Usually, when a plane crashes, there are signs of the crash, a mayday hail, and the signal from the locator beacon to bring help to the downed plane, to find it’s remains and the people in it, alive or dead, but sometimes circumstances align in such a way, that years can pass by before anyone comes across the wreckage. Such was the case with the August 10, 1984 crash of a Cessna L-19E “Bird Dog” that had gone out to film a particularly nasty type of beetle infestation that had been ravaging hundreds of acres of Colorado forest in and around some of the higher-elevation foothills surrounding some of the Rockies. The Cessna L-19E is a two-seater liaison and observation aircraft built for the US Military. The tandem plane departed Granby (KGNB) for the scenic flight over the Colorado mountains, but never arrived at Jeffco (KBJC) as planned.
The pilot, 38 year old James Jeb Caddell had been offered a contract by the Colorado Department of Forestry. That meant that he had mounted a VHS video camcorder on top the instrument panel for the purpose of visually recording any beetle infestation that was observed along the flight route. Caddell, who brought a friend, 38 year old Ronald Hugh Wilmond along for the flight, started the camera shortly after takeoff. It ran until the aircraft crashed down through the trees about 6-1/2 minutes later, documenting the entire trip and the cause of the crash.
Because there was no distress signal, no one knew what had happened, To make matters worse, the aircraft had tumbled into the trees and landed on the Emergency Locator Transmitter, cutting off the signal. Although there was a fire, it burnt out quickly and there was not enough damage to mark the crash site from the air. Searchers tried in vain to find the missing plane, but to no avail. They finally had no choice but to abandon the search. The plane’s wreckage was discovered three years later, when backpackers hiking through the woods found the crash site. At the site was a video tape hanging from tree branches. Incredibly, the video was found to have only minor damage, when the FAA watched it. It had not only survived the crash and subsequent fire, but three years of exposure to the elements, as well.
With nothing else to go on, the video became the primary source data. The NTSB released this accident report. “NTSB Synopsis: Probable Cause: The airplane departed Grandby 8/10/84 and failed to arrive at its destination. On 8/23/87, it was found on the slope of a high tree-covered ridge. Video tape recovered from the wreckage provided a visual and audio record of the flight from takeoff to impact. Comparing the recording to a topographical map, the flight was climbing and its altitude above the ground was decreasing when it crashed at the 10,200 feet level. During the last few seconds of the tape, the terrain dominated the view through the cockpit window. The pilot made a 60-degree bank, and the stall warning horn could be heard 3 times during approximately 180 degree of turn. the airplane subsequently stalled, flipped over, and entered the trees. The density altitude was about 13,000 feet.
The pilot continued to fly into rising terrain until he was boxed in. He saw the ski slopes which are almost certainly on the leeward side of the mountain: mountain flyers know these can produce a severe downdraft and are trained not to fly straight into them. The pilot presumably panicked because he then compounded his worsening situation with the steep turn to the right. The plane lost lift and the stall warners sounded. The altitude, temperature and humidity combined to create the density altitude of 13,000 feet when the aircraft was actually at 10,200 feet. The high density altitude, flying over Colorado mountains in August, meant that in the turn, the plane was as high as it was capable of flying and was no longer able to climb at speed.
He makes a moderately steep turn to the right (in excess of 45 to 50 degrees angle of bank) in an attempt to turn around quickly – the plane loses considerable lift and initially stalls twice; then on the 3rd stall (with the stall warning horn blaring in the background), enters the traditional “stall/spin” syndrome and flips upside down as the left (up-wing) wing stalls completely and the plane, flipping over on its back, plunges straight down through the trees – but not before capturing the pilot’s last mournful cry to his friend in the back seat: “Damn, hang on Ronnie!!” The plane smashes downwards through the thick tree branches (you can hear the heavy “thuds” as the plane’s wings smash into these while heading for the ground); it crashes and burns – killing both the pilot and back-seat passenger. Improper in-flight planning/decision by the pilot in command and airspeed not maintained are cited by the NTSB report as the probable causes, with the high density altitude and mountainous terrain given as contributing factors.”
