Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Game Warden Files--and Still More Winter Leftovers

Going XC skiing with my wife and friends the other day reminded me of one of my more adventurous days of work--OK, you could call it play, but it was done for the sake of work. In all reality, this is hardly an exciting game warden story, but one example of how the job allowed me some experiences that I might not have otherwise had.
One of the local Forest Rangers who was into very high-level back country skiing was trying to find someone to ski down the W. Stony Creek--which is more like a small river than a creek-- with him. None of the other Rangers in the area were that into skiing and I was the only local ECO who was willing to give it a try, so I was his guy. We'd had a spell of very cold weather followed by some pretty good snowfall, and conditions were as good as they were going to get for the trek. He hunted me down and made the suggestion. It didn't take me long to agree on the plan.
We met the next morning, checking out all our gear and headed out, parking one vehicle at one end of our proposed journey (STHWY 30 and W. Stoney Creek) and heading off to our starting point, where Hatch Brook crosses Hamilton Co. Rt. 6. (Benson Rd).
This Ranger was a treat to ski with. He had some very high-tech equipment which made it simple for him to ski in almost any condition, he'd been skiing difficult terrain for years and had all the skills necessary to keep us both out of any trouble--which made me pretty happy. On the other hand, I was a fairly new skier, had halfway decent back country equipment, but was not nearly as skillful as he was. It made for an interesting day.
We skied through the woods from the road, along Hatch Brook and down to the W. Stony. The creek was gorgeous. The sun was just at the point in the ski where everything was bright and the ice and snow covered creek was quite a sight. I'll admit I had some second thoughts about it at that point; but the Ranger was confident in his skills and in my ability to make it up as I went along, so off we went.
We had generally good conditions all the way, but there were a few places that gave us some concerns. We had to get off the creek and go up on the bank around some open water once or twice and once the ice started to give way as we were on it, dropping right out from under the ranger's skis, forcing to make a wide arc to get away from the open spot; but all together it was an uneventful trip.We figured it to have been about a three miles ski, but it was not a normal ski route. We made it to our end point in about two hours, which wasn't bad considering all the obstacles we had to ski around on the way.
Yeah, it's not a really exciting story, but the glory of the Creation on that winter day is a memory I'll savor for years.

A Christian Nation (revisited)

If you go back far enough on this blog, you'll find a previous entry, provoked by a presidential statement. Some further thought on the matter--provoke by our adult Sunday School class nick-named "Bare Knuckle Bible"--probably ought to be added to that.
First, define Christian. We live in a day of nominal Christianity--in name only. There is no one set of practices or beliefs that is held by all who would call themselves Christian. It seems that if a person is not a member of any other religion and does not consider himself atheist or agnostic, he is by default a Christian.
The most truthful definition of the term must go to its first Biblical usage. In Acts 11 we find the first reference, it was in Antioch that the term was first used. It was the term which meant simply of Christ, and it was used to describe the church there--those who were actively following Christ and teaching what Christ had taught.
It can well be argued that our nation was settled to be a Christian community. The Puritans who came to Plymouth were unarguably Christian in the same sense as Antioch, and their intent was to live their lives as a Christian community. They came here seeking freedom from the Church of England. The writings of the time clearly reflect that. After that the nation retained a Christian flavor, in that the principles of the Bible continued to be evidenced in all of community life and in that churches were a normal part of the landscape with the majority of the population attending with some degree of regularity. By the time our nation came to be, our founding fathers were an interesting mix of sound Christians, Deists and others who held, at least least loosely, to God's Word. Their writing gave testimony to their belief that God's principles were the principles upon which they designed our nation's government.
Since that time however, our nation has drifted--or in my opinion fallen--away from those standards. Biblical principals are ignored and denied. Even our churches no longer teach Biblical principles, some having clergy that will outright deny the absolute truth of the Bible, the supremacy of God and other principles.
So, in short, I still say we are not a Christian nation. Not that I like it; but that's the way I see it. Start by examining who are truly Christians. That's enough to prove it without going any further.
The end of the matter is that all of us who are Christians, according to the original definition of the term, need to work to push (or lead) us back in the direction from which we came. We should start by living our lives the way Christ would have us live them, according to the pattern He set for us.  How's that for a New Year's resolution?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Game Warden Files--Another Winter Leftover

One of my favorite places was a trio of lakes in southern Hamilton County.  Murphy, Middle and Bennett Lakes are in the Town of Hope and easily accessed with a reasonable walk. There entire trail from Pumpkin Hollow Rd. in Wells to Creek Rd in Hope is about eight miles long. Murphy is just about in the middle with the others closer to the Creek Rd. trail head. Over the years, I've walked it in spring, summer and fall, snowmobled, snow-shoed and skied it in winter. Another officer and I even carried a canoe and paddled all three lakes in one day--that was a long, and exhausting day; but a good patrol. We even checked it by helicopter a few times. Truly one of my favorite spots.
One winter, shortly before Christmas, a car showed up at one of the trail heads, and stayed a while. It wasn't uncommon for a car to be parked there, folks camped in there all the time; but this time there was no sign in on the trail book and the car just stayed there. I walked into Bennett lake on show shoes and saw no one, talked to others who had skied through the area and still couldn't figure who was in there or where. After a week or so, one of the local deputies, the local Forest Ranger and I had discussed it and shared our concerns. We had run the plate number and found that the owner was from somewhere in the New York City area, we either couldn't find a phone number or continued to get no answer and so continued to be perplexed.
We were all starting to get worried that we had a body somewhere in the woods. When the car was still there a couple days after Christmas, we got started talking and were trying come up with a plan when all of a sudden someone showed up at the car.
The guy worked for a school system in the New York City area and had an extended winter vacation. He was something of an extreme outdoors-man, and had a high-tech sleeping system that was essentially a tent in a hammock. He'd gone back in the woods, rigged his system in a remote area and settled in. He was there through a couple snow storms, which had hidden any tracks, and had stayed through some pretty cold weather, but was settled in his tent with his books, a heater and a cook stove--happy as he could be. He never had a fire, so the one clue we might have had to his whereabouts wasn't there. That's how he spent his Christmas vacation. He had been well prepared and well provisioned, and never thought that his car, unaccounted for at a trail head, might cause the local law enforcement community some concern. He had never thought about signing in at the trail head log book, which is there for protection and safety of those who use the trails or of not leaving a note on his car letting anyone know about when he'd return.
He was technically in violation of the law, camping on the Forest Preserve more than three days without a permit and got a stern warning about that along with a good chewing out for the folly of his behavior--no one knew where he was, no contact information, that kind of thing; then we helped him dig his car out of the snowbank and sent him on his way.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Game Warden Files--Some Leftover Thoughts of Winter

