Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Old Badgers

In my young adult days I was standing in the right place at the right time to get a promotion at the company where I worked.  It wasn’t just any promotion, it was a big promotion.  I jumped from a local department manager to a national corporate manager by being in the physical line of sight of one of the big wigs in the company when he decided he needed some help.  I had no idea of what I was getting in to, but I was able to keep the position for almost seven years before seeking another life.
Due to the position, I was expected to be in each of four offices around the country at least twice every three weeks, and the rest of the time I spent on the road (or in the sky) among more than seventy territorial offices, and whenever I could spare the time, I was to visit the individual company stores.  Since I was almost completely in control of my own schedule, I was able to take “down time” just about anywhere I wished, and I used my “down time” in the best hunting and fishing areas I could find.
Hunting was never at the top of my list of things to do, but I did hunt a few times each year.  The basic problem was that hunting usually took more than a day to accomplish, and it almost always required “tags” to hunt what I wanted to hunt.  More often than not, I wasn’t successful when the drawings occurred, but luck was there from time to time.
One year I drew a deer tag for Colorado, but I missed out on the elk tag.  Oh well.  I took some of my down time in southwest Colorado in the rough Uncompahgre National Forest area and started my hunt.  I hiked about six or so miles from the campground into the wilderness where I came upon an old barbed-wire fence (in Texas we would call it bob-war).  It was mid-morning and warm so I sat down and leaned back on one of the fence posts to look out across the large mountain meadow in front of me.  I guess I was tired and fell asleep, because the next thing I knew a foot was nudging me in the side.
The game warden said he was just testing to see if I was alive.  Apparently I gave him some cause for concern.  He checked my rifle to see if it was loaded, chambered, safety on or off, etc., and I passed the exam since I was still carrying the rounds in my pocket instead of the rifle.  Then he asked if he could sit down and have some lunch with me.  That got my attention.  I checked my watch and realized I had been asleep at least three hours.  We had lunch.
Just as we were finishing up, I noticed a movement at the far end of the meadow and motioned to the warden to take a look.  Neither of us could see it clearly due to some shadows, but he encouraged me to load up and use the scope on the rifle.  I did, but it wasn’t a deer.  Instead it was an eight by eight elk.  It was beautiful, but I didn’t have the right tag, and I was sitting beside a game warden.  I handed the rifle to him to look at it, and he sat there looking at it no more than four seconds before he pulled the trigger.
I didn’t quite know what to do.  He handed me back the rifle and thanked me for the opportunity to harvest such a trophy.  We found the elk within twenty feet of the impact point, and it was just plain big.  The warden had some kind of a portable two-way communication radio with him, and he used it to call for help.  About forty-five minutes later, another warden with a 4 x 4 pickup arrived, and we winched the elk into the bed.  It was about that time I realized these wardens had done this before.  Now I was thinking I had better disappear before someone decides I shot the elk.  But before I had a chance to run, they drove away leaving me to my own fate.
Not all down times were as exciting, and few were more than just a day or so visiting the great open cathedral we call nature, but another instance comes to mind where I took a day to go fishing.
I was at one of our stores in Minnesota, and the store manager asked if I would like to go fishing.  The store sold licenses, so I was ready in less than an hour.  We traveled to a nearby body of water that covered maybe ten to twelve acres, and there we threw our lines in the water.  He was a fly fisherman, and I was a wannabe, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for lessons.  Instead I used the spinning gear I always packed for my travels.  I don’t know if there were any fish in that pond, or just why we chose it in the first place, but it wasn’t work, and you know what they say about the “worst day fishing…”
We had been there about twenty minutes or so when we heard a racket just to the north of us.  Looking over that direction, I spotted the first badger I had ever seen outside of a picture book, zoo, or taxidermy shop.  It was actually fun to look at until I realized it was mad at me.  Apparently I had invaded its territory.
Reggie the store manager said that these things usually won’t try to out run us, and if we just move away it will settle down and leave us alone.  So we moved about fifty yards or so to the south.  About ten or fifteen minutes later the hissing and racket returned.  We looked up to see the badger had not given up on us.  So we moved further south and around the westward turn of the pond.  This time we were about one hundred or more yards from the critter.
One hundred yards wasn’t enough.  The old badger was relentless, so we moved on, this time circling around to the northwest corner of the water, where we were left in peace for about an hour.  But the peace was again disturbed, and we circled back to where we started.  When we heard the hissing again, we decided it was time to leave.  At this point one would think the badger would give up, but one would think incorrectly.
Reggie and I returned to the store, where we discussed business for a few hours, and then we walked over to a restaurant for dinner.  We returned to the store for another hour or two of discussions before he started to take me to my hotel for the night.  When we walked out to his car, the two rear tires were flat.  He called the car club he was a member of and soon a tow truck was there to do some tire repair.  When the first tire was pulled off, the repairman commented that we must have hit something hard to knock such a piece of the tire off.  The second tire had the same problem, but this time, caught in the cracked edges of the ruined tire was a large tuft of badger hair.
I had a good laugh over this, but Reggie did not.  