of the boat.
 At this point I nudge my aux operator at the front of the shack, who growls the TMOW, a good friend of mine who happens to know a few words of Russian If he stands between the torpedo tubes and talks real loud, he can be faintly heard on broadband. My aux operator surreptitiously fills him in on the SitRep.

Two minutes later the hapless nub’s eyes fly open, he throws the ‘phones at me, says,”I’m not supposed to be here!”, and disappears.

20 seconds later the Weps Officer is standing in sonar, finding us nearly in tears laughing.

Another minute later, the skipper shows up, looking alarmed, and finds all of us – now including the Weps – still laughing. I’ll give him credit, he really, really tried to keep a straight face.

Ah…good times!



Getting Coffee, two minutes ago.


USS Scorpion, SSN-589

So there I was, in the back of the Sonar shack of the USS Shark, SSN 591, conducting a secret safe inventory prior to getting underway. I’ll never forget that day. I was waist-deep in inventory sheets and publications, pressed against the back wall because someone with a left-handed brain and a right-handed manual had put the safe up side against the back wall, so that the door opened outward, at knee height. Being on a submarine, I was well-accustomed to odd storage in odd places, but this just defied stupidity. I had to essentially stand on my head holding a flashlight in my teeth to see anything inside, and because it was a secret safe, just hauling everything out and laying it on the floor was more or less frowned upon.
My Senior Chief, who was normally a pretty mellow guy, had gotten irritated with our Sonar Officer trying to tell him how we should do something while talking in the passageway outside the shack, so he went and hauled him into Sonar for a little “private counseling”. Neither saw me, there in the back up against the bulkhead halfway upside-down. Senior Chief came in first, and spun around, JO started reiterating whatever it was he had said out in the passageway as he shut the door, which he apparently was doing too slowly. The senior chief held his hand up, leaned around and helped the JO finish shutting the door to the shack, stood himself back up straight and said, “Listen, lad. I’ve been doing it this way on this class of boat since I qualified on the Scorpion…”

For the uninitiated, you should know that the USS Scorpion sank in 1968. We were struggling our way through the last part of 1986, as I recall.

Apparently, at this particular moment the fleas of a thousand camels flew up my nose, and I sneezed. They both turned to look at me like I had just invaded the Holy of Holies. Then the Jnior Officer suddenly realized the gravity of what had just been said, and looked back at the Senior Chief with a bit of slack-jawed reverence. He drew a deep breath, looked at his feet, and said, very quietly, “I’m sorry”, and edged out the door.

Senior Chief was still glaring at me. The void through which the JO left gloomed at me, like the place I should have been two minutes ago. I smiled the wan smile of a man who is trying hard to recreate the historical facts of recent history. Senior Chief – still glaring. I stood up, turned to slide past him sideways in the narrow shack, and asked him if I could get him a cup of coffee two minutes ago. He didn’t exactly smile quite, but said, “and don’t come back for two minutes.”

We never spoke of it again. But once in a while, I would see Senior Chief talking to JO, and I’d smirk. And Senior Chief would glare the Glare of Doom. And I’d say, “Coffee, two minute ago, aye”.

Communication skills. I have them.

Coffee thief

I race

Free as the Summer


I race

carving an invisible groove through

the spruce-whiskered mountain pass

The canopy arcing overhead


I rush

Through the trees, and howling with mirth,

Shadow and light splash around me like surf

My heart has raced to these rhythms since birth

The beat of the wind on the sea –

the spray of light, dappling trees –

and here on this mountain, of forest and turf

I ride down a ribbon of asphalted glee


I run

a gauntlet of cliffs, beside me rising


Standing sentry, holding high their glistening swords

jeweled in emerald arches
 outside the rail,

Seeing the trees – watching, listening, standing sentry over the roads below.

They stand in stillness, while the twisted switchbacks rip through them, and though I cannot hear them, I know they whisper.

These trees, they are still, and to be in their midst is to be still.

I fly

There is a peace amongst them, not just of stillness, but of fulfillment of purpose.

I think of those places.

But still my mind races,

to the beat of the wind.

Or is the wind breathing

to the beat of my mind.

I cannot tell.


The trees stand, waiting, watching, listening.

They wait for the lumberjack, for eventually he must come.

They stand sentry, but when he comes,

They will not sound the alarm.

They will not try to flee, nor hurl the lumberjack from whence he came. They wait.

They are still.

For when the lumberjack comes, and they are cut,

their waiting will be over. And they will not have failed,

for their purpose was but to wait. And to be still. And to grow.

When their time is done, they will lay down,

and become part of another purpose.


I feel the wind, rushing about me, and it syncopates the thoughts in my head.

They rush, my thoughts, and are never still – they flow and rush, and jumble and carom, and sometimes cavort, up and down the mountainsides, through the woodlands. They move and turmoil, and seek, and quest,

and when they have quested,

when they have answered,

they quest again, for so they must.

It is what my mind does.

It watches. It listens, and paces against the stillness.

For so the stillness must someday come.

And when it comes, I will not raise the alarm.

I will not flee it, nor try to hurl it back from whence it comes.

I will sit amidst the stillness,

I will lie down, and become still. The wind will die down and rest

I will rest. And I will not have failed,

for my purpose was to race, and so – I have raced.

And now my race will be done, and I can find peace, as part of another purpose.

I will race towards stillness, as I must. The trees know this.

The wind knows this.

It knows me, and I know it.

I will become still, when the wind inside me is still