Those who know me will know that I actually love the winter--not a fan of high winds and bitter cold; but 20 degrees with some snow on the ground and a clear sky is one of my favorite set of conditions to be in the woods. This morning, in preparation for some weekend plans I dug out the cross-country skis which provoked some conversation, and with that came some memories.
It was my first winter after moving back upstate that I learned to love snow shoes. I had some issues with a badly matched shoe and binding which cost me about a month of recovery time--probably too long on account of an over-protective doctor; but I got back on them before the end of winter and really learned to like them. The traditional shoes took me many miles into many of the environments in the lower Adirondacks and I loved the quiet "swish, swish, swish" made when walking in good rhythm under good conditions.  Over the years, I'd become quite friendly with the Havlick family http://www.havlicksnowshoe.com/ which made some hi-tech shoes and several times over the years Dick Havlick  handed me a set of a newly designed shoes and told me to go out and try to break them. I never did break a pair; but since I could put more abuse on a pair of shoes in a week than many recreational users could do in a lifetime, I did give them a workout. His shoes still serve me well today.
One of my favorite, though a bit self-deprecating, memories was the evening I was coming out of Whitehouse--a well-known place west of the hamlet of Wells, along side the west branch of the Sacandaga River. The track was a seldom used snowmobile trail that offered almost perfect conditions for the shoes. It was late winter and the temperature was just about perfect for a brisk walk on shoes. The sun was going down, the sky was clear and it was just a remarkable time. Going along, my mind was wandering to the point where the walking was thought free--you could say I was "in the zone," just putting one foot in front of the other. I don't know what happened; but suddenly I found myself face first in the soft snow along the trail... and still have no idea how it happened. There were many more falls on shoes over the years; but that's one time I'll admit to having been asleep on foot--it was quite a wake up!
One year, neighboring officer, Bob Gosson made it his mission to teach me how to cross-country ski. He wasn't talking about skiing on groomed trails, he was talking back country. My wife always found it humorous that he started my lessons on a road called Cemetery Hill. His efforts paid off and within a couple years my skis were taking me many places my shoes had formerly carried me--and the trips were faster. One of my favorite days was surprising a group of snowmobilers about 4 miles back in the woods.  They were pretty shocked at seeing me that deep in without a snowmobile and the one violation among them was so minor that the look on the operator's face was better than writing a ticket.
Another great day on skis was the opening day of trout season on Fawn Lake. Fawn lake is a small lake in Hamilton county with a heritage strain of trout and some special regulations to protect it. When trout season opens, the lake is still covered with ice and there's most often still snow on the snowmobile trails. Historically, it was tough to get in and check more than one group of fishermen before word spread. The fishermen all knew what our snowmobiles looked like, and they'd hear any machine coming down the trail long before it hit the ice and would be looking closely...but they never heard the skis. We got in and checked many groups of fishermen before anyone got the word out and evidence of violations disappeared.  It made for a productive day.            
Since I've retired, I haven't been on the skis even once. We've had the snowshoes out a few times, but the winters haven't been conducive to using either lately. Hoping that this winter will be a bit better this year.


I might be coining a term here, it would be nice to be the first to use a specific set of words and then have my lead followed; but it's the effect, not the verbiage that's important here.
From all media accounts, Cracker Barrel, one of my favorite restaurant chains, took a course of action based upon political correctness and then reversed itself because of the groundswell of opposition. My purpose is not to re-hash A&E's controversy over Phil Robertson's statements--they have to live with their response; but to look at what happened with Cracker Barrel.
For a number of years, we've been living in a world of political correctness. No one wants to be offended so the masses have avoided speaking up in order to avoid ever giving offence to anyone. This has brought us to a point at which anyone offended need only speak up and the rest have willingly silenced themselves. Enter Phil Robertson. He speaks his mind and his mind is firmly fixed on what the Bible has to say and what it says is often is terribly offensive to a certain segment of society. Then, a somewhat larger segment of society steps in and says "oh, we must not offend," and the majority silences itself.
This time, however, something decidedly different happened. The folks who patronize Cracker Barrel are NOT offended by what was said, and (I suspect) largely agree with the statement that was made! This time, those people reacted vocally and look what happened. Cracker Barrel reversed course! It did it quite quickly, I might add.
My hope is that more people, businesses and politicians will realize that they cannot be bullied into violating their beliefs and preferences based upon the beliefs and preferences of others, who may be a loud but vocal minority. This is not a new thing, rather a new manifestation of the concept of a silent majority. In this case, the silent majority has risen up and spoken. May it continue to do so. If that occurs, the Cracker Barrel Effect will be a reality. May it be so.

Please note that I am not taking Phil Roberson's side; but taking God's side.  Like Phil Robertson, I don't hate anyone; but also like Phil, I believe the Bible to be absolute in its statements. Those who chose to disregard it--whether vocal or silent--do so at their own peril.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mixed Emotions

First of all, I'm not a fan of Duck Dynasty--it's a bit too red-necky for me and my neck is pretty red. Though many of my friends love the show, the personas displayed in the commercials have been enough to keep me from ever watching it. I've watched a recording of Phil's preaching and though he was on point with what he had to say, it certainly wasn't a message I'd have gone a long way to hear. There are many other preachers I'd rather listen to. I've also been disturbed by the recent decision by these guys to get into a wine marketing deal. I'm not about to beat on the evils of alcohol; but if the goal is to follow and promote the cause of Christ, my opinion is that it would have been better to pass on that deal.
All that said, this latest mess about Phil being bounced from A&E is disturbing. It seems that that the network was pretty well aware of what the Robertson family was all about and what they believed and practiced regarding all the hot-button issues of the day. Therefor, what Phil said in his interview should have come as no surprise...and they pulled the plug on him.
The hue and cry about free speech is well intended, but misinformed. Free speech is something that we're granted by way of the Bill of Rights, not by a TV network. What may or may not be said on TV is a matter of contract, not of free speech. One might argue that it a matter of censorship, and there might be a bit of an argument there...though it's pretty slim as we're still talking private enterprise not government.
All in all, I hope the firestorm that has been ignited serves to bring the whole matter of what a popular man can say without getting the rug pulled out from under him into perspective. If Phil gets reinstated, good for him; if Duck Dynasty jumps to a different network, I wish them well...but I still don't plan to watch it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another Loss