The pilot’s family requested that the film not be released to the general public and a 20-year moratorium was placed on the footage. That expired in 2009 and the footage was released. After watching the video, I can say that it was a hard one to watch, because I, unlike the planes occupants, knew what was coming. It seemed to me, that if he just looked at the terrane coming up ahead of him, he could have made the necessary evasive action to turn around, while there was still time. Unfortunately, he was mesmerized by the view, and only realized his predicament seconds before it was all over. It doesn’t appear that his passenger had any idea that anything was wrong, at least not until Caddell uttered those final words, “Damn, hang on Ronnie!!” Several times during the video, I felt myself pushing back in my seat, as if I could make the plane gain altitude, but when he made that final turn, I felt my stomach lurch, as if I were inside the plane too. A few moments of incredible views, a little bit of inattention, and two lives were over. It was incredibly sad.
In any war, when soldiers are killed or wounded in battle, their guns, grenades, and bullets were left behind…forgotten. Those who assisted the wounded and carried off the dead, had more important things to attend to than the soldier’s weapons and such, which were simply left behind…discarded. As the front lines shifted from one area to another, battlefields were deserted, and in the absence of the trampling footsteps of the soldiers, the grass and low plants began to grow again. As the months and years passed, trees continued to grow. The littered items somehow became embedded in the bark of the growing trees. That phenomena has always amazed me. How could the tree bark accept this odd foreign object into itself…and yet it did. Of course, it was not without scars that the odd pair would coexist. The foreign items would be wrapped with a knotted looking bulge, or would appear to eat up portions of the foreign object, while completely ignoring another part, as if it was simply laying beside it.
Like the weapons of war, the soldiers’ helmets were often discarded in an injury or more likely death situation. The likelihood of survival for the owner of a helmet that contained a bullet hole, was slim to none. The helmet was not likely to be needed by its owner again, so the helmet lay on the battlefield where it had been discarded. As time went on, the little sapling trees growing up after the end of the war started up under the helmet. In order for the tree to grow up, it had to make its way, somehow through the helmet or to topple it in order to survive. A bullet hole provided the perfect way to get through the heavy helmet. The tiny tree peeked through the hole to find the sunlight necessary for the tree’s survival. As the tree grew, the corroding helmet allowed the hole to be expanded, and the tree became larger. Soon the helmet became a part of the growing tree. There was not a knotted wrapping of the tree around the helmet, but rather the helmet took on a mushroom like appearance. It looked like an odd sort of umbrella to anyone who might come across this odd marriage of nature and the man-made helmet. Only on occasion did the tree protest the marriage, or the helmet refuse to allow the expansion of the hole, thereby creating the knot that was so often seen as the tree absorbed the foreign object. Even then, the tree could not fully absorb the helmet, and so it looked almost like the tree was wearing the helmet on its knotted head…and the branches protruding from the knot looked like messy hair. The strange looking trees, were a lingering reminder of a war that was long over, but somehow not forgotten…and nature prevails.
As I was thinking about today, I found that today is actually a special day…Look at the Leaves Day. Now, if you are like me, you have likely never heard of Look at the Leaves Day, or if you have, you might have wondered if it was a day that was inspired by a science teacher, or something. And, maybe it was in the beginning, but this time of year, the leaves truly are something interesting, especially if you live in an area where there is a variety of fall colors in the leaves. I live in an area where the leaves mostly have two colors…green and yellow, unless you count brown as a pretty fall color…which I don’t.
Nevertheless, looking at the leaves always has a mesmerizing effect on us. I love watching the leaves as they flutter to the ground. The color doesn’t matter at that point. They just look so peaceful on their journey. It is a part of their life cycle. It’s what they do. Grow and flourish, and then in Autumn, they fade and and fall to the ground. They’re all gone by winter, and the trees spend the rest of the Winter looking like skeletons, while they wait for spring when they get their new leaves.
As my husband and I went for a walk tonight, I found myself taking that extra moment to actually look at the leaves. It’s not that I never looked at them before, but today felt…different somehow. I noticed how one tree could be green, and the one next to it yellow. Some trees were half green and half yellow. The few trees and bushes we have in this area that turn red, added a flame-like flair to the look. When I took the time to really look at them, I began to notice how very beautiful they were. I thought about other walks we had taken in the fall. Some of my favorites are on some of the trails in the Black Hills. When you are walking through the trees on a dirt trail, with the leaves dropping all around you, you really feel like you can embrace the season.
