Tag Archives: Gasconade River

A little Rowling here, a little Twain there

If you ask a question often enough, you’re bound to eventually get the answer you want.

Today one of the members of the Columbia Missouri Novelists Facebook page posted what could be either the most instructive, inspiring link or the most vanity-laden, time-wasting link.

I Write Like … You paste a sample of your work into a box, click “analyze,” and within seconds you find out your word choice and writing style compares favorably with — which famous author. I quickly yielded to temptation, certain that I could embrace or reject any conclusion.

I encourage you to give it a try.

First I submitted two samples from my current work, “Dixieland,” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month project. Both analyses determined the word choice and style compared favorably with H.P. Lovecraft. That was baffling, because I neither read nor write science fiction or “weird fiction,” the genre that Lovecraft basically birthed. So I copied and pasted another “Dixieland” sample that compared favorably with Stephenie Meyer.

The Twilight Saga? What? Flattering as that was, I have to confess that I also don’t read — and really have zero interest in — paranormal romance, vampires and werewolves, and death-pale young men and women.

So I sought additional analysis. Next to copy-and-paste was a dialogue-heavy scene from “Chasing The Devil,” my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. (Still unfinished, still unpublished). The analysis reported: J.K. Rowling. (Here’s the link if you think I’m fibbing). Again — sorry. I’ve read maybe six pages of the Harry Potter series. Wizards, sorcery, Harry himself — just not my cup ‘o tea.

Or is it? Meyer has made a gazillion bucks with her Twilight series; Rowling has made a trilabilagazillion bucks from Harry Potter. Hmmm?

Let’s try some more. Two selections from “Gone” (2010, NaNoWriMo). Different conclusions but familiar results: Meyer for one, Rowling for the other.

Still not satisfied, I reached into the archives of Jackson’s Journal to one of my favorite blog posts, Aug. 17, 2012, the conclusion of a three-part story of the time I almost drowned in the Gasconade River. Surely this would break the Lovecraft-Meyer-Rowling spell?

I pasted the copy, hit “analyze,” and this time the answer didn’t come right away. I laughed out loud at the conclusion.

“Mark Twain.” Ahhh! A kindred spirit, a fellow journalist.

So I had to check one more time, pasting the copy of a news story from April 2009. (It’s a horribly tragic story if you care to read it). The story was awarded second place for spot news reporting in that year’s Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors annual competition.

The analytic conclusion? “Mark Twain.”

twain and friends

It was a fun exercise in vanity, but more than that, as I perused my unfinished, novel-length works, it was a stark reminder that I have too many unfinished, novel-length works screaming to get out of their desktop folders, out of my noggin and into the hands of readers.

And that’s where any real or imagined similarities with famous authors end. They’ve actually finished a book or two.

Excuse me, then. I have some work to do.

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And along comes pneumonia …

THIS was going to be the week that I resumed regular blogging. The week I was going to master active voice and conquer passive voice. (Except that sentence). The week my weekly cycling total would eclipse 50 miles. The week that long-delayed, long-term projects at the Columbia Daily Tribune would get new life and bring smiles to the faces of my editors.

I had big plans.

Then along came pneumonia. It’s (at least) the ninth time this respiratory malady has flattened me in the last 20 years.

I know, I know. There seems to be a problem here. Two years ago, my fine physician, Dr. Carin Reust (University Physicians, Smiley Lane Clinic), fashioned a plan to figure out why I’m so susceptible to pneumonia. Whereas most people get a bad cold or maybe influenza and then, after suffering with the first ailment for a while they contract the secondary infection of pneumonia, I get a scratchy throat, a cough, maybe a sneeze and BAM! — pneumonia. Skip all the in-between incubation time.

It’s like a cruel board game I’ve thought about creating. It’s called “You’re Sick!” Roll the dice, move your marker (a DNA-helix of the influenza virus, a vial that represents live smallpox from the CDC in Atlanta, things like that), and you land on a square that says “Select A Symptom.” You pick a card, and yours would say, “Scratchy throat.” In your next move, you drink a gallon of orange juice and that symptom disappears. Trouble is, you now have a “severe lower gastrointestinal disturbance.” Now, I pick a card that says “Scratchy Throat,” and on my next move, I land smack dab on the “Pneumonia” square.

