Category Archives: Retirement

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

Reflections on Getting Older

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first is made.”

As mentioned in an earlier post,  the meaning of Robert Browning’s famous saying for a long time of puzzled me.

Is it life satisfaction that increases with age? Or is it that our thinking processes somehow affect how we react?

Psychologists have grappled with changes in the way we think as we age. Raymond Cattell developed the concept that general intelligence consists of two types: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Its not that intelligence declines in older age (unless a dementing illness sets in), it’s that fluid intelligence declines while crystallized intelligence increases.

“Say what? What does this have to do with herding cows?”

Both types of intelligence increase throughout childhood and adolescence. Fluid intelligence, the ability to develop new problem solving strategies, peaks by age 40 whereas crystallized intelligence that comes from prior learning and experience doesn’t peak until the 60s or 70s.

Both types are important to overall intelligence. There is also some evidence that brain training games may benefit fluid intelligence.

The direct approach to understanding intelligence

Perhaps it is a greater reliance on crystallized intelligence that allows older people to better determine the veracity of an event/statement based on his/her longer experience. While this doesn’t always comport with what youngsters may believe or have experienced, it at least holds as a general rule.

“You better hope that your fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence will outweigh your lack of smell and hearing.”
Photos by Ramsey

When considering aging in humans and dogs, one thing of which I am certain is that dogs can model positive aspects of aging. For example Buddy (pictured above) awakens in the morning stiff and sore. He and I both take awhile to get going. Nevertheless when Buddy heads for the truck and his ranch duties he pulls himself together and goes after life with an incredible zest. He’s not one to give into his infirmities.

Within reason this is a life characteristic that I and other humans should emulate. While our physical and mental capabilities may not be what they once were, we should continue to use what we have to the maximum.

Thanks Buddy for your example and we shall grow old together as the best is yet to come.

Reflections on Getting Older- Part II

Not long ago I had the pleasure of hearing Col. R.E. Cole recount his experiences as Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot as depicted in the book and movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. This was my favorite early war film. I like many others of my generation grew up steeped in heroic films about World War II. The movie starred Van Johnson as Captain Ted W. Lawson, Phyllis Thaxter as his wife Ellen, Robert Walker as corporal David Thatcher, Robert Mitchum as Colonel Bob Gray, and the inimitable Spencer Tracy as Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. Heroism was on full display and made you proud to be an American.


Colonel Cole is now 101-years of age and, while frail, is still sharp. I must assume the events depicted in the movie and book proved to be the signal event of his life.

A recent article, My Flight With a Doolittle Raider, was published in Texas Coop Power. In it the author, Matt Jolley, describes a day in 2010 when he and Colonel R. E. Cole strapped themselves into a World War II-era B-25 bomber and roared off the runway for a spin. Once in the air the owner of the plane  turned the controls over to Colonel Cole.

I believe Cole’s thoughts may have gone back to April 1942 when he and 79 other volunteers, only four months following Pearl Harbor, managed to take off from the swaying deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. They flew at the absolute outer fuel limits of their planes to drop a limited bomb load on Tokyo. While the physical damage was limited, the attack by Doolittle’s Raiders tremendously elevated American morale and diminished that of its enemy.

B-25 bombers awaiting takeoff from the deck of the Hornet

B-25 bombers awaiting takeoff from the deck of the Hornet

Imagine the satisfaction Colonel Cole must have experienced when he relived this event a few years ago. The author of the piece saw no boyish transformation in Cole, nor did he see a giant grin. What he witnessed was the quiet confidence of a man in full control of his airplane. I believe Cole must have felt a surge of satisfaction, reliving those seminal moments that has given his life such special meaning.

Colonel Cole is the last living Doolittle Raider. At his public speaking appearances, he is now attended closely by his daughter. He still loves to share his stories with others. With Veteran’s Day two days ago, it’s only fitting to remember and honor Colonel Cole and the other gallant men for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

But in another sense, what do events such as this one mean to the individual who experienced them. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if everyone who reaches old age could have the opportunity to re-experience their own signal  life’s event.  While this may not be possible, it suggests another option.

Why not allow an older person to reflect (tell their story). Our lives as story have such great importance for our own understanding. I only wish I had listened more closely to my grandparents’ stories. This inter-generational transfer of knowledge is good for both the listener and the speaker.