Today was Look at the Leaves Day. It is a day for us to stop rushing around, busy with our hurried lives, and maybe take a few minutes to see the splendor of Autumn for a change. I’m seriously not a winter person, but Autumn is definitely a season that I enjoy. It’s sheer beauty captivates me…for a while, until Autumn gives way, and its ugly sister season…Winter enters in…and I want to be the one to hibernate.
Last night as my husband, Bob and I were heading out for our evening walk at about 7:15pm, we were met by a concerto of song coming from the pine tree in our next door neighbor’s yard. Of course, it was the birds settling down for the night, since it was heading into the evening hours. I was immediately reminded of the day of the total eclipse that Casper had just been in the center of. As the sky grew darker, the birds began hurrying to and fro in search of their places for the night. They began singing their evening songs, just as they were doing when we stepped out of our front door last night. Birds, of course, are programmed to begin bedtime preparations as the daylight starts to fade, unlike humans who might not go to sleep until the wee hours of the morning.
The concerto also reminded me of one of my sister, Cheryl Masterson’s favorite movies…The Sound of Music. Of course, the song they sang on that movie was The Hills Are Alive, and not The Trees Are Alive, but my imagination is allowed to make those little changes…basically taking a little poetic license, and change the wording a little bit to fit the situation. So, while I heard the melody of The Hills Are Alive, the words that sang out were The Trees Are Alive.
Since we began taking evening walks a number of years ago, we have found ourselves rather fascinated with the animal life around us. The birds flying here and there, with what appears to be no specific destination in mind; the rabbit with a broken leg that has managed to survive most of the summer, even though he can’t hop as fast as so many other rabbits; the dogs who are sure that we are their friends, even to the point of vying for our attention with the other dogs in their yard or next door; and even the deer, who stand and watch us, not moving unless we do something to appear to be coming toward them. They are all very interesting in the way they interact with people. The birds don’t seem to want to fly too far from their original spot to get away from us as we approach, almost as if they are saying, “I’m not scared of you.” The rabbits sit bravely still, hoping that we won’t notice them, sometimes allowing us to get only a foot or so away from them, providing we continue to walk along without stopping.
Animals are funny sometimes, doing things that almost seem like human activities, and even the wild animals who seem to want to interact with humans…from a safe distance, anyway. The mourning doves and other birds that like to look at us from their safe perch on the power lines or light poles above us, always strike me as funny. They know we are there, and they seem curious about us, but they don’t want to get too close, after all they aren’t stupid, just curious, as they allow us to share their space. And of course, there is nature’s version of Twitter…when a large group of birds flock to one tree, and everyone is tweeting at once…as was the case when we left for our evening walk last night.
On October 11, 2015, a wildfire devastated a large area north of Casper, including the area where my nephew, Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli live. While their house was not one that was damaged, they did not escape unscathed. They lost a shed with some lawn equipment in it, fifteen or more trees, a flatbed trailer, and about eight cords of wood, which was enough to heat their home for the coming winter, just to name a few of the things. While insurance will reimburse them for some of the loss, it will not cover all of it, nor will it even begin to reimburse them for the many hours spent cutting all that wood the first time. And the hardest thing to get back…peace of mind.
People would call them lucky, that so much of their property was spared, but I don’t really think anyone who lost anything in that fire, that took 10,000 acres, 12 homes, a number of animals, and several other structures, considers themselves lucky…except that they made it out alive. I still don’t consider that luck. I believe it was the prayers of the people of Casper and others around the nation that kept the loss to the relative minimum that it ended up being, compared to other large fires.
In the aftermath, many people have donated money and other needed items to those who suffered loss that dreadful day, and many will continue to do so. There is no way for me to talk about them all, but they know how much the people who they have helped appreciated it. Help after a loss never goes unnoticed. It is a show of love, kindness, and compassion that can never be repaid. People helping people…the giving spirit. It is what people do for those in need.
As for Barry and Kelli Schulenberg, a special family and friends benefit took place yesterday, when a dozen people converged on my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Ron and Rachel Schulenberg’s place, where thankfully, Barry and Kelli still had some wood, waiting to be cut. Those dozen people spent most of the day cutting, loading, and unloading the ten cords of wood, that now sits where the first eight cords had been at Barry and Kelli’s place. I know that they already feel much better about the coming winter, because without all that wood, it would have been a much more expensive winter in the heating department.