It’s true. I almost always go from zero to 60 like that — from picture of health to pneumonia. I rarely get a common cold or a common anything. I had viral meningitis in 1989 and pleurisy in 1992. And somewhere along the way, according to chest x-rays taken in 2010 during a period of good health, I developed scar tissue in my right lung. Just a smidgen, but probably a tell-tale sign that I had undiagnosed, untreated pneumonia or some other brachialcardialigistic ailment, probably during childhood or my teen years. (I just made up that brachialcaria-word, by the way).

In late 2009 my side business of painting, minor carpentry, window cleaning and deep cleaning  (stuff that no one else wants to clean) was so booked that I actually took off work from the Trib the last week of ’09 to finish two jobs. The last part of the last job was spraying “popcorn” texture onto a ceiling on which I’d inflicted dry-wall repair.

I didn’t wear a mask. Within two weeks I was down with pneumonia and that was the end of Jodie The Handyman. Solvents, cleaners, paint and similar chemicals sort of freeze up my lungs now. The allergic/respiratory reaction doesn’t cause pneumonia, but it basically sets me up for the illness. Or something like that.

I have a few ideas where this scar tissue came from:

– All that airplane model glue that I huffed as a kid. (Okay, I made that up). But these are real …

– Spring 1984, as I siphoned gas from the car to transfer into the garden tiller, I got a mouthful. Some of it made it down my gullet. I probably aspirated just enough not to kill me. I remember that incident by this name: The. Longest. Night. Of. My. Life. Remind me to tell you more about it later.

– July 1978, when I nearly drowned in the Gasconade River. Some of that nasty water made it down my windpipe. My lungs burned for days.

– 1981, Rolla, Mo., Godfather’s pizza. My high school debate partner, Jack Smith, did a sort of Heimlich maneuver on me as I choked on lava-hot double-cheese pizza. Pretty sure a melted bit of that delicious cuisine wound up in a lung.

– 1982, March. After walking back to North Ellis Hall, my dorm at Central Missouri State University, from Country Kitchen, where several of us had a Bible study and where I learned that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian because I’d never spoken in tongues, I went to bed around 2 a.m. Just after falling asleep, I woke up panicked, unable to breathe. No air in, no air out. I raced to the bathroom, splashed water onto my face and stared in the mirror as my eyes bulged and the room spun. Somehow I managed a gasp. (That happened again a month later, but never again since, unless you count sleep apnea, which I also have).

Anyway, I reported to my Pentecostal friends what had happened and that immediately upon regaining full respiratory function, I spoke in tongues. “Sorry,” said my buddy Chris. “Did you pray for interpretation?” No, I hadn’t. Chris said he’d pray for my soul.

There you have it. More of my medical history than you probably wanted to know. And all of this to explain that I’ve missed work all week and, by doctor’s orders, I won’t be back until Monday. Meanwhile, Nurse Kelly is providing exceptional care and, so far, I think I’ve been a pretty good patient.

So far.

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‘Stay out of the river’ … conclusion

NOTE OF APOLOGY: I found this sitting in my “drafts” folder and didn’t realize I hadn’t shared it. My bad. It was pre-set to publish on Aug. 1, but somehow it went to and stayed in “drafts.”

Here’s the conclusion to a four-part story from July 26-27, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I followed our sense for adventure from the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. I generally try to keep blog posts to 600 words or less, so here’s fair warning that this is a long read: over 1,200 words. Rather than split this up into two more installments, I think it’s important to keep the stream unbroken — at least from my perspective. As I finished this up, a flood of long-dormant memories, details and emotions clutched my soul.

It’s odd ‑ the things you think about when you think you’re drowning.

“Will this hurt?” “Will I lose consciousness before, well, you know?” “Will I survive long enough to have a memory of what happened so that I’m replaying the horror as I … die?”