With the upcoming holidays, the opportunity exists to deepen understanding of the narrative of the older members of your family. I hope all will take advantage of this, not only to learn the stories, but to assist in the meaningful development of the aging process for your loved ones by allowing them to reflect deeply on what was important for their lives.

I would love to hear how this works for you.

To Be Continued



Reflections on Getting Older

You are likely familiar with the verse written by Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.

When I first heard this verse, albeit at a much younger age, my thoughts were something like, “bunk, hogwash, senseless prattle, horse feathers!!!!”

Robert Browning 1888

Robert Browning 1888

Over the years though I’ve gained greater appreciation for what Robert Browning was getting at.  In part, admittedly, this was due to my professional interests in Gerontology and Geriatrics. But this was largely book learning and short on personal experiences. Now that I’m living the aging process, I can better understand both the challenges and gifts that accompany it.

I hope in a series of blog posts to explore this topic further and relate the accepted features of aging and also the personal anecdotes. As always, I look forward to reader’s comments.

I suppose what made me think about this topic was an eightieth birthday party I attended several weeks ago. My son’s father-in-law was turning eighty. Alissa, his daughter threw him a no-presents birthday party, and instead requested everyone submit a letter describing what her Dad had meant to their lives. An astounding 88 letters arrived! These were carefully cataloged by Alissa and presented to her Dad.

Now the really good part: Roger on seeing all this and better understanding the impact his life had on others- teared up and became quite emotional (well for a Norwegian anyway). Now this is a stoic man who was a very successful businessman, a real numbers cruncher type who had played athletics at a very high level. He is a stoic Scandinavian-American not prone to public displays of emotion. But a public display of emotion he showed. Why was that?

I began thinking about this and melding my inner thoughts with what I knew about developmental psychology. While I have taught a college course on this topic, I’m really not an expert, but I wish to share my musings.

On entering “the third act” of our lives, most folks begin summing up of their accomplishments and  coming to grips with areas in which they were less successful. This phase of life often includes the deepening of relationships, dousing the inner fires, reducing the drive for accomplishments, and the sharing wisdom with others. This is a phase when mentoring of younger people often takes place along with the passing on of meaningful experiences to others .

The testimonials offered about Roger impacted his personal developmental journey, as it did mine. The birthday party affirmed his life’s worth and informed him of long forgotten kindnesses and other positive impacts on others. This timely theme for the party blended perfectly with the very developmental process he was undergoing. What a stroke of genius by Alissa for organizing the event in this way.

If we are fortunate, we all will age to a ripe and healthy old age.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

The more of life I experience, the greater I recognize that Robert Browning’s wisdom, “the best is yet to be.” Let’s hope so.


To Be Continued

Sunrise In The Texas Hill Country

Looking down Live Oak Valley at dawn

Looking down Live Oak Valley at dawn

img_1142A benefit of being an early riser is watching the sunrise. Recently a thick blanket of fog filled the valley beneath us just at sunrise. The pictures above were shot from our back porch. Hope you enjoy.

What a lovely time of year. I hope everyone stops and enjoys the beauty of nature and enjoy the moment. I know Trudy and I do.

The Urge To Blog

Why are some compelled to write blogs? My own desire grew after assuming a new  identity in retirement, that of a newly minted rancher. The novelty of it intrigued me. Being a “city boy,” nearly everything including raising livestock, operating ranch equipment, mending fences, and building barns held a strong fascination.cropped-header-option-1.jpg

The thought occurred if I enjoyed learning about and living a rural and retired lifestyle, then perhaps others would like to read about it too. This interest eventually led me to begin blogging about my writing process and finally to aspects of my book. Admittedly, I also needed to decompress from my busy former career as a clinical and research neurologist and thought others might enjoy reading tidbits resulting from my inevitable backward glance at my life.

While still a young blog, I consider Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch  to have been successful. Its  popularity supports my original premise that others might enjoy reading about this subject matter. I very much appreciate receiving comments from readers and learning from them. The only experience better  is having friends and family visit the ranch, especially those who “get it.”

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Certainly not everyone who visits our ranch leaves with an appreciation for the land and for the animals in a way like Trudy and I do. That’s okay. Some would rather sit on the back porch and work their smart phones than absorb the tranquility and develop new ranch experiences.

