Category Archives: Life During The Covid-19 Era

Stump Spirit Thanksgiving

While I’ve forgotten exactly when or even why the local tradition began, the residents living on Blue Jay Way years ago began to decorate a particular stump nearby our common road. We call it, Stump Spirit. Tradition has it that those Denizens of the Way who decorate the stump, do so when no one else is around, often after the sun sets behind the hills and mystical spirits leak out of the hills and hollows (or perhaps, after having been imbibed).

While the stump mysteriously becomes decorated for all major holidays and special occasions, Thanksgiving has always been especially well represented. Look closely below for the chicken figure partially hidden behind the “Eat Mor Chickin” sign and the turkeys in their bibs, holding their eating utensils.

A turkey theme carries over from a prior year when a turkey with bulging eyes suddenly spots a gun toting hunter who is lurking behind a tree with turkey-cide intent .

Thanksgiving for the Hutton clan is about family and giving thanks for our bounties and good fortunes. During the year of the Covid-19 Pandemic, these plans unfortunately have had to change. Our Thanksgiving table will host vastly reduced numbers of people this year. This is painful for us all, especially for my wife, Trudy. Hopefully next year we will return to the large, raucous celebrations of prior years. Think of a cross between a Medieval banquet and Animal House.

The above image was taken a number of years ago when our grandchildren, Graham and Ramsey, were much younger. Nevertheless, I just had to work in a picture of our beloved grandchildren visiting an earlier rendition of a Thanksgiving Stump Spirit. Our efforts are meant to fashion a sense of place for our grandchildren, as well as for the older denizens of Blue Jay Way.

The Denizens of the Way are wonderful neighbors. A lot of creativity goes into decorating Stump Spirit or about anything else that stays put for awhile. Such was the case when a hired man’s tractor broke down in my pasture. It sat, and sat, and sat some more, waiting for its inevitable repair. Finally Fall arrived and the following enhancements to the tractor showed up. Now this is real pasture art!

Other holidays get their due. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day are marked by decorating the stump and its surrounds with American flags and patriotic memorabilia. The stump on Labor Day receives hard hats and related tools.

Halloween gets recognition with ghouls, ghosts, and goblins.

The slow parts of the year represent a creative challenge. This is especially true for the hot, sultry days of late summer. But even the dog days of summer often sees an occasional theme appear as demonstrated below.

The result of the collective efforts of those who decorate the humble stump is to bind the neighbors together in a feat of whimsy and friendship. It is fun. It allows for creative expression. The world needs more of this.

Those of us at Medicine Spirit Ranch and the Denizens of the Way wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please be safe and stay healthy. The vaccine is on its way. Let’s all buckle down and continue to wear masks, social distance, and wash our hands until immunity to this virus is attained. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and continued good health!

Book Status

Following a rewrite, my manuscript tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription For Defeat, has tentatively been accepted for publication. Yeah!!! But I have not yet broken out the champagne. My book relates Hitler’s physical and mental health to the outcome of World War II. The premise is that his many physical and mental health problems greatly impeded the efforts of the Axis forces to win the war.

The process of publishing a book is lengthy, as any published author certainly knows. Being that my book has been accepted by an academic press, Texas Tech University Press, the process proves even somewhat lengthier.


The next step in the publishing process for my book is review by an outside Hitler expert. I welcome this step, as it should improve the accuracy of my manuscript, as it did for my prior book (Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales).

Carrying the Black Bag book

While I have tried to use only accepted World War II history, I welcome review and suggestions by a historian or other knowledgeable expert on Adolf Hitler.

The subsequent steps in the publishing process will include further editing and ultimately a committee decision (I said it was a university press). All of these processes have to be completed during the Age of Covid-19 with its social distancing and other challenges built in. Who knows when the book will appear?

“Wish you would get away from that computer and come outside. Let’s herd some cattle.”

   In the meantime I seek two Forewords. At some point I will also request blurbs (those catchy, brief statements that help sell the book), work up the Appendix, provide acknowledgements, marketing information, back flap author information, approve art work etc. The process is not easy nor is it swift. I suppose if it were, everyone would have written a book by now.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the publishing progress. I appreciate those who have advised and acted as beta readers of this manuscript, including Janet Lindemann, Madelaine Douglass, La Nelle Ethridge, and Colonel Tom Norris. Also members of my critique group contributed helpful ideas. And I am most appreciative of my wife, Trudy, who serves as my in-house first reader. While I am aware that a writer should never, ever ask a spouse to serve in this difficult, no-win position, Trudy is simply too good and much too available not to ask. She is a dear and I thank her.