I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes, and even if it that happened, the soupy warm, sick-green, gritty water clouded my sight and burned my nose. I struggled hard not to inhale, aware that a mouthful of the murky river water was already in my stomach. The back of my throat burned, but I broke the surface just in time to spit and spew before another gulp of the Gasconade River went down my gullet. I turned my head in every direction, screaming Mike’s name.

I didn’t see him.

Fighting the paralysis of terror, I was certain the Gasconade had claimed two more victims.

My head jerked back under the surface, water pushed its way into my lungs, and an other-worldly force clutched my feet.

Within minutes of arriving at Rollins Ferry Access, Mike and I spotted the perfect camping spot for our three-day stay. A narrow gravel bar about a third of the way into the river beckoned my best friend and I, and we quickly waded and splashed our way through knee-deep water to stake our claim on the gravel bar.

The long-awaited but ill-planned hike to the river had become a hitch-hike via Highway 89, but we were there. By not following the meandering Turkey Creek for who knew how long, we’d have more time to spend at our ultimate destination. Somehow that rationale eased the disappointment of giving up on the hike. The gravel bar immediately yielded an arrowhead and Mike located a good pile of driftwood. He pointed to a deep pool just across the river and announced, “That’s where we’ll catch our supper.” I stepped into the river, cupped my hands and sucked up a long, gritty drink.

Both of us had long forgotten our mothers’ unified edict, and the only condition of their reluctant agreement to let us go: “Stay out of the river.”

The raft we fashioned out of the driftwood was barely sea-worthy, but in no time we were on the other side of the river. Mike piloted the raft and baited our fishing lines as I hung on to the side, floating and navigating our crude watercraft into position. Our casts were quickly greeted by hungry crappie, and our rods reeled in a half-dozen or more for our stringer when a woman stepped out of an Airstream RV parked along the bank and chased us away. “You’re on me,” she said. “You’re on my part.”

We slowly made our way upstream, just west of the Highway 89 bridge, where another woman told us we were welcome to fish in a little eddy just a stone’s throw from her back porch. She even brought out cold lemonade, offered to make us something to eat, and warned us to be careful. She didn’t even pretend to be impressed with our driftwood raft.

“Respect the river, boys. It’s dangerous.”

As dusk settled in and the mosquitoes became the size of small birds, our little gravel bar turned into a soon-to-be-15-year-old’s dream buffet: fried fish, fried potatoes, snack cakes and campfire cornbread. The disappointment of short-changing the hike-of-the-century quickly faded as we fell asleep, stretched out on our damp sleeping bags under the stars.

Thick fog lingered just above the surface of the slow-moving water and the increasing regularity of cars and trucks crossing the bridge announced the start of our first full day at the river. As Mike slept I walked into the water, stopping at thigh-deep and splashed my face. The cool river soothed the massive mosquito bites on my arms and neck. Still tasting the salty fish and taters from the night before, I put my face in the water and filled my belly.

The moment the fog lifted, the late-July sun baked and the humidity basted. We hunted for arrowheads, flipped and skipped rocks, stacked some firewood, ate a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, and chatted with boaters that passed by. By noontime, the sauna-like heat was unbearable and Mike stepped into the river.

I joined him. I laid back and floated, my mind empty and my belly full.

Maybe it was several seconds, maybe a few minutes. What I do remember was realizing I was several feet downstream from our gravel bar campsite when I put my feet down to stand.

Instead, I sucked in a mouthful of soupy warm, sick-green, gritty water. My head went under and my feet weren’t able to find the bottom.

After discovering that Mike was also drowning and going under a second time – this time gagging and throwing up in my throat – the undertow showed mercy, and my head bobbed above the surface again. In an instant I heard Mike screaming my name and caught a glimpse of him tossing something my way. The deadly undercurrent snatched me again and as I stretched my arms high, a massive piece of driftwood splashed into my hands, giving just enough buoyancy to bring my head and torso out of the drink.

In that split-second, just moments before the Gasconade River was going to become my watery grave, Mike Thompson saved my life.