The things that Barry, Kelli, and the other fire victims lost in the fire will at least partially be replaced, but the thing you can’t put a value on is the helping hands of the people who stepped up to help you rebuild your life. The fire victims lost a lot of things, but things can be replaced. Nevertheless, cleanup, replanting, re-cutting of wood, and so many other things that had to be done after a fire, take time and effort. I have to give a lot of credit to anyone who helped to put the lives of the fire victims back together. The kindness of those helping hands was a blessing that will never be forgotten.
In April of 1993, my sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and I took a trip to the Seattle, Washington area where our sister, Caryl Reed and her family were living at the time. I had not been there before, and so was excited at the prospect. We planned to have dinner at the Space Needle, do some shopping, visit Friday Harbor, and the one I was most looking forward to, Mount Saint Helens. Since the mountain had blown up on May 18, 1980, I had been intrigued. My parents had gone there, but I was married and so didn’t go along. On that trip, because the roads there didn’t open until May, and this was April, the viewing of Mount Saint Helens was not to be, unfortunately. I was disappointed.
I will never forget hearing about the coming eruption in the news, on March 15, 1980. When we first heard about it, people were riveted to their televisions, but as time went on, I suspect that people got bored with it. After two months, it got to the point where we all wondered if it was just a false alarm. Then, at 8:32am Pacific Time on May 18, 1980, the mountain blew up…literally. Suddenly, everyone was riveted to the television again. It was just shocking, and since 9-11 had not happened yet, it seemed like the most shocking thing we had ever experienced…in my lifetime anyway. I remember going out to my car and finding ash all over it. I had a hard time believing that a volcano that was over a thousand miles away in Washington state, could dump ash on my car in Casper, Wyoming. The ash went completely around the globe within a matter of days. Of course, it was nothing like what they had in the area surrounding the mountain.
When my daughter, Amy Royce and her husband Travis and son, Caalab moved to the Seattle area, and then decided to renew their vows, we decided to make the trip up for the ceremony. I wanted another chance to get to see Mount Saint Helens. My first attempt was thirteen years after the eruption, and that attempt was twenty two years ago. It was time. We had a rather small window of time to go see the mountain, with everything that has been planned at Amy’s house. So, Thursday was the day. Unfortunately, we seem to have picked the worst day of the days we would be here. Nevertheless, we went in the hope of a view of the…for me anyway…elusive Mount Saint Helens. Our grandchildren, Shai and Caalab Royce went with us. They were born well after Mount Saint Helens blew, and really knew very little about it…until today, that is.
Our first stop was to the visitors center, where we looked at the exhibits displayed there and watched a really good movie that told of the events leading up to and including May 18, 1980 and beyond. After we left, I think they had a much better idea about the magnitude of the whole event. We drove up to the area where we could finally view the mountain itself, only to find it sitting right there in front of us…completely shrouded in clouds and mist. We could see where the ash had landed and where the water and mud had carved out deep crevasses. We could see where erosion had taken its toll on the area, and where trees had been wiped out, and now rather small ones have grown up in their place. We could see the base of the mountain, and really, almost half way up it, but the now famous space left when the top that is no longer there blew, was still not visible to me. Sadly, I guess some things are simply not meant to be.
After a recent storm dumped eight to twelve inches of snow on the Casper area, I noticed just how beautiful the white blanket was, as I looked across the grounds of the nursing home where my mother-in-law lives. Not being much of a winter person, I can’t say that I always appreciate the white stuff, and in all reality, I do hope that storm was Winter’s Last Hoorah for the year, but whether it is or it isn’t, on this particular day, it looked very pretty to me. A thought came to me that maybe I should take a walk through the snow with my camera because there might be some beautiful sights to see, but we were on our way in to visit my mother-in-law, so I did not go for that walk. Nevertheless, the picture of that white blanket of snow has stayed in my mind.