The loss of yet another officer, a New York State Trooper, saddens all who share the profession. He died last night after being injured in an accident while doing his job.
Loss is tragic, and that is accentuated by the time of year and the fact that he left a wife and two young children. The loss is mitigated however to those of us who understand what this young trooper understood. For him, we can say Rest in Peace and be certain that he is at peace. One friend, a coworker of his, posted on her facebook page "I'll see that smile again!" Below is a quote from the facebook page of his church:

Trooper David Cunniff was a committed member of Grace Fellowship Church. He and his family regularly attended the Latham campus where Dave often applied his musical gifts in the worship band. As a church family, we’ve been blessed countlesstimes by his amazing talent on the guitar. Anyone who knew Dave personally could attest to his big heart, his ready laugh, and his unshakable commitment to his family.
Dave passed away today at 11:01am.
Our hearts ache for his wife Amy, the boys, and their extended families during this most difficult time. Dave’s life and his strength were an example to many. We will miss him deeply as we pray for God to comfort his loved ones.

I know this church, I know what it preaches: the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Christ's birth, death and resurrection will be given clearly at his funeral, and all police funerals are well attended. My his death bring this message to many.

Monday, December 16, 2013

He Came Not As...

Not as a teacher; though He taught as one with authority.
Not as a healer, yet healed in ways that astonished.
Not as a philanthropist; yet He fed thousands.
Not as an example of a perfect life although He lived his own without the stain of sin.
He came as none of those, but to seek and to save that which was lost. That was the reason.
He name was called Jesus, because He would save His people from their sin.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Game Warden Files--Acknowledgements

Were this a book, this would have gone in the beginning; but since this has grown from a couple random thoughts to many, many blog posts, it seems like this is time to do it.
The first person, and certainly the most important person has to be my wife, the love of my life, Peggy. She saw me through the transition from a truck driver who came home covered with feed dust, to a Village of Chatham police officer and State Park Patrol Officer to the point where I achieved something I'd wanted for many years: I became an ECO. Without her saying "go for it" and her constant encouragement that it was--or would be--worth it, it would have been all too easy to pack it in, or never to have begun the journey at all. She also helped me keep focused on the important things in life: faith and family. It would have been so easy, especially in the early days as an ECO when I was very caught up in the workload, to let that fall behind.
Next of course are our kids. Without really knowing it, they lived the adventure too. They saw me come and go at all hours, interacted with lots of colorful characters and got to experience some of my activities first-hand.
Kudos also to my parents. In our couple years in Brooklyn, they would drive down for the day and bring dinner--enough to keep us fed for days. In a day when our rent was more than a two week paycheck, that came in pretty handy! They also provided respite when we needed OUT OF THE CITY for a couple days. Even though we loved the excitement of the city, our friends, neighbors and church, sometimes we needed to "get outtahere," and they always welcomed us home.Their example (now at 70 years of marriage) of how to keep it going in all things was important for both of us, along with the work ethic instilled in me by watching them as I grew up.
My first captain, Dennis O'Reilly was a class act and I learned much from him. We had been friends before either of us entered the world of law enforcement, and were able to continue the friendship even as I worked for him. He put a lot of faith in me and went to bat for me when I needed it. He ended his career when he lost his battle with cancer--and his funeral was among the toughest I'd ever attended.
My first supervisor, mentioned occasionally in the posts, Jim (AKA Jay) Molinelli, was a wonderful guy. From him I learned the ability to separate the rank from the person. Even though we found times to disagree on the job, we always ended the disagreement and had coffee--and he always bought! It was the Jay Molinelli Seat of Your Pants Boat School that taught me how to run a boat and to navigate...and I always got safely back to port. Sadly, we lost him to cancer also, and that was another tough funeral.
I had several good supervisors through the years, and a couple clinkers, but one more stands out. Scott Florence was a rash young lieutenant when I met him, but he well understood how to handle older seasoned officers. I can honestly say that in spite of my years of seniority over  him, he made me a better officer--and we had some great fun working together. He's still climbing the ranks within the agency, and I wish him all the best.
A major force in my life early in my career was our pastor from our years on Staten Island, Bob DeRitter. He was as good a pastor as I've ever had, shared his life and family with us and really helped me to set the spiritual course of my life. Like Dennis and Jay, who also lived on Staten Island, we lost him to cancer also. We still have much contact with his family and cherish the memories. His funeral, though tough, was a true celebration of passing.
A few other clergymen have had impact on my spiritual life and need to be mentioned: Dr. Allen (Doug) Ferry) a long-time friend whose interest in my development has been a treasure to me; Frank Westcott, my pastor for many years and a master of humility and gentleness--he could teach classes in it; and my current pastors, Rick Klueg and George Hopper, two great men who encourage and build me up (along with the other men of the church) on a continual basis. All of these pastors share my love of Jesus Christ, are exemplary in the way they show that love to others and have shared many special times with me. Thankfully, I still have them with me.
It would be difficult to mention all of those within the job who contributed to my success, such as it was. It would likely be simpler to list those who served as an impediment; but that would serve no purpose at all. I'll end this by saying that the men and women of the Department of Environmental Conservation Police were, almost without exception the greatest law enforcement officers on earth. Many member of the Fulton County Sheriff's Office worked closely with me and together we handled many investigation and the men and women of the local NYS Police stationed in the area helped often as well. My thanks go to those folks also. A final note on a recent loss to the EnCon Police community. Tom Graham, only recently retired, lost a short battle with cancer also. Tommy, I still owe you a couple office duty days!