Trudy also helps set up book signings. I tell her such dedicated service was listed in the fine print of our marriage contract. Needless to say, she doesn’t believe me.

I will also ask for volunteers for my “Street Team” this time around to assist in helping get the word out when the book is eventually published. This group will also help to line up speaking opportunities and book signings. Such an informal group provided much benefit for my last book, and I am eternally grateful for their support. Any volunteers? Want to sign on again?

I will also ask for professional help with publicity. I was impressed with and appreciative of my publicist Maryglenn McCombs for my prior book and will likely request her help again.

The publishing adventure continues.

 

 

A Crafty Raccoon

As the days of Covid-19 linger on and my boredom mounts, I find myself focusing energy on unusual topics. Such has been a recent instance of identifying nocturnal intruders who persist in knocking down and destroying our bird feeders. Now my lovely wife, Trudy, holds that my attention to these matters borders on out of control obsessive/compulsive behavior, bordering on maniacal. I simply maintain that I am curious and have strict attention to detail.

In any event, our half dozen or so bird feeders have been repeatedly attacked. I found one or two of them dislodged from their attachments to the tree almost every day, and on occasion destroyed completely. Needless to say, my feathered friends needed me to act. Answers were required.

I began my quixotic enterprise by fastening two borrowed game cameras onto nearby trees and setting out a small live animal trap. Given previous experience with raided bird feeders, I suspected devilishly adept squirrels or raccoons. But keeping my differential diagnosis wide, as we physicians like to do at the outset of a case, I also threw in for good measure, the possibility of Big Foot.

I recognize those who are reading this blog piece immediately discount the possibility of Big Foot. Oh yea of little faith. In addition to Trudy I presented this intriguing possibility of Bigfoot to my good neighbors, Colonel and Mrs. Tom Norris. They too like Trudy had stricken looks on their faces, as if I might just have gone around the bend. Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and full of unrequited purpose.

Evidence of Bigfoot, ostensibly in our front yard

To enhance my case, I began sending pictures to Tom and Linda Norris of suggestive evidence of Big Foot. Who knows but Big Foot could be alive and well in Live Oak Valley, I said. Besides these bird feeders are hung as much as six feet above the ground making them too high for a deer to dislodge and surely too difficult to remove from its metal hanger by even the craftiest squirrel or raccoon. But not too high for Bigfoot to reach, I wager.

A hairy Bigfoot

 

Besides creating a myth that Big Foot is alive and well in Live Oak Valley wouldn’t do our tourist business any harm in our tourist driven city of Fredericksburg. Needless to say, Trudy and the Norrises remained skeptical despite clear cut pictorial evidence (amazing what you can find online) to support my thesis.

After setting the cameras and baiting the trap with marshmallows, I slept fitfully, not too patiently waiting for the sun to rise. Peering through our kitchen window the next morning at dawn at the live trap within the shadows not more than fifteen feet away, I found the trap had been cleaned out of marshmallows and had caught absolutely NOTHING. Repeatedly, I baited the trap only to find each morning that somehow the trap had been cleaned out of bait but had failed to capture the nocturnal intruder. Surely I thought this was evidence of a sentient creature such as Big Foot.

One of the cameras indeed caught a glimpse of a hairy creature that was mostly outside the frame. Ah ha, surely such a hairy beast must be the skulking Big Foot of Live Oak Valley! Admittedly, it also may have been a raccoon that climbed immediately in front of the camera’s lens.

Realizing that the live trap was rather small, I also wondered if somehow an animal had been able to crawl into the trap, travel to the end where the spring plate was located, eat the marshmallows, and manage somehow to prevent the trap door from falling behind it. To investigate this possibility, I borrowed a larger live trap from my neighbor, Jake Davies.

I again baited the larger trap, set the cameras and waited for my stealthy plan to unfold. Sure enough the next morning I found a rather angry raccoon within the trap, one also in a nearby tree, and the east side of a large raccoon heading rapidly west! Well, two down out of three is not too bad.

One Mad Raccoon. Not my raccoon but representative from the internet

Now I was confident that I could rid my proud dominion of intruding and raiding raccoons. All I needed was a fresh and goodly supply of marshmallows and some patience. To my surprise, days went by without capturing the raccoon. Each day I would steal out of bed early to check the large trap and find that the marshmallows had disappeared. Each evening I would place still more marshmallows at the end of the trap just behind the spring plate that when stepped upon would drop the gate and trap the raccoon.

