Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Goal #767: Raise an Owl as a Pet

I’ve always wanted to raise an owl. I used to love listening to them as they hooted outside my window on those balmy summer night on the plains of Minnesota.

When I was about 21 years old, I shared an apartment with my friend Rick in California. One day, Rick came home with two owl babies. When I asked him where he got them, he simply said he “borrowed” them from a nest he found in the cliffs near the school. I knew not to ask any more questions. That was it; they were not going back.

We named the owls Igor and Mr. Wilson. I have no idea if they were male or female, but that wasn’t important. They were barn owls; the ones with the cool looking round face. From what I could tell they were only a couple of weeks old because they were still covered in down and had no pin feathers. 

Our first problem was to figure out what to feed them. Rick worked in a super market so he brought home some nice cuts of meat, better than anything we were eating. After a month of hand feeding them, Igor lost the use of his right wing. A week later his leg was fully paralyzed. We called a vet and found out that owls don’t do well on cuts of meat from the butcher block, no matter how expensive the meat is. They need all the stuff that comes from eating live animals like mice and voles. The vet told us that Igor suffered a stroke from a lack of essential minerals and vitamins he would have gotten from a diet of live mice. We ended up putting Igor to sleep. That was really hard to do.

For Mr. Wilson, we made up for all the mistakes we made with Igor. We spend hours combing the vacant lots and fields looking for mice. One time Rick came home with a box of 24 mice he found in a nearby field. That would last us nearly a week. When he got home our girl friends were there waiting for us so Rick put the box inside the house with something on the top to make sure the mice didn’t escape. Unfortunately, by the time we got back home we found that the mice had chewed their way out of the box and all 24 mice were loose in our tiny apartment.

Rick’s solution to the problem was simple; capture 2 very large blow snakes and let them loose in the house to catch the mice. Our girl friends refused to come into our apartment long after the snakes disappeared. Afte At night we would hear the mice running across the room and on the counters. I would sit in my bed by the light switch and wait to hear the sound of mice running across the counter. When I heard them, I would switch the light on and Rick would skewer them with his blow gun.

Mr. Wilson eventually grew up to be a healthy adult barn owl.  A friend of ours who lived by us took Mr. Wilson with him to work each day and he would stay on a perch outside his office window. One day Mr. Wilson flew off and we never saw him again. That was a sad day for all of us. Raising Mr. Wilson was a great experience. I don’t think would do it again, but I’m glad I had a chance to do it once. I will never look at owls the same way again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Goal #235: Swim with the Manatees

If you want a remarkable experience, you really need to try swimming with the Manatees. There are only a few places in the world you can do that. My experience took place in Puerto Rico.

My brother Dan lived in Puerto Rico at the time and had a business teaching scuba classes. I went to visit him one summer and spend a few weeks with him. Within less than an hour after getting off the plan, I was at the ocean getting instruction on how to breathe using air tanks. Every day, for 2 weeks we went diving twice a day. It was GREAT! 

After a week of diving Dan decided he was going to take me to dive off a point down the coast. He told me that there was a shark that liked to swim around there, as well as a school of barracuda. They were both fish I need to watch carefully.

I was keeping a careful eye out for the shark when off in the distance I could see the dark outline of something very big. I tried to get Dan’s attention but he was out of my site. I could see there were several objects swimming to me quite fast and they were very BIG. I started swimming to where I had last seen Dan swimming in hopes that he might know what to do.

Within seconds I felt something very big brush up against me. By this time I was in a panic. I was thinking this was the shark Dan was telling me about and there were several of them, each bigger than I had expected. Within seconds they were heading back directly toward me. I had no idea what to do so I just watched as they came almost face to face and stopped only inches from me. Now I was close enough to see that these were not sharks, they were a pod of Manatees.

As soon as I knew I wasn’t going to be anyone’s lunch, I relaxed enough to see they wanted to play. I put my hand out to rub the back of the nearest one and that was it. In no time at all, they were all pushing themselves against me, apparently wanting to see what this white skinny thing was doing in their waters.

I had a wonderful time playing with each of them. The more I played with them the more they wanted to play. The young ones didn’t waste a minute. They were all over me. One of them came face to face to me, apparently wanting to see what I looked like. I have to admit, as gentle and playful as Manatees are, they are really ugly. I’m sure they must have thought the same of me.