Game Warden Files--Swan Song

This may, or may not, be the last post I write relating to my career as an ECO; but I figured I'd get it down in print now anyway.
There was a guy we'll call Harry who had been a thorn in my side--and the sides of many others--on and off for years. He lived on a long dead end road in another county and was known as a neighborhood bully, a thief, a suspected marihuana grower and game violator to name of few of his vices--just not a nice guy to have for a neighbor. My first hostile interaction with him started with him calling in a complaint about someone killing a deer out of season over a food source that he had been keeping for them. (At the time feeding deer was allowed, now it is illegal.) He was accusing the logging crew working in the area and that didn't prove out at all.  The guy who ran the logging crew told me that if I ever caught one of his guys killing deer on a logging job, to just tell him and he would hurt him more than any ticket I could write; he was paying them good money to cut logs, not kill deer! That investigation ended with some very harsh words exchanged.
I was pretty sure that Harry had killed the deer himself, but was afraid someone else would notice the blood trail and call in a complaint. He was merely trying to throw off suspicion before we zeroed in on him...yeah, that worked out well. The more I knew about him, the more I knew we had to get him someday, for something, so he went into my sights.
Though I had many complaints about him; there was never enough information to make a solid charge against him, so I waited. A long-retired NY City Detective I'd known early in my police career had taught me that the way to get to someone was to do a thorough background investigation, so I started digging into his history. Not surprisingly, way in his past was a felony conviction. Clearly articulated in the court record was his acknowledgement that he could no longer possess firearms of any type. Interestingly, the judge directed that since he lived in the country, his wife could retain two firearms for household needs such as rabid animals.
It took years, but I finally caught him with a rifle, and since his wife had died some time before there was no excusing it. It was Veterans' Day of 2007 and Jeff Hovey and I were unloading a RHINO not far from Harry's house where we were headed into a piece of back country for the day. Harry pulled up to us in his pickup and there on the seat was a center fire rifle. I took the gun and we started a discussion about his right to own it. Rather than deal with it then and there, I just seized the gun and told him I'd be in touch. Then Jeff and I went on our patrol.
We were in something of a quandary now. I had his gun, but the possession had been in a county where the District Attorney had refused to deal with Harry on previous occasions and really didn't like my agency. As a matter of fact, he'd impaneled a grand jury to investigate us at least once (finding nothing, I might add). There was no way I wanted to take a criminal possession of a weapon case to criminal court in that county so I called a friend with the BATF to see if they'd like to do a federal case on Harry. It took from November 2007 until July 2008, but we finally had enough information that the US Attorney would be interested in pursuing the case.
At the end of July, a team of BATF agents, NY State Police and DEC officers went to his house. My agent friend knocked on the door and asked to talk. Smooth talker that he was, in minutes we had permission to search the house and property. At the end of the day, we'd found more guns, plus marihuana including some pot plants growing, and had a stack of federal and state charges on him. The top charges were possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm by a user of narcotics.
As we called clear of the scene, I was told to call the captain. He got on the phone and told me "GOOD JOB! Now, go out out and enjoy your last few weeks and let the young guys do the work." That would be my last case. During the third week of August, I turned in my credentials, my gear and my truck. I retired just as I'd wanted to: with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. I capped my career with several solid federal felonies and took a dangerous man off the street--at least for a while.

When Harry's case shook out, he took a plea and got 6 years of federal probation--and the feds keep pretty tight tabs on their probationers. About a year and a half later, one of my friends from the NY State Police pulled into my yard with a very serious look on his face. He began by telling me that Harry had been caught violating his probation. It was early spring and a local maple syrup producer had been finding chlorine in his sap buckets. For some reason, Harry was suspected and his probation officer came to call bringing the State Police with him, and finding a large quantity of chlorine. They also found more guns and more drugs. They arrested Harry on state charges, arraigned him and took him to jail; but he was bailed out before the end of the day. Shortly thereafter, he borrowed yet another gun from a neighbor. At this point in my friend's telling of the story, I began to think Harry might be coming after me--the guy who started his problems. My State Police friend continued with his story: Harry had bought a box of ammo at the hardware store, gone into the woods and neighbors had heard one shot...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thoughts on Ownership

We're not talking ownership as to who owns the car--you or the bank; who owns the house, you or the mortgage company...we're talking about ownership of a process or an organization.
What brought all this to mind this morning was recently noticing the lack of ownership within organizations when those within it don't recognize that its future and success is at least somewhat dependent on them, and their own future and success is at least somewhat dependent on the that of the organization.
A good friend runs a business. He's the third generation of his family to do so. Within the business is a sense of ownership. Everyone behaves as if the future of the organization depends on him. This has resulted in great cohesiveness within the company, longevity and prosperity among the workers, as well as growth and prosperity for the company and its owners. Along the way, the company has a very loyal base of customers who are well served by the team effort the organization displays, which is what makes the business flourish. Everyone wins!
My wife and I have a few favorite restaurants. Probably the most favorite is one in a very out of the way place in Maine. You really have to intend to eat there as it's not on the way to any place else. What we've observed there is that everyone seems to be always busy--even if it's doing little things. The one thing that really caught my attention was the man we recognize as the manager, or possibly the owner, was picking up the paper towels from the floor in the bath room as well as wiping down the mess around the sink (though not with the towels from the floor!) I've no doubt that his example is not lost on the others within the place, they all seem to be exceptionally helpful and hard working. The place thrives, having received some national recognition, though it's small and out of the way.
It would be nice to blame this problem and attitude on the "younger generation" but the more I look around, the more I see it happening at all levels. So, if you're reading this, please examine yourself. Are you an owner or an occupier? Do you make yourself a part of those things to which you are attached, or do you just hang on for the ride, doing the minimum amount necessary?
Take ownership folks. Help your employer, organization...whatever, thrive. Be part of its success not its mediocrity.

