Wait Five Minutes

Twain probably wasn’t referring to the Puget Sound Area when he said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” but it certainly seems to apply here.  We have a lot of microclimates locally, so you never quite know what to expect when you head out for another part of the area.  On a recent morning we headed out to Theler Wetlands under bright blue skies, but when we arrived the refuge was shrouded in fog

and cold enough that frosted cobwebs glowed in the morning light.

This Great Blue Heron had wrapped itself in its winter coat.

However, by the time we reached the walkway on the other end of the refuge, the fog had dissipated and the snow-covered Olympics lightened the morning

and our walk back to the car seemed to take on an entirely different nature.  Even the Green-Winged Teal

and this male Bufflehead seemed to have emerged from the darkness.

The photographer in me definitely prefers lots of sunshine, but I’ll have to admit that I find walking in the fog quite peaceful.

I Really Am A Vietnam Veteran

After a rather long, frustrating effort I recently started receiving Veterans Benefits with a 30% disability rating.  I originally applied nearly ten years ago after suffering from throat cancer and prostate cancer, two cancers commonly attributed to exposure to Agent Orange.  

Although I took several people’s advice and applied through a local VFW, I never heard back from them or the Veteran’s Administration.  When I applied, the Veteran’s Administration was underfunded and overworked, so I didn’t think too much about it when I hadn’t heard from them for six months.  Finally, I reached out to the VFW retired colonel who was handling my case.  Turns out he had suffered a stroke and seemed unclear what the status of my application was.  The initial process of gathering materials and writing about my time in Vietnam had been stressful enough that I was unwilling to start all over again.

Flash forward ten years.  While trying to figure out what would be the best Plan D insurance policy, our agent suggested that as a Vietnam Veteran I was entitled to prescriptions through VA.  I decided that my copay was high enough that was worth applying again, and it seemed relatively straightforward, relatively, as it turned out.  After all. I had my discharge papers and that’s all that I seemed to need to get the benefit.  Nope.  Not true.  

The proverbial Catch-22 revealed itself. I couldn’t be sent to Vietnam if I had less than six months of service left, but since the boat took nearly a month to get there I wasn’t in-country for six months and wasn’t eligible for the Vietnam Service award.  I thought that the phrase “Vietnam Veteran” on my discharge papers meant that I had served in Vietnam.  The VA department didn’t think so and told me I wasn’t eligible for the prescription benefit because I hadn’t proved I served in-country.

If I had appealed they would have had to dig out my service records, but they told me there was a six-month delay because of Covid-19.  Luckily, when I explained that I had symptoms of Agent Orange Exposure, the VA worker referred me to my local AmVets center.  What a difference they made. It turned out the most convincing proof I had that I had served in Vietnam wasn’t the APO of the unit I was released from (which was Vung Tao province) , it was the photos I am posting here (and the newsletters Sgt Desmond sent me after I returned home).

Though I have no memory of ever looking like this, this is, indeed, a photo of me holding a “grease gun” taken from the FDC because there was no way in hell I was going to be stuck with nothing but my assigned 45 when we got fired on during the night.

We were officially a heavy mortar platoon, but, in reality, the tracks were set up to function as a recon platoon with machine guns mounted on the sides.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my platoon was assigned to protecting the engineers who were preparing our site for the battalion barracks and headquarters and, later, assembling the building ourselves.   Fortunately, because we weren’t required to provide convoy escort like the tank platoons and recon platoon were. Unfortunately, because we didn’t see any real action other than serving as target practice for the Viet Cong that lived in the village we were “protecting.”  We caught enough fire initially that they finally assigned two tanks to our unit, which effectively deterred the nighttime attacks.

So, we spent the entire five-plus months I was there putting up buildings during the day and standing guard duty at night.  

It was definitely grunt work, but someone had to do it, and I was proud of how hard my platoon worked to get it done.  

I even pitched in and helped with the construction, though I’m sure my company commander wouldn’t have approved since I had been reprimanded back in the states for helping maintain our equipment instead of just supervising.

If we hadn’t been shot at regularly and if I hadn’t been on duty 24 hours a day because I was the only officer on the premises, I think this would have been my favorite time in the army. I know it’s a cliche, but I have never felt closer to a group than I did there.  I felt so close that I volunteered to extend my duty until the whole unit could return to the states; when I was told that my replacement was already on the way and that I would be reassigned to a unit in Saigon if I extended I was on my way home.

For better and worse, those five-plus months were the most influential in my life. 

It’s What I do

It’s been over a month since we returned from Colorado, and I am a little surprised at how far behind I am in posting entries.  I’d like to say that’s simply the result of being too busy, but, unfortunately, that’s not the reason.  I blame much of the delay on writer’s block; I have a feeling I want to convey, but, more and more often, I can’t translate that feeling into words.  It takes time to process pictures and adjust them to my satisfaction, but all too often I end up with pictures on the page for days before I can find the words to go with them.  

Lately, my priorities have begun to change.  As I near 80, my number one priority has become staying in shape.  So, given the choice between spending a day hiking in Mt. Rainier or The Olympics or working on a blog entry, the mountains will win out any day there’s sunshine and temperatures above 40 degrees. If we’re not hiking in the mountains and it’s a sunny day, I’ll often spend most of the day birding. 

Birding Theler Wetlands regularly isn’t as exciting as visiting Malheur, Bear River, or the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, but it feels like “home” and keeps me in touch with seasonal changes.  I like seeing the changes in vegetation and observing how different birds occupy the refuge at different times of the year. 

I know it’s Fall when shorebirds like this Western Sandpiper forage among the reeds along the creek.

It’s early Fall, though because the Western Tanager, 

American Goldfinch, 

and Osprey

haven’t left yet.

If we could count on everyday sunshine, I would probably be out birding every day without blogging at all. This is the Pacific Northwest, though, and you would be foolish to count on sunshine three-fourths of the year.  When there are only short breaks in the clouds, I try to take a walk, anything from a half-hour to an hour and a half.  On days when it’s impossible to get outside, I lift weights or practice Tai Chi. Exercise has replaced blogging as a required part of every day. 

Finally, let’s face it, I’ve been putting this blog out regularly (though less regularly than I used to, that’s for sure) for twenty years now and I find it difficult to maintain the enthusiasm I did at the beginning. I probably keep at it because it forces me to try to improve my photographs — and maintain my writing skills while allowing me to think that I still have a purpose in my life.

Picture from Bob in Australia

Bob tried to post this photo in the comments on the previous post; I tried to approve the comment and the picture still wouldn’t show up. In the process, I even managed to lose the original comment, but it is such a great picture that I wanted to post it anyhow.

It’s amazing how varied birds are in different regions. About the time you think you know all the Grebes, you discover there are different varieties in different countries.