Some people love all the different seasons, and they get out and do different things to enjoy each of them, but I usually prefer to snuggle up wrapped in a warm blanket and watch a good television show or movie on those cold winter nights, and not do as my sister-in-law, Jennifer Parmely, or her son Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli do, which is to get out and ski or snowshoe through the winter scenes. I do, however, enjoy looking at the pictures they post about those activities. I guess I am more of a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade type of winter person. I’ll take a beautiful snow scene on a card or picture over the real thing any day, because while a card or picture leaves you with a warm, cozy feeling, the real thing is inevitably cold, blustery, and most generally just not fun.
Still, on that day, I felt just a slight tug…almost a desire to walk through the snow, just to see where it took me, and what beautiful scenes it lead me to. I have a feeling now, that if I had gone on that walk, I would have been somewhat disappointed. It’s hard for a summer person to actually experience that cozy feeling when they actually get out in that blustery cold. Somehow, the coziness is lost in winter’s cold, snowy air. It’s funny how something so cold, can look so pretty though. I think that if there is snow in Heaven, I’ll have to ask that it somehow feel warm…at least to me. I suppose that some people, like my sister, Cheryl Masterson will feel just the opposite, but I’m sure God can work it out to suit both of us just fine.
Nevertheless, on that day, and with that particular snow storm, I could picture in my mind’s eye just how beautiful it would be to take a solitary walk through the cold, snowy park in the moonlight. I could picture the moon’s light creating snow diamonds across the pristine snow. I could imagine that I didn’t feel cold at all, but rather that a cozy feeling prevailed over the evening. I could even picture a deer quietly walking in front of me, seemingly not afraid at all. And maybe I could even picture the two of us walking through the snow in quiet, peaceful harmony. At least, that was what I could picture in my mind’s eye, even if the reality would have been very, very different.
I have often wondered what our nation looked like before the Native Americans altered the landscape with the only way they really had of clearing the land…fire. When the summer grasslands would grow so tall that it made travel by horse or on foot troublesome, the Indians just started a fire to clear the area. Since there was nothing standing in the way of the fire, it ran until it came to a river or some other kind of obstacle, such as an area void of vegetation, and then it simply burned itself out. Of course, rain or snow would have the same effect too. I wonder, like many other people do, if prior to that practice, there were forests where we now have plains.
Of course, the White Man, has come a long way in trying to bring trees back into our nation, but there are still many places that are just wide open spaces filled with prairie grass, sagebrush, and cactus. When my grandparents, Anna and Allen Spencer decided to move to Texas to check out the booming oil industry, they found a land that seemed to run for hundreds of miles, with little to see, but wide open spaces. Like many people, they longed for trees, and other vegetation to give a different view to the land they found themselves living on. Having lived on five acres myself for a number of years before moving into town, I can certainly understand wanting trees. That didn’t make it easy to grow any of them up to much size, however. I suppose it might have been easier in Texas, due to their warmer climate.
I understand the need Native Americans had to clear the land, and the lack of sufficient tools to do so, when it was necessary. Nevertheless, I wish they had not burned down the trees…or the prairies, because that stopped the young trees from growing, and lets face it…we need trees for shade, and the very air we breathe. These days, with all the necessary tools, from lawnmowers to farm equipment, there is no need to burn down the prairie grass to keep it from getting so deep, so clearing the land is a much smoother project. The older I get, the more I find myself wanting trees around me, and while it is still hard to get them up to some size, due mainly to the deer that roam freely inside the city limits of Casper, Wyoming, I do have some volunteer Silver Birch trees that have moved themselves from the neighbors tree into our yard.
We were so excited when the first tree started coming up, but our neighbor, Bill thought we would be upset about the little trespassing trees, and so he cut the down…until we told him that we wanted them. Then he left them alone so we could decide to let them grow or not. That first tree is now taller that our house, and we have several in the back yard too. Before these trees began growing, we had three cedar bushes in our front yard, one that was let grow to the size of a rather ugly tree. Finally, the day came that we got one of those little trespassing trees to come up in the right place. While we liked the bushes, that ugly Cedar tree needed to go. Then that tree got to an area where it could work for what we wanted. This past summer, it had grown to the point of being about my height. Life was good. We cut down that ugly Cedar bush that had been pretending to be a tree, and watch with excitement as our new little trespassing tree grew and flourished…and then it happened. The deer that I love to have in our yard, because they are so beautiful…decided that our little tree was just the right size for lunch. It’s hard to say if it will come back in the spring, but if not, there will be another little trespasser to grow in its place…life is still good!!!