Game Warden Files--Reflections

Sinatra sang about having regrets too few to mention, and that's the way my career with DEC was. There were some mistakes made along the way, to be sure, but overall, it was a great career. Not many folks have had the variety of experiences that an ECO gets to have--and get paid to have them.
Seeing the sun rise on an open ocean or over a salt marsh, or watching it set with the same view is something that not all experience. Riding an open boat on the ocean in waves taller than the length of the boat is something that few have done; I got to do it with a boat operator so good that it was a fun ride, not a fearful one. Over the years that I navigated through fog thicker than the proverbial pea soup, arriving home safely.
The job took me deep into the Adirondacks in summer, winter, spring and fall. Though I used snowmobiles well enough, I preferred to make make treks on snowshoes or skis. My checking snowmobiles deep in the woods while on skis was an eye opener for the them to be sure! Of course, trekking open ground on snowshoes did cause some interesting moments when the ice on a beaver pond wouldn't support my weight; and it happened more than once when the trappers were really active; but I survived it.
I spent two nights with another ECO babysitting a dam on a remote lake in case some eco-terrorists decided to blow it up. We lit a fire and enjoyed our night...what else could we do?  Watching the sun set while hearing the call of loons and seeing it rise again while watching ospreys fishing the lake made for a pretty good time.
Over the course of they years, I got handled all manner of wildlife, both alive and dead, and had a hand in rehabilitating and releasing many game animals to the wild. Watching a golden eagle that was as good as dead only a few weeks before, but was now health and flying free was partly through my efforts, was pretty neat. We tracked her via telemetry until she molted somewhere in Labrador. Things like that add some significance to the job.
All that and more having happened, I also don't regret making the decision to put it behind me and retire. Though I still loved the law enforcement profession--particularly fish and wildlife enforcement, it was time to leave the demands of full-time work behind. I have chosen to to continue in the profession, now having two part-time police jobs and working a day or two a week instead of 50 or 60 hours. That keeps me pretty happy.
Regrets? Too few to mention.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 4

November was approaching with deer season and all the busyness that it brings; at the same time volunteers were needed to go back to New York for another rotation of duty. I took the first week of November to do my part and still be free for the work load of deer season. Our mission had been scaled back considerably and when I drew the midnight shift I was a one man show. My shift had half a night in the command post and half within the area of Ground Zero with some specific missions to be accomplished each night. At least we had a decent hotel downtown and I had a room on an upper floor far away from the noise of the daytime.
The biggest problem faced by that shift was a matter of the endless line of diesel trucks that queued up to be loaded with debris for transportation off-site. Truckers tend to be lazy and would rather leave their trucks running and the law allows only ten minutes unless the temperature is low. The idling trucks created one more level of noise and air pollution in already loud and foul environment. Our job was to stop keep the waiting trucks shut down unless they were moving. My first night in there there was no problem until I'd been there about an hour, then it started to become a problem. It was as though the drivers got lazier as the nights went on. This would be a no-win battle dealing with each trucker, so I chased down the union steward. I explained the problem and told him that either he could solve the problem, or I could--and the fine was a thousand dollars per truck per violation. Within minutes, drivers were walking toward their trucks and trucks were being shut down. Each night I made it a point to drive by the union steward's shack and we didn't have a problem for the rest of my tour.
Other than that, the rest of my tour was pretty much uneventful. The only other event was more humorous than anything else. My oldest son Bill was living in northern New Jersey at the time and offered to come over and take me out to lunch at a favorite BBQ place in mid-town Manhattan. He came over by ferry and met me at the hotel. As we walked uptown, all of a sudden there was an awful commotion brewing in front of us. Three women were engaged in something of a cat fight and it was getting uglier by the moment. Even though it was "not my job" to intervene in such things, I can't watch people get hurt. I handed Bill my coffee, identified myself as a police officer and waded into the fray. I pushed and threw bodies until they were separated. By that time, there was a sea of blue suits materializing from the crowd. I extricated myself from the tangle of arms, took my coffee back from Bill, and faded into the crowd.
Two days later, when my shift was over, I took a quick nap, packed my car and headed north. I have not been back to New York since. Someday, I'll go see the new monument, but I'm still not ready for it.

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 3

My first duty was to transport a captain, a friend from our academy days, from the office to the command center at Ground Zero. When we got to the parking area, he wanted me to walk into Ground Zero for a look. I just couldn't do it. I'd worked there years ago and now the landscape was all rubble, smoke and dust. I gave him a couple of disposable cameras I'd purchased and told them to send me copies of the pictures when he got them developed. I busied myself in helping move equipment of the temporary command center near Ground Zero up to an expanded one, on a pier on the Hudson River.
Only a person who traveled the road in and out of Ground Zero can appreciate what came to be known as THE CHEERLEADERS. This was a crowd of men and women who applauded and cheered for everyone who went in or out of the the place. The traffic going in was stop and go, and every time you stopped someone would offer you a pair of gloves, a bottle of water, a sandwich. It was everyday people, just doing something they could for those who were responding. It was heartfelt from them, and it was touching to the responders.
On my final trip uptown to the new command center, I stopped at a traffic light. I don't know why I stopped, it was about 2 AM, no one was on the road except other marked emergency vehicles. Out of the pool of light beneath a streetlamp stepped a woman, holding something out toward me. I rolled the window down and she said "My kids baked cookies, would you like some?" Here she was, all alone in a nearly deserted part of the city, and she was doing what she could...and her kids doing the same. That was about the most emotional part of the trip. (To this day, I cannot tell the "cookie story" without getting a lump in my throat and misty eyes--writing it was no easier.)
I was released early from my week's duty as I'd had pre-approved vacation leave. I was going to Guatemala, and into other Latin American nations on a mission trip with Peace Officers for Christ. As part of our ministry, we spoke in a large church in which I was asked to give a few words of testimony. I talked about the warrior mentality, of running toward danger instead of away from it; and I told the story of the firefighter who ran toward danger and entered into eternity...and then I told of his wife's faith and her statement to me. There were ten thousand people in that church that morning, and another ten thousand when I told it again a couple hours later. Both times, the congregation erupted in cheers. That young hero's story was told also broadcast on Radio and TV throughout all of Central America.