Nevertheless, some who visit throw themselves into ranch life. A recent visit to the ranch by good friends LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas were two cases in point. Incidentally, both La Nelle and Madeline have been beta readers for many of my writing efforts and have fully supported my efforts to market my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

La Nelle and Madeline herding 'em up

La Nelle and Madeline herding ’em up

La Nelle, Madeline, Trudy, and I recently worked calves. This consisted of vaccinating for blackleg and ear tagging them. Both visiting ladies threw themselves into the effort, helping and enjoying the novel experience.  Both also managed to avoid being stepped on or pooped on. This was an accomplishment. Between swims in the pool they also tended the vegetable garden and hiked the steep green hills of our ranch. Both ladies are extremely intelligent and mindful such that our conversations on the back porch were for me especially pleasing.

Vaccinating and Ear Tagging with La Nelle, Madeline, and Luke

Vaccinating and Ear Tagging with La Nelle, Madeline, and Luke, the neighbor’s grandson

I could see excitement in their eyes as they became engrossed in their experiences that were so different from their usual lives in Lubbock. They sensed the tranquility of a Texas sunset from atop a hill while sipping a glass of chilled wine. These “Sundowners” have become a regular feature of our ranch life.

The dogs and I enjoying a "Sundowner"

The dogs and I enjoying a “Sundowner”

Years ago at my retirement party my brother-in-law presented a large number of T-shirts on which was written “Tom’s Ranch Hand.” Paul Plunket in his humorous way predicted I would put friends and family to work on the ranch and possibly even avoid the need to hire any help. In this he was correct only to a degree.

T-shirt read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline on left and La Nelle on right with their T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands- Hutton Ranch

I had two T-shirts left over from my retirement party. At the conclusion of La Nelle and Madeline’s  visit, I presented a T-shirt to each. Both appreciated the gift, small tokens though they were. This further convinced me of the wonderment that exists at Medicine Spirit Ranch set in these green hills of central Texas. It is a wonderment for at least some. Perhaps that is the way it always is. Different experiences resonate for different folks. I hope for future visitors to our ranch and to describe in writing the experiences for those unable to experience it directly.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

Ranch Mistakes Are Not Unusual, Just More Painful

Perhaps it’s the time of year or my advancing age, but I find myself lately reminiscing more. As they say, “Some of the best memories were not always the best experiences.” Such was my first major injury on Medicine Spirit Ranch.

It went something like this. The day was warm and welcoming. Trudy and daughter Katie were enjoying the lovely weather but chose to do so sitting.  I, anxious to practice horseback riding, saddled Doc, our gelding, andwished to enjoy the beauty of the day from his broad, well muscled back.

I rode Doc in a  pasture nearby the barn, enjoying the day and the ride, while Trudy and Katie sat chatting amiably on a nearby hill. Feeling I could manage a bit more adventure, I urged the horse into a trot and then on into a gallop and began to race across the pasture.

What I had not planned for was that Doc took issue with me bouncing up and down on his back. Mid-stride and without warning he bucked me out of the saddle and over the saddle-horn.  To my considerable surprise, I found myself riding along with my arms frantically searching  his head and neck for something to hold onto.

Realizing I would not long remain balanced in this precarious position and with Doc still loping through the pasture, I struggled to inch my backside down his neck and back over the saddle-horn. Trying to clear the saddle-horn felt akin to backing myself over the Himalayas. It just wasn’t going to happen. I don’t know how jockeys maintain their racing, butt-up, position but at least they have stirrups, something I  was sorely lacking at this point.

I recall slowly slipping sideways from his neck and having a flickering thought to look for a soft spot on the ground. After that I have no further recall.

I regained consciousness on the ground experiencing terrific pain in my neck, head, and right arm. My view from the ground was something like the picture below with me looking up into the flaring nostrils of my horse.

"I told you my back hurt."

“I told you my back hurt.”

It was only later when the vet found the calcium stones in Doc’s urethra which he referred to as beans that I understood the role his painful kidneys had played in my unplanned departure from his back. The pressure on his kidneys from back pressure must have hurt him and my bouncing up and down on his back had increased his discomfort still more. Doc had, under the circumstances, chosen to remove the source of his increased pain (me) although by doing so directly adding to my own.

I imagine Doc looking down at me on the ground thinking something like, “So didn’t I tell you my back was hurting when you foolishly decided to saddle me?”

As for me, my broken arm was later set, placed in a cast, and it ultimately healed. My jammed neck recovered as well. As for Doc following this event, he received twice yearly bean removals from his urethral sheath and urethra. Since that time he’s never bucked again, making both him and me happier.