We reached the bank and lay on our sides, throwing up, coughing up and sobbing. Every inch of my body was numb. There was sand in the pockets of my shorts, sand in my hair, mud in my mouth and under my nails, and a sick odor of sick-green river water in my nose and deep in the pores of my skin.

I wanted to go home.

As we recovered on our little gravel bar, the woman who let us fish behind her house shouted from the other side of the river. “There’s a storm coming! I don’t think you’re safe there!” She invited us to wait out the storm in her house. Instead, completely discouraged, dispirited and stinking of river muck, we packed up and less than 24 hours after a kind motorist dropped us off at the river, we walked back to the highway to flag down a car to take us home.

Heavy rain was already falling when a northbound car stopped to let us in. It was the superintendent of the Linn school, Joe Phillips, heading to the middle school in Linn where my mom was working, getting ready for the new school year to start.

I don’t think either Mike or I ever told our mothers the real reason we cut short our stay at the river.

My mom brought us home, but not before we waited out the storm at the school. Radio reports indicated that a tornado had been spotted somewhere in rural Osage County, in the vicinity of the Rollins Ferry Access. Torrential rain fell all day and all night. The Gasconade River rose dramatically. I later heard that the Airstream RV washed downstream just after the woman who’d chased us off had run for higher ground.

A few days later, Mike’s dad, Raymond, drove us around to look at flood damage. As we crossed the Highway 89 bridge, I looked to the east to see our gravel bar.

It was gone.

It never has reappeared.

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Memoir-in-progress: Stay out of the river

Welcome to part three of a four-part story from July 26-27, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I realized our lifelong dream to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. Look for the conclusion on Thursday. And keep the term “lifelong dream” in perspective. I wasn’t yet 15.

Our favorite spot of all was The Cave. It was really a limestone/sandstone overhang on the south-facing hill in Mike’s woods, but I never doubted that if we ever found an entrance big enough to squeeze through, we’d discover that the entire hillside was a network of caves or maybe even one enormous cavern.

We could sit comfortably under the overhang and there was just enough room for two sleeping bags side-by-side, with open air on the east and west sides. A small campfire a safe distance from our bedding illuminated the dark depression in the hill and the heat radiated off the sandstone “ceiling.” I’m not sure how we avoided carbon monoxide poisoning. We spent an entire summer selecting 2- and 3-inch diameter trees that we cut and leaned against the opening of The Cave.

Perfect camouflage.

We planned the hike to the river during one of our campouts in the cave. Based entirely on uncalculated speculation and wishful thinking, we made a list of the provisions we’d need and mapped out the journey. We figured that eight, maybe nine hours – easy – would get us to the Gasconade River. Somehow it made sense that if we had our plan written out and every possible detail checked, that would make it much easier to convince our parents to let us go.

My parents had been divorced nine months, so it was my mom’s call. Mike’s parents ran the Golden Rule Café’ on main street in Belle. His dad wouldn’t object, but his mom, Mabel, would resist. My Black Book of Great Adventures contains no written account of how we did it, and there’s nothing in my memory that I can draw on for evidence that what made sense to us apparently also made sense to our mothers.

“Stay out of the river” was the only stipulation I wrote down. Of course, it was the first condition that we broke, but at the time of negotiation, with our life-long dream of hiking to the river within our grasp, we agreed to the “stay out of the river” prohibition.

My mom would drive us to the hike-in point on  Turkey Creek on Wednesday morning, the 26th, and we’d stay at the Rollins Ferry Access until Mike’s dad, Raymond, picked us up on Saturday.

As planned, my mom drove us to the Turkey Creek bridge just after 8 a.m. She drove on to Linn where she was assistant principal at the middle school, which would begin the new school year a couple of weeks later. And so we began the trek to the river, already eliminating the long, winding stretch from the back of Mike’s house to the spot where we were starting. From the start it seemed somewhat anticlimactic, and it also seemed more difficult than it should have been. We’d never hauled that amount of stuff on a hike. No doubt we looked more like cross-country panhandlers than explorers. What didn’t fit in our backpacks we tied to our belts, looped around our necks or simply carried. Fishing equipment, hatchets, cooking utensils, food, sleeping bags, an assortment of extra clothes, rope, first aid kit – and it was blistering hot.