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 2

Our Firearms Instructor school ended the Friday after the attack on the the Trade Center. We were done by noon, and on the road to our respective homes very shortly thereafter. Within a half hour of leaving the academy, my lieutenant was on the phone with me; we had both been ordered to report to the staging are for the department's Ground Zero response by the next evening.
The next day I was southbound. My assignment for the week was to serve as a boat operator; but the boat I was to have been running had broken down and would not be back in service until later in the week--maybe. So, they reassigned me to communication and transportation as I still had some knowledge of the city from my years there.
We had our briefing Saturday evening and according to schedule I was supposed to go to work at 6:00 AM Sunday. Our residence was a hotel about 30 miles north of the DEC office in Queens. It was almost spooky to drive from there toward the city the next morning. There was no traffic, not a sign of an aircraft in the sky, the dominating thing in my vision, even at that distance, was the plume of smoke and dust still rising from Ground Zero.
When I reported for duty, I was told that my schedule had been changed and I wasn't due there until 4:00 PM. Rather than go back and spend time alone in a hotel, I decided to spend it with family. It was my my church family at Bethel Evangelical Free Church on Staten Island.
It was a bit early so the chains were still across the driveway when I arrived, so I parked and busied myself in paperwork. Before long, a car pulled up and the driver got out and removed the chains. She looked at me quizzically as I got out of my car, in my uniform. Though we hadn't lived there in years, we'd kept in touch with many folks there, visiting occasionally, so we weren't strangers to everyone. When she recognized me and I explained why I was there, she asked if I recalled a specific family in the church. Apparently they'd come after we'd left, so I did not know the name. She told me that the husband and dad of the family had been one of the first wave of firefighters to go into the building. His body had not yet been recovered.
As I mingled with old friends before church, someone brought the wife of that hero up to me and introduced her to me. It remains one of the few times in my life I was speechless. She looked at me and softly said "It's OK, you don't have to say anything, we know where he is." Her husband was a solid Christian and there was no doubt in her mind that she would be reunited with him.
After a great, though emotional, church service, I had lunch with friends and then headed to begin my work assignment.

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 1

We recall traumatic events in our lives in excruciating detail. Childhood injuries, our first heartbreaks, that kind of thing. I recall exactly where I was standing when the news of President Kennedy's assassination hit our school; when the news of the Challenger explosion went over the airwaves and when the news of the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center got to my ears.
It wasn't really surprising to me that a plane had hit one of the towers, there had been near-misses before. My first interview to become an Environmental Conservation Officer was in the conference room on the 61st floor of #2 World Trade Center. After being hired, trained and reporting for duty in that region I'd be there at least once ever week for the next several years. One evening when I'd stayed late to help the captain work on a project, a single engine light aircraft had been so close to our office that I could see the rivets in the fuselage...that's pretty close. So, when I heard the news of a plane hitting, I assumed that it was something of that order.
We were conducting a firearms instructor school at what was then our academy on the grounds of the State University of Oswego. Our training day was not going to start until 2:00 PM since we were going to do the night-fire portion of the course. I was in a lower hallway, talking to one of the maintenance staff when someone called her and told her about a plane hitting the Trade Center. I went upstairs to the lounge and saw the horrible sight on the TV, then the reality of the incident began to unfold. When the news came about the Pentagon, I recall saying "Gentlemen, we are at war." One by one, we drifted off to our rooms, donned our duty gear, drew our firearms from the armory and went back to the TV. We didn't know what was going to happen next; but we would be armed.
The entire campus was put on notice that it might be shut down by mid-afternoon and that we should get our meals and be ready to leave if necessary. We headed to the dining hall which we shared with the Freshman and Sophomore students. Normally, there was not much communication between the college students and the officers. It was the dichotomy of kids and old guys with guns. That day and the days following, it all changed. We were in the serving line and the kids freely intermingled with the old guys and their guns. One young lady nervously tucked herself between me and another officer. The grandfather in me made me ask if she was OK, and her answer remains with me. "I think we should send men no one admits we have to places nobody will admit we've been to do things that no one will admit having done." My kind of girl.
As the crowd filed out of the service line, another interesting thing happened. The students freely sat with us at the tables, like they had never done and engaged in some conversation with us. We had some good conversations in those uncertain days. Neither they nor we were home among our loved ones and I think they looked to us for a measure of protection and stability, and we looked to them for someone to protect. That filled needs in all of us. Their presence gave us someone else to think about, and ours gave them security--a fair trade, I believe. The closeness didn't last long; but the total dichotomy never returned, either.

Thoughts on the book of Romans--Paul Signs Off

About a year ago, when I had a series of preaching opportunities lined up, I started studying the book of Romans. A pastor friend offered some good research resources on the book, so I dug in and have spent nearly a year spending some serious time in it. It's been fun. Several sermons, quite a few Sunday School classes and a Bible study for a family have come from my time; finally, it was time to close the book and move on. As I meditated on Paul's closing remarks, I noticed that the pattern of writing had changed. Generally the writing was addressed to the church as individuals who would be reading or having the letter read to them; but in chapter 16 it changes to the church as a body. I focused on 16:17-19:
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (NIV)
First I note that this is very important to him. He uses very strong language to urge them to comply with what he has to say in the next couple verses. It would not be a stretch to translate this as I'm begging you! Next is to watch out for and the NIV rendering if this might be a bit weak as the original language here can also be translated scrutinize, which implies a very close look indeed, not just a casual alertness. Following this, the word translated as divisions implies a wrongful separation, not one of propriety or necessity and the word which comes through as obstacles is the word from which we get scandal. (By the way, all this comes from a very simple, almost superficial look at the original language with only a few easily available study tools.)
The teachings you have learned can be summed up in what Paul had already written in that letter. He'd given them a short course in systematic theology in the pages they'd just read: Wrath, righteousness, sin, punishment, grace, redemption.... It had all been summed up in the previous 15 chapters including how all of that should play out in their everyday lives, umm, make that our everyday lives also.
In spite of their appearance, those people about whom Paul warned were serving only themselves, not the cause of Christ. They were deceiving unknowing people and Paul wanted his readers to not be taken in by them. All that is still ongoing today. In our churches we see these things that are killing the cause of Christ:
A primary problem is a corrupted clergy. Not long ago, Tufts University university did a survey of non-believing pastors who were still in the ministry; the very thought of that should be chilling to believers. That a survey could find enough such folks to participate suggests to me that those they studied represent the tip of the iceberg. Too many seminaries have dropped their standards, not holding to the absolutes of Scripture. The next result is a diluted doctrine. As a result of what's being taught the clergy, all has become relative. The purpose of Christ--if not the fact of Christ--has been lost. He came to seek and save the lost. Though He did many other things along the way, those were not the purpose for which he came and churches have turned that around. Churches may do good works; but they've forgotten the lost. Sadly, it appears that they are lost themselves.
This gives us losers for leaders. I'm aware of a church leader who has said that he "has no time for this God stuff," and that it's all about "butts in the seats and dollars in the plate." Such are those elected to leadership. Our churches now face a failing future. Look at them, many older folks, a few middle aged and a handful of young children with their parents--or generally with their mothers, as Dad can't be bothered.
Paul warned in the text that they deceive the minds of naive people. As the church leaders ceased believing and teaching the Word of God and it's absolute authority, the level of Biblical knowledge has declined to the point where it is nearly unknown. This would be sad enough, but we have been warned! Paul warned us here; Peter wrote of similar things as did Jude. Why don't we get it?
All this makes it critically important to know our Bibles, be active in our churches and scrutinize those coming in the doors to join our ranks for it is those who will become or leaders. It's interesting that Paul's letter to the Romans first dealt with the individuals, and then with the collective body. We need to have our personal theology right in order to have our church's theology right.  