In addition to the broken arm and jammed neck, I’ve encountered while working on the ranch a ruptured disc in my low back. This resulted from trying to man-haul trees from the creek (not my finest day or decision). This landed me in bed for six weeks. I’ve also been run over and rolled by an irate mama cow. Oh yes, and there was also the time a cow tossed me out of the cow pen. For comparison sake, I never in my long neurological career received a single injury while swinging my reflex hammer!

As mentioned earlier, this is now a great memory but was a bad experience!

Stump Spirit of Blue Jay Way

On moonless nights from the shadows they creep, carrying sundry items within black bags necessary for their nefarious task. Okay, okay maybe dressing up the stump is not quite that secretive or clandestine, but almost. It really is carried out in secret. Thought you mind be interested in the legend of the “Stump Spirit” of Blue Jay Way.

The origins for decorating the stump on Blue Jay Way, a private road serving five ranch families, began benignly enough. A neighbor boy one day left, perhaps by accident, a metal snake on the stump on the Norris property next to Blue Jay Way. Soon thereafter the snake disappeared and a pottery red bird appeared in its place no doubgt to signify the beginning of Spring. Before we knew it, prior to every holiday or season, the stump changed its appearance and the themes grew progressively more elaborate.

No one really knows who provides the decorating (well not unless you catch the sheepish perpetrator in the act–the neighbor in the headlights look). Nevertheless,  six or so times a year, our previous lowly nondescript oak stump becomes bedecked in new finaries, befitting the season or occasion. Below are a few examples:

Dog days stump spirit 08_0089

The one on the left celebrates the laid back “dog days” of summer with a cold drink and a hound dog with a baseball cap under an umbrella. The one on the right with pumpkins and a scarecrow appeared prior to Halloween.

Turkey ScarecrowDSC_0096Tksgvg hunter

Thanksgiving gives rise to a turkey, a pilgrim, and, a hunter. Christmas is the most elaborate usually and on rare occasions, the stump has even been lit up with twinkling Christmas decorations.

Now the real question to ask is why do the denizens of Blue jay Way do this? I really don’t know. Speculations run from the eccentric activities of the bored retired set, or you have to do something with all the stuff you find during Spring housecleaning, to perhaps a little bit too much of the grape! In any event, the decorating of the stump provides a collective activity for our small ranch neighborhood that brings us closer together.

It has even led to a semi-annual “Stumpfest” where we gather together for bonding, food, beverage, and music. What a way to get to know your neighbors. I have even suggested we don bedsheets and show up like druids on the summer and winter solstices. Needless to say, my wife, the eminent duck wrangler, shot this one down in a hurry. Oh well, not all my ideas are keepers.

So there it is, the Stump Spirit of Blue Jay Way. It is kind of fun and gets you out of the house on those moonless nights.

King Edward Vlll and Wallis Simpson: An Historical Snippet

Most are familiar with the story of King Edward Vlll abdicating the British throne to “marry the woman I love”. Wallis Simpson was an American socialite with two living prior husbands who became the mistress of Edward, the then Duke of Windsor. When he became king, she wished to divorce her husband, marry Edward, and become Queen of England. Naturally this shuffling of bedrooms created quite a stir in the UK and its Dominions.

OSTENSIBLY to avoid a constitutional crisis, the king abdicated to marry Mrs. Simpson, as the British press was fond of calling her. In August of 1939, Edward and Wallis, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, boarded a commercial liner going from Lisbon to the Bahamas. There they would sit out the war, carrying out mostly ceremonial functions in the British territory.

According to a now deceased close family friend who worked for the U.S. State Department , another reason existed for their virtual exile that Wallis tartly characterized as her own “Saint Helena” in reference to Napoleon’s six year exile by the British. This family friend, Fletcher Warren, shared this story with me one evening years after his retirement from the State Department. I never forgot his shared insights or his gentle nature.

Fletcher Warren who went on to a distinguished career as U.S. ambassador to several major countries described certain curious facts about the Duke and Wallis Simpson while in the Bahamas. He had been asked to monitor Edward and Wallis during their stay there. While acting as a liaison with the U.S. Department of State, he also was tasked with watching their activities and those with whom they fraternized.

While both Edward and Wallis had been suspected Nazi sympathizers and had ongoing relationships with Nazi officlals, to my knowledge no documented conspiracy with the enemy has been previously shown.