We played together for awhile and then they just disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared. I never saw them again during those last few days I had left to dive. I finally found Dan off in the distance. He had seen them coming toward me and knew I was in no danger. He just wanted me to have the experience by myself and that’s why he didn’t come to my rescue when I thought I was going to be some shark’s lunch. What a remarkable experience it was to play with the Manatees and to have them accept me so willingly. This was an experience I will never forget.   

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Goal #51: Run a 50 Mile Marathon

What is it about young men what they feel a need to prove they can do anything?  It seems the more bizzard the act, the more of a man we seem to be. That has always been such a mystery to me. I was 17 years old when I ran my first 50 mile marathon. I think it was a community sponsored event but I discovered that the Boy Scouts of America used this event to have their boys complete their 50/20 requirement (run or walk 50 miles within 20 hours). I have always loved running since I was a kid. At the time I was on the school’s cross country team so I was in pretty good shape to do this. I knew a few months before that I would do this so I made it a point to put in a lot of long miles.

I had never run a 50 marathon before and I didn’t know what to expect. I ran it in Laguna Beach, California along the Coast Highway and then through the back roads. The course was a 25 mile course which we ran twice.

My first year I ran it with my brother Tom and a couple of other friends. It was really a remarkable experience. I had never run so far for so long before. I had no idea what kind of running strategy to use or what I was in for. Tom and I ran the whole 50 miles in cheap tennis shoes that we bought at K-Mart. By the time we were done we could hardly walk. We were all chaffed throughout our crotches and under our arm pits. Both places were rubbed so raw that they were bleeding. Our knees and hips hurt so much that we could hardly lift our feet up on the curb without extreme pain.

Tom came in 11th place and I came in 12th. We crossed the finish line together with a time of 12 hours and 43 minutes.

It was weeks before I could walk without a noticeable limp. I guess that running something so demanding and so difficult is a lot like having a baby. It was such a long race and was so hard and was filled with so much pain that told myself I was never going to run that marathon again. But 8 months later, I was already making plans to run it again the next year.

I find it interesting that some people have this need to do things that put the body through such distress and torment to see what it can endure. It was such a hard thing to do, yet I did it again the next year. I ran it the second year in 8 hours and 23 minutes. I was planning on doing it again a 3rd time but I ended up going on my mission instead and never ran that race again after I got back. I’m quite proud that I can say I’ve done that and that I’ve done it twice.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Goal #2114: See What it’s Like to be Bitten by a Snake

I remember as a little kid always wondering what it would be like to be bitten by a snake. I know it’s kind of a weird thing to wonder about but consider the source. I remember seeing those horror movies where someone who was being especially bad was taken before some vicious looking voodoo priest to be “taught a lesson.” The priest would place a cobra or some other venomous snake in front of their face and let the snake bit them over and over again, injecting their body with poisonous venom. The idea of having a snake bit me was a terrifying thought, and yet I was so intrigued by it.

When I was 15 I decided that I had to face my fears. I wanted to know; no I NEEDED to know what it was like to have a snake bite me.

I wasn’t about to let a snake bite me in the face, but I was OK with it biting me in the hand. That was far enough away from my eyes and my brain that I knew it would be OK.  I decided to do this with a gardener snake. I knew that gardener snakes weren’t poisonous and their faces were small compared to a rattle snake or a cobra. I figured I was relatively safe with something like a gardener snake.

I caught a snake in the field by my friend’s house. We rough it up real good so it would be good and mad. Then I put him up by my hand and let him have a go at me. It didn’t take long for the snake to react.  

It hurt a lot more than I thought it would. He bit me in the hand in that meaty area between the thumb and the first finger in the upper side of the hand. I think the thing that made it hurt so much was first, the fact that the snake was wiggling around so much while it had its fangs buried in my hand. Second, the adrenaline was surging so strong in my body that I think it amplified the pain more than it really was. Either way, I finally did it. I finally discovered what it’s like to be bitten by a snake. It isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I think that once is enough. And best of all, I didn’t need to find a voodoo priest to help me do it.    

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Goal #775: Live in a Mansion

I did this when I served as a missionary in the Philippine Islands. At the time we were living in a nasty old warehouse across the street from a Pepsi warehouse. Our contract was about to expire and my companion and I were not too keen on living in that pit for another year. The landlord wanted to increase our rent to some ridiculous amount without fixing any of the problems. Believe me, there were plenty of problems with that dump. In the end, we moved out from that nasty old warehouse to a very spacious mansion.