Game Warden Files--the Sweethearts.

That wasn't their name, but since the name was related to love, romance and all that stuff, that's what we'll call them. Mr. Sweetheart was fishing from a big rock along the shoreline in one of the private campgrounds that dot the shoreline of the Great Sacandaga Lake when fellow ECO Jim Harnish and I happened by on our boat and stopped to check him out. Mrs. Sweetheart was sitting on the rock with him reading a book.
We first asked if was having any luck and got the standard "not yet" as an answer. The next question was if we could see his license, and we got another standard answer: "It's in the car." He went off to get it, leaving his rather pregnant bride sitting on the rock. She chatted pleasantly with us as he walked off to get his license. It's not normal to let someone walk away, but since we were in a boat and not able to easily beach it and his wife stayed behind, we didn't think he'd run; but as the conversation dragged on, and even Mrs. Sweetheart was looking rather anxious about things, I beached the boat and we got out. We were about to have her take us to their campsite when Mr. Sweetheart came down the hill, explaining that he couldn't find it.
This was in a day before there was any interstate violator agreement for fish and wildlife offenses so the only choices we had were to let him go with a warning or take him right to a judge for an immediate arraignment. We could have easily enough given him a warning and gone about our business--it would have been far simpler for us; but he started to give us a bit of a bad time. We already knew his name and date of birth as his wife had given us that; but when we asked for some identification he said he had nothing and he refused to give us his address, just telling us he was from New Jersey and didn't give a town. We finally got Pennsylvania Avenue out of him; but he still wouldn't go for a town. The more we asked, the worse he got. Finally it got the point where Jim and I didn't even need to discuss it. Out came the cuffs and into the boat he went. The wife, who had stayed pretty silent all during our conversation with him, started crying (understandably), then gave us the rest of the information and asked if her husband was going to jail. We told her that it would be up to the judge and that she could meet us and follow us to the court. The easiest meeting point for her to find was the State Police barracks, so we had her meet us there. We wrapped Mr. Sweetheart up in a life jacket, pushed the boat back into the water and headed for the dock for our cars.
While we were out on the water about ten minutes or so when all of a sudden Mr. Sweetheart's demeanor changed totally. He looked at us and said "I was a real a$$!ole, wasn't I?" We really had to agree with him on that.
We met his bride at the State Police barracks. She was inside on a bench crying. The trooper who just happened to be at the barracks told us that she'd walked in crying saying something about two guys in green uniforms in a boat had taken her husband away and he figured he'd just stay around until we showed up.
We met the local judge at court and he figured out pretty quickly that there had been an attitude problem behind the whole thing, so he really made the guy squirm in cuffs for a while while he discussed the options: a $250 fine or 15 days in jail. In the end, Mr. Sweetheart plead guilty and the judge imposed a reasonable penalty.
If this guy had only given us a couple straight answers in the first place, we could have seen our way clear to let him off with a warning. After all, he was spending a weekend away with his wife before their baby came. Somehow, I doubt that the rest of the week was the pleasant time they'd had planned.

Game Warden Files--Hangouts

Every ECO needs a hangout. When we moved to Brooklyn in the first years of my career I was befriended by the owner of a place called Frank's Sport Center (or something like that). My first visit to the store was on some business about selling hunting and fishing licenses and we quickly developed a good relationship. Not long after that first meeting he invited me to be present at an open house he was holding, and told me to be sure to bring the family. It was a good time, we became friends and I stopped by there often, meeting some of the greatest sportsmen I'd had ever met, or ever did meet. They were not the "city hunters" that all upstate sportsmen dread; but real classy guys who knew what they were doing and did it right. It became a favorite hangout for me. We stayed in touch for a while after I departed the city for "upstate;" but eventually we lost touch. I believe the store is long-gone now, or operates under a different name as I can't find it listed anywhere.
When the transfer to Fulton County came, my neighboring officer quickly introduced to another Frank. This one operated Frank's Gun Shop, and it soon became my favorite hangout--both on and off-duty--which some referred to as my "East End Office." A lot of rainy, snowy and other miserable days were spent in that shop talking with sportsmen. Most times, the conversations were just lively banter; occasionally I'd get some valuable background information on the area and some of the suspected violators; and sometimes I'd get enough information to make a case--once without ever leaving the store.
I was in Frank's off-duty when a highly irate fisherman came in. He'd been ice fishing on Lake Pleasant, about 40 miles north of us and he'd seen a couple guys taking fish in violation of either size or take limit, hide them in their car and continue fishing. As he drove south toward home he got more and more angry about it and when he came in the store he was about to explode. He had come inside just to blow off steam, starting with something like "Where's a Game Warden when you need one?" After identifying myself, I got the whole story and called the dispatcher. She got the officer for that area on the radio and found that he was within a mile or so of the violation. He located the suspects' vehicle, found a good vantage point and nabbed them...all within a couple minutes of my first conversation with the fisherman, with whom I still talking when Dispatch called me back to say that the violators had been arrested and ticketed. Sometimes things really do work out.
I became very good friends with Frank and his family, and remain so to this day. Their gun shop is still a frequent hang out for me. I did play a prank on them once that was so well played they never did find me out until I revealed that I was the culprit. Frank and his wife had some wire-framed lighted deer on their front lawn for Christmas ornaments. One year, one of the deer just would not stay upright; every couple days it would fall over in the wind and they'd have to reset it. One afternoon I found an old hunting arrow in my garage and tossed it in the back of my own pickup. After stopping at the store to make sure they were both there, I pulled in the driveway at their house, stuck the arrow into the downed deer and took off--totally unnoticed.
A couple days later, when I walked in the store, Frank couldn't wait to tell me what they'd found a couple days before at their home. Every so often the "drive by arrowing" would come up in conversation, and we'd laugh about it...all the while they didn't know. That's probably the only good gag I ever got away with.
Good friends, great times, grand memories!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Another Year and no Deer