Mr. Warren described to me finding cryptic messages intended for Nazi spies sewn into Edward’s and Wallis’ clothing that was going out for cleaning. Their ruse to provide sensitive information to the enemy was discovered by Mr. Warren and the messages read. These actions were directly against the interests of the UK and would have represented treason. But what does a government and its allies do with an ex-king and his wife, a Duchess, who are so involved?

One thing would be to maintain a cover story related to the Duchess being unacceptable because of a lesser offense, say being a three time divorcee, and then encouraging the King to abdicate. Such a story of marital infidelities appealed to prurient interest but left the royal family unscathed from charges of treason. Such a charge conceivably might have brought down the British monarchy.

Based on Mr. Warren’s information, I strongly suspect  suspicions of Nazi leanings by Edward and Wallis were precisely on target. Their friendly dealings with Nazis and their statements of support for Nazi Germany after the outbreak of WW11 speak to this end. It is clear that the British government did not trust Wallis Simpson. The snippet of information shared herein suggests they also did not trust their own, recently abdicating king.

Makes for an interesting snippet don’t you think?

Reflections on Greenville, Texas: “The Blackest Land And The Whitest People”


One benefit of a few gray hairs is having had the time to see how beliefs change over time. Recent discussions with my brother-in-law, Paul Plunket, prompted my interest in Greenville, Texas’ infamous slogan–The Blackest Land And The Whitest People.

In 1957 or 1958 I first learned of this sign, crossing as it did a major street in downtown Greenville. My family had relocated to Richardson, Texas from the Kansas City area and would twice a year load up the 1950 blue Buick with its Dynaflow transmission and travel to Kansas City for the Christmas holidays and summer vacations. Greenville lies about sixty miles to the northeast of Richardson and is the county seat of Hunt County.

It was during one of these periodic family migrations that I first saw the sign and quizzed my parents about its curious message. Was it not flatly out racist? This sign bothered me then as it does now. The history of the sign proves interesting but the intent of the locals may have been different from what I originally assumed.

Will N. Harrison, the so-called “Land Man” of Greenville, created the slogan. Harrison’s business card that bore the slogan caught the eye of President-elect Woodrow Wilson. Harrison and his two sons who were leaders n the Greenville Booster Club and who spent substantial time in Washington, D.C. pushing policies and programs benefiting the hometown community. The whole time Will N. Harrison was passing out his cards with the unique slogan-one that surely grates on current sensibilities and haunts Greenville to the present day.

To honor Will N. Harrison, the city put up the famous banner in Greenville in about 1913 and had the slogan painted on its water tower. All of this rapidly spread around the country and the world.

Years later when I was courting my bride-to-be, Sarah Gertrude Plunket from Greenville, I delicately brought up the subject with her family. I learned Greenville sits astride a broad belt of rich black land  favorable for growing cotton. The early Greenville economy had been based on cotton, both its production and shipping. This part, namely The Blackest Soil, made sense.

The second part of the slogan, “The Whitest People” proved harder to swallow. To the locals “white” inferred good or pure, not racism per se. My brother-in-law, Paul Plunket, claims to having used the local interpretation of white when discussing the sign for almost 50 years and has yet to have anybody outside Greenville, buy it. Nevertheless, to family members in Greenville, this interpretation seemed  to make sense or at least less threatening to the reputation of their beloved hometown.

I rush to the defense of my family by marriage. After all in the early part of the 20th century, Trudy’s grandfather, Paul Plunket Sr. hid the local Catholic Priest at his lake house from the Ku Klux Klan. This defiance of the Klan risked recriminations had the good padre been discovered camping in the Plunket’s attic. While products of their age, Trudy’s family in general had more progressive views on race and religion than many other Greenville-ites. Regrettably use of the n-word in the community remained prevalent in the 1960s.

The infamous sign was removed int he 1960s following the request by then Texas Governor John Connally. Trudy maintains the local story in Greenville was the sign was taken down for repair and, amazingly, never reappeared. Was this the politically palatable way to remove a sign under attack by “Yankees” and out-of-towners?  The sign by then in the racially charged atmosphere of the 1960s had attracted great and unwanted national attention.

Maybe “white” had the connotation of pure and good in the early part of the 20th century. Likely little appreciation existed that its antonym, “black” must mean its opposite. Racism was institutionalized at the time and racial sensitivities were not developed to where they are these days. In any event sensitivity toward the feelings of others and fostering tolerance for the differing views and trying not to offend may be the takeaway message. I would welcome your thoughts.