Elder Orgill and I found the house and then spent several weeks negotiating prices with the wife. Her husband murdered in the home by one of his houseboys. The people in this part of the Philippines were very superstitious and believed that when someone dies a violent death in their home their spirit stays there to haunt the place, making life a living hell for anyone who lives there. Because of that, no one would rent it. She just wanted to move back up to Manila to live with her son and his family. In the end, what should have cost us about $1,000 a month to rent, ended up costing us only $75 a month.

This place was huge. It was situated on about 5 or 4 acres of land. It had so many fruit trees on the place that we had the members harvest and sell the fruit to pay the entire ward budget each year. In addition to that, we were also able take care of all the welfare needs of our ward with what was grown on the land.

Inside the house was a large are where the servants lived. It had two kitchens, a fish pond in the formal dining room, carved peacocks surrounding each doorway and stone mosaics on several walls. All the walls upstairs were made of very expensive Nara wood from the jungles of Mindanao. The members of the branch met downstairs for church and had far more than enough room for all their meetings. The entire upstairs were used for our living quarters. We had full shower facilities and a tiled bathroom, a feature we never had in any other house or apartment we lived in before. All the windows were covered with heavy iron work shaped into the Chinese character for good luck. The front door was so heavy with iron work in Chinese characters that it took two people to open the door each morning. To enter the house, you had to walk over a small bridge that extended over a fish pond.

The only home in the mission that can anywhere near this place in opulence, beauty and comfort was the mission home. This place was the talk of the entire mission. When I first came to Roxas City most of the missionaries who knew anything about the place referred to it as the arm pit of the mission. Months after I left, I overheard several missionaries talking about how much they would love to be assigned to Roxas. Most of that had to do with the house Elder Orgill and I found and contracted to rent.  The Church continued to rent that house for several more years until they finally built a full blown chapel for the members. Only then did the missionaries find another place to live.

Just as a side note, two weeks after Elder Orgill and I moved out of the warehouse and into this mansion, I was reassigned to open a brand new area in Bago, a small town on a neighboring island. There was no branch of the church there and there was no home for Elder Carlson and I to live in. I had to start all over again from scratch. The place we lived in in Bago was much worse than what we had to live in before we found our mansion. But that’s another fascinating story.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Goal #621: Eat Pig Brain Soup

Pig brain soup!  Who in their right mind willingly eats pig brain soup?  Can’t you get mad cow disease from doing stuff like that?  OK, so you can’t get mad cow disease, but I’ll bet you get can mad pig disease and that’s got to be worse.

Eating pig brain soup was one of the many memorable culinary experiences I had when I was living in the Philippine Islands. I was visiting a friend of mine who lived in a small village in southern Luzon Island. Rueben was a barber and didn’t make a lot of money, so he and his wife were pretty creative in finding “exotic” and creative things to eat that didn’t cost a lot of money.

It is the custom of the Filipino people to offer food to visitors who come to their home. At that time, Americans were treated especially well because there were still a lot of the Filipino people who remembered how the Americans liberated their nation toward the end of WWII. So, I was almost always treated as an honored guest when I visited people.

I remember once when I came by Rueben’s home and his wife was making a large pot of soup. As soon as I entered their home I just automatically commented on how their house smelled so good. My comment made Rueben’s wife smile from ear to ear. Filipino women love it when a guest acknowledges their ability to cook well.

As soon as I sat down Rueben’s wife fixed me a large bowl of soup. I was delighted to see that she was serving me vegetable egg drop soup. After finishing the bowl I complemented her on how delicious it was. Of course, she insisted on serving me a second bowl, filled up to the top just like the first bowl. As she was filling my bowl I commented on how good her egg drop soup tasted. She exclaimed that this was not egg drop soup. No, it was pig brain soup.

Oh no! I had always lived by the rule that you eat what is served to you before you ask what it is. It always makes the unexpected dish easier to get down. I have to say that her second bowl of soup was like a zillion times harder to stomach when I knew I was eating shredded pig brains rather than egg and chicken. I’m sure that Rueben was having a wonderful time watching me finish that second bowl of soup. But what could I do? I could not offend my good friend’s wife and there was no way he was going to let me off the hook. That was the hardest bowl of soup I have ever eaten.