We followed the creek east from Highway 89 through several large farmsteads, armed with the very wrong impression that it wasn’t trespassing if you stayed in the creek or pretty close to the bank. Never mind that we climbed over fences, crawled under barbed-wire or encountered a few cows, we were on a “wild” hike through the hinterland of southern Osage County — until two hours into the hike when the creek wound right back to the highway, probably less a mile from where we started.

Tired, hot, hungry and literally weighed down, we made a joint executive decision: flag down a passing car and just get to the river. We hopped in the first car that came along and we were at the river in five minutes.

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Memoir in progress: Stay out of the river

Welcome to part two of a four-part story from July 27-28, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I realized our lifelong dream (I was not yet 15) to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. Look for Part 3 on Tuesday and the conclusion on Aug. 2.

My collection of Belle High School yearbooks from the mid-70’s to 1981 includes photos of classmates and schoolmates who never made it to graduation because they drowned. One classmate was horseback riding with her younger sister when her horse bucked, tossing her into a water-filled clay pit. The remnants of the clay pits in and around Belle were huge hills of dirt and gravel, the material removed during the extraction process to mine the clay that was used to make bricks and cement in by-gone years.

The clay piles made wonderful sledding hills and terrific fossil-hunting territory. My pal Jeff once found a trilobite fossil, making him president-for-life of our explorer’s and fossil-hunter’s club.

Besides the clay piles, what also remained from that long-dormant industry were deep, water-filled quarries, and many clay pits didn’t have safe entry points for swimming. A few adults warned me and my friends to stay clear of the deep holes, telling scary stories about deer that stepped into the water to drink, only to instantly disappear because the depth at the bank was the same as the depth in the middle – 40, 50 or even 90 feet deep. And once you were in the water, the wet clay banks were too slick for escape.

Glub.

I avoided clay pits like the plague.

The other drownings that I recall or heard about all occurred in the Gasconade River, which moves a bit slower than most rivers, except that the Gasconade has a mysterious force called the “undertow,” a subsurface current that lurks near the river bottom – a force that grabs unwary swimmers, pulling them under. If the undertow stretched for miles, that’s how far away they’d find your body.

The warning was clear: no one escaped the undertow. It sounded a bit far-fetched, but some of the drowning victims from my school were athletes. Strong people.

No one escaped the undertow.

Most of my friends – in fact, I think all of my other friends – also liked to hike, splash around in the creek and even camp out under the stars, but they usually wanted to achieve some greater purpose. What was the point of the hike? What were we after? With that attitude – when the destination was more important than the journey – those friends got bored.

I never, ever got bored traipsing through the woods. And neither did Mike. I wrote about a night in August 1977, just a few days before my 14th birthday (Mike was a couple of years younger) when we stayed up all night on a clear hilltop in the forest, watching the Leonid meteor shower.

My other friends didn’t share my breathless fascination with nature and astronomical light shows. The night we watched that meteor shower, Mike and I brought a Bible and a flashlight, so we could take turns reading aloud the scriptures that mentioned stars, creation, the heavens, and the awesomeness of God. True, we were goofy nerds. But we were Christian nerds. I had other friends who would have read the Bible with me in the woods, but they wouldn’t have sat in silence for hours in the chilly night air to watch meteors and to hear owls hooting and night creatures scurrying.

I shared that connection only with Mike.

We wondered about the stars, about the deer that we could hear but couldn’t see. We watched a momma skunk waddle past with three little stinkers. We whispered about the Great-horned owl that stared at us from its perch just 20 feet away. We quietly talked about our next adventure.

We wondered what it would be like to follow the creek all the way to the river.

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A true story: Stay out of the river, Part 1

Join me for a four-part story about the summer my best friend and I realized our lifelong dream (I was not yet 15) to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River.