With the Indian Summer we had this year, came a late fall…which collided with winter the other day. Usually winter snow and leaves still on the trees, spells disaster for the trees, but not this time. The weather had cooled down enough to where many if the trees were bare, and those that weren’t, had a lot less leaves than last year when we got an early storm that broke many of our trees. This frigid cold weather, and the subsiquent storm, brought snow that was much more of the powder variety, and maybe that’s why the few trees that had leaves on them were able to stand against the snow.
The thing that makes this storm so unusual is that with most snow storms here, the leaves have either been raked up and disposed of, or they are under the snow. Not so this storm. Because we had an abundance of leaves still lingering on the trees, the wind that followed the storm, deposited them on top of the snow on the ground.
As I was looking out the window this morning, I noticed that there was a trail of leaves running across my lawn. The snow was slightly melted around them, creating…well, leaf tracks. I know that makes no sense, and that most likely, an animal walked across our yard, leaving the tracks. The problem with that thought is that the tracks really didn’t go anywhere. If an animal had gone across the yard, it was either very careful to back track in the same foot prints it had made, or it left the yard by some way that I couldn’t see. All I could see was leaves in every one of the imprints. As far as I’m concerned, those are leaf tracks.
You can think what you like, and you can even wonder what goofy thing I will think of next. I can’t say, because I don’t set out to dream this up, it just hits me that way. I have deer in my yard all the time, as well as cats, dogs, and even raccoons, so it could be that one of those made the tracks, but I like the idea of leaf tracks. It lends a little bit of something special to the scene I saw.
It’s funny that the snow can melt in such a way as to create something that really can’t happen and makes no sense anyway, but it does. Maybe it had the help of the leaves laying across it in such a way that it looked like a trail, or maybe it’s all in my imagination, but either way, I like the effect. There they are, leaf tracks surrounded by snow diamonds. It’s such a pretty sight, and it puts a smile on my face in an otherwise dreary day. Maybe my analogy is silly, but sometimes we need a little silliness in our lives and I think leaf tracks works perfectly. So the next time you see leaves on top of the snow, look carefully to see if any of them left their tracks across the snow, and you too might be pleasantly surprised by leaf tracks.
Whenever life gets too hectic, I find myself wanting a place of solace, so I can get out of running mode, and into relaxing mode. Many of us don’t realize that our lives are even hectic. We just think it’s normal, and maybe it is, but normal can be very hectic. My Uncle Bill understood how I feel, because he felt the same way too…and he was a kid!! We mistakenly assume that kids can’t have a hectic life, or that things weren’t hectic in days gone by, when life was supposed to be so much more simple. Maybe things were simple back then, but that did not make things easier back then. What takes us minutes to do these days, probably took them hours, making it necessary to cram more things into a working day than we do today. And yet, with our modern inventions, our lives today are always making us rush from this place to that place…always in a hurry.
It’s no wonder that I, like my Uncle Bill, enjoy getting out into nature to hike the trails. When you are out on the trail, you can only go so fast, and it’s harder to rush yourself. The beauty of nature around you draws your attention away from the pressing things in your life, and you find yourself drinking in the smells of the trees and flowers, the singing of the birds, the sound of the breeze through the trees, the beauty of the scenes around you, and the feel of the air on your face. It is the place I want to be and the things I want to be doing. When Bob and I are out on the trail, being one with nature, it is such a beautiful time. And in our hectic lives, we need those breaks to recharge our systems. The trails are perfect for that.
Uncle Bill loved to be out in the woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota, mostly around Holyoke, Minnesota. He talks about going to his private place in the center of a shaded area, to sit on a log, listen to the birds, watch the squirrels, and “even” read a book. I have to wonder if Uncle Bill maybe didn’t like reading very much at that time. It wouldn’t be something so unusual for a boy. Most of them seem to busy with other things to consider reading as an important pass time. Nevertheless, whatever solace we each find in nature is probably unique to each of us. No two people are the same, and no two people have the same stresses, so each finds solace in different things or in different ways, even in the same place.