It's a good thing that success for a true sportsman does not mean harvesting game--though that's not a bad thing either--it's the act of the hunt. So this year was a good year. I got in three days of hunting, all of them good days, and that's more than I've often had; there's just so little time.
One of my days was a cold, crystal clear morning after a night of with a bit of snow. There was just a hint of light snow filtering down through the trees--more like dew freezing as daylight came on. My hunting partner referred to it as "movie snow" because it was more like a special effect than an act of nature. The setting was a mixed hardwood and conifer forest filled with the sign of game. That was worth getting up at 5 AM and dressing in layers upon layers to see. Yeah, the game sign was about all we saw; though I did briefly see about 5 does, 200 yards out and running full-tilt through heavy cover--not a decent shot to be made.
My thanks to my friend who takes great pleasure in getting me out to have fun at his hunting camp or aboard his boat--he makes me have fun! Years ago some aging friends advised my wife and me to make young friends to help keep us young. This is one such friend.
My other days were with one of my dearest friends. We met in high school, became instant friends and I can't recall single cross words ever spoken between us. He was best-man in our wedding and I was given the great privilege of performing his daughter's wedding--that's a special friend.
Hunting with him is a treat--nothing but the executive class hunt! He owns a pretty good chunk of land and manages it well to produce quality deer hunting with enough decent bucks to make a pretty good trophy or two. There are also plenty of antlerless deer which need to be thinned out every year. He has stands dotting his land and the one I've hunted from with him are pure class--cot, chairs, cook stove. I've harvested a couple deer there over the years, each within 2 hours of daylight; but this year it was not to be. Two mornings of watching the trails from his top-of-the-line stand (breakfast cooked in the stand) and we saw NOTHING! We also put in some time on the ground and still nothing. If we'd brought .22 rifles we could have each shot a limit of squirrels, but that was it.
Hunting with him is always a treat. This year it was something of bittersweet as he's in a battle for his life, and had to bargain with his doctors to have deer season free. Next week he begins the next round in his battle and will spend weeks, if not months in semi-isolation. My two days with him, in spite of seeing only one deer--another high speed, too far for a shot sightings--was priceless. We spent one lunch time watching some videos of our younger days--oh, the fun, the only electronics were the ham radio sets! It was a part of the day's hunt.
So it was a good season. My best sporting experiences have really been far more about time with nature and with friends than about putting meat in the freezer of a trophy on the wall. I've seen the sun come up and shadows flee from a high valley while I listened to the turkeys I was pursuing flying in the wrong direction; seen a buck so close I could have jabbed him with the muzzle of the shotgun, and had many other great times; but it was more about the friends and the experience, not the game. Many thanks to all my friends!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Game Warden Files--Sort of...

This story transcends many years of my profession, two vastly different locations and two agencies of employment.
One afternoon when I worked Chatham PD, probably sometime in 1980 or 1981, I had a call to return to my station to assist some people. The call had come from the local telephone operator. In those "good old days" a person needing help from police, fire or the local rescue squad would find a pay phone, dial zero and the local operator would make the proper connections. It wasn't 911, but it worked out pretty well in small towns.
Parked in front of our station--the Tracy Memorial Hall--was a dilapidated old pickup truck with ramshackle living space built on the back; you couldn't call it a camper by any means. On the steps to the Tracy building was a family, a dad, a mom and a couple kids.  Putting the truck and family together was easy to do--they looked like something out of the Grapes of Wrath--disheveled, tattered clothing, unkempt appearance and a tired look in all their faces. They told me that they were travelling through the area and were about out of gas, food, money and luck. It was easy enough to believe. I had them wait in the lobby and got on the phone to the local social service worker; surely she could help, she'd always been able to help folks like this before. As I started my story, the worker interrupted me and asked if it was a family in a pickup truck and described them to me. When I told her that it was the same group, she informed me that this bunch had used up every freebie the county had to offer and had overstayed their welcome in a few private situations as well. They had even worn out the patience of local restaurateur who would gladly feed about anyone, and only asked they do a little yard work for him, which they'd not done. Armed with that information, I told this family that we had no help for them and that they'd have to move on.
Fast-forward to 1982, May 24th to be exact. I was just over a year into my job as an ECO and was assigned to Region 2, New York City. May 24th was my office duty day and I was in working on the 61st floor of #2 World Trade Center and seeing a very busy city beneath me. It was the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge and there was quite the celebration. The captain suggested that I have my wife bring the kids into the city for the afternoon and join a group of other state employees in the tower to watch the fireworks display that night.  It was a great idea! Peggy and the kids found their way in on the bus system and when I finished my office day, we hit the streets for a bite to eat. As we wandered the area below the bridge in the vicinity of the South Street Seaport, we were in something of a carnival atmosphere with street vendors of all kinds plying their wares. Suddenly I stopped short--on the sidewalk was a family of beggars and a sign "Please help a homeless, needy family." You've can guess who it was, the same group I'd dealt with in Chatham only a few years before.
There are plenty of ways to put a moral on this story, and plenty of object lessons to be taken from it. Probably the most transparent of them is the lesson from the words of Jesus:  The poor you will always have with you. This was a textbook example of that.