To my amazement I continued not to capture the raccoon but continued to lose the bait. Finally I determined to make a closer inspection of the trap to determine why it was not functioning correctly. To my surprise, I found wedged under the foot plate, not one, not two, but three limestone rocks. Something or someone had placed these stones strategically such that it was impossible for the foot plate to be depressed and close the trap door. Meanwhile I thought one fat raccoon was wandering about my property with a big sticky marshmallow grin on its face.

Now I ask, has anyone ever seen a crafty raccoon clever enough to disable a live trap? I know they are smart but really… To make matters worse, following removal of the stones and re-baiting of the trap, never again has the trap or the bird feeders been hit.

I believe the raccoon and I have established a truce of sorts at this juncture. The raccoon seems to have given up on the bird feeders and I am about to return the large live trap. Now perhaps I can focus on other somewhat more productive pursuits. Besides, maybe Big Foot still lurks out there somewhere in Live Oak Valley.

 

 

Life At The Ranch During Covid-19

What a strange year, this year of Cobid-19, has become. This novel coronavirus has altered everyone’s lives to a degree that I cannot recall ever happening before. While self-isolating for months on end doesn’t compare to the sacrifices made by parents and grandparents during World War II or several other disruptions during the history of the U.S.A., somehow it has still taken a heavy toll on many people.

Recently I spoke to my good friend, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Norris, about this psychological toll on our collective equilibrium. Tom has quite a story to tell. He was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war and spent five and a half years in various POW camps in North Vietnam. Tom like other American POWs suffered from isolation, poor food, beatings, and various illnesses. Tom is surprisingly open and speaks about his travails but admits that until recently most folks couldn’t understand the impact that a loss of personal freedom has on the psyche of a person. Tom is willing to again speak publicly about his experiences because he believes people will now better understand the impact that the loss of personal freedom has, having experienced it from the self-isolation caused by Covid-19.

Certainly the limited deprivations for most of us during Covid-19 are nothing like those of our Vietnam POWs, but recent experience during the Covid-19 pandemic of not being able to socialize, travel, hug, and attend public events has diminished spirits and caused widespread depression and anxiety. There has been a collective angst during the pandemic for many. Hang tough, this too will end.

Toasting the new Ranch Sign

Fortunately life goes on at the ranch in spite of the pandemic. Spring calving season has come and gone. Cattle prices have fallen due to meat processing plan closings due to Covid-19 and resulting in  too many animals in the feed lots. I’ve held onto my yearlings longer than usual, waiting and hoping for a rebound in cattle prices. As such the herd has grown but with plenty of good grass due to Spring rains, all is good so far. Our calf crop has been particularly good this year. The calves are called “smokies” as they are Black Baldy/Charolois crosses.

2020 Spring Calf Crop

 

My time during the pandemic has been variously spent doing re-writes for my book on Hitler’s health and its impact on World War II, ranch duties, planting a garden, and attending a slew of Zoom meetings. The feeling of restriction did bring about a Covid-19 beard. Am not sure I can explain how this personal protest benefits anything, but somehow it felt like an appropriate expression of my personal angst.

Tom with Covid beard atop Dandy

The bright spot for Trudy and me has been the birth of a grandson, Teddy O’Neal. Yes Katie and Kevin had a child that tempted us out of our seclusion and prompted us to take a trip to Dallas. The proud grandparents were not allowed into the hospital where Katie delivered, but were waiting at home when the expanded family returned. What a treat! New life during the pandemic when tragically so many others have lost their lives. Teddy beams a beacon of hope.

Teddy O’Neal, new life

Teddy and Oma Trudy

I stayed for five days but Trudy stayed on for almost three weeks. She mainly cooked and cleaned but also helped with the 4 am feedings. Needless to say, we are thrilled with little Teddy. The parents while sleep deprived are holding up well. New life, what a treat. Welcome to the family, little guy.

Teddy and a visit from our son and his family have gone a long way to relieving our symptoms of lack of energy, loss of motivation, and general sense of feeling blah. I suppose we are all social animals in need of love, interaction, and outside stimulation. At least that is the formula for happiness at Medicine Spirit Ranch.

So life goes on at the ranch even during the pandemic. Over Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed our son Andy and his family, and nephew Will, his lovely wife Clare, their one year old, Sherman, and their two Golden retrievers.. Yes, we loosened up on our self-isolation. Part of the fun was watching our grandson, Graham, frolic in the pool with the two energetic Golden Retrievers. This proved an effective antidote for the side effects of self-isolation.

Graham and Henny