A perfect assortment of driftwood practically begged to become a make-shift raft, and a few minutes and several feet of rope later, we had a raft. My best friend, Mike, and I weren’t exactly Tom and Huck – only one could ride on the rough, roughly four-foot-square river vessel, while the other held on to the side, floating and guiding our creation – but our sense of adventure knew no bounds.

So much for the one edict from our moms: “Just stay out of the river.”

Just stay out of the water? Right. After all, Mike and I were making our long-dreamed hike from a creek off Highway 89 in Osage County to the Rollins Ferry Access about 10 miles away – as a crow flies – on the banks of the Gasconade River. Our mothers, finally worn down from two straight summers of pleading, finally relented and reluctantly agreed to give us three days to have a hike and a campout at the river.

“Just stay out of the river.”

July 27, 1978 – From the Black Book of Great Adventures (a.k.a. the personal diary I kept as a kid) … “Our hike to the river was a success. Sort of. I’ll explain later.”

The next entry didn’t come until Aug. 30, 1978, and it referenced a separate essay, “What I did on my summer vacation,” which detailed one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

Mike and I hiked every inch of the thick woods behind his house about a mile north of Belle, Mo., off Highway 89. One of the coolest hikes we ever took – until that trek to the river – was a route south from his house, through the woods, across a county road (and countless private properties, no doubt), to a little slice of childhood paradise we called Horseshoe Falls, on the northern border of my hometown. Horseshoe Falls was so named from the creek that spilled out from under a pile of boulders, then forked into separate arcs that formed a horseshoe.

I’m not sure who named it Horseshoe Falls. There was a tiny waterfall, a thin stream that poured off the side of a boulder before splashing onto rocks about four feet below. And I suppose the creek formed a horseshoe. I was told – again, can’t recall by whom – that aerial photos showed a horseshoe shape in the woods behind the elementary school.

I didn’t see the aerial view for myself until several years later – and still can’t swear it’s a horseshoe – but by then a lot had changed. Several locals called the creek a wet-weather stream, and yes, it was much slower and much lower during dry spells, but I knew Horseshoe Falls. I knew that it was spring-fed and I knew when a nearby farmer suddenly had a pond when he dammed the creek way upstream. There were small fish in the creek: shiner minnows, small sunfish, crawfish, tadpoles and frogs, mean water snakes and a wonderful assortment of bugs that, years later, I identified as excellent indicators of good water quality.

Horseshoe Falls was not a dry stream. At least not until the spring was dammed.

Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River. Jodie and Mike followed the creek. How could we get lost? A U.S. Geological Survey map and microfilm details of the area – just the things a nerdy 14-year-old managed to get from the USGS office in Rolla ‑ showed that the creek that spilled through Horseshoe Falls was the same creek that ran at the bottom of a valley behind Mike’s house, about two miles from Horseshoe Falls. The stream also seemed to be connected to the larger, wider Turkey Creek that flowed under a bridge on Highway 89.

Turkey Creek snaked and meandered back toward the highway and then northeast until finally uniting with the Gasconade River.

Our creek exploring/hiking trips almost always included a pause for pondering the yearning of our hearts: Someday we should follow this creek all the way to the river.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Stay out of the river”

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Somebody’s 5 months old!

I’ve got a bevy of stories to share for another day, namely two water events that almost changed or ended my life forever, that occurred in July. (One in 1978, involving the Gasconade River, and the other in 1993, involving the Missouri River). One of the all-time most tragic news stories that I covered was in July 1984 in the little town of Bland, Mo.

I’ll let you know when those true tales are ready. (I also just wanted to use the word “bevy” today).

And our current heat wave of consecutive 90-plus degree days is already the fifth-longest such stretch ever. If it becomes an all-time record, which is becoming increasingly possible, it will probably crack my Top 10 Lifetime Weather Events. So I’ll keep you posted, with an eventual update on the futile effort to produce tomatoes, zucchini, cukes and other goodies in the back yard.

Those are stories for another day, because the topic of this day is granddaughter Princess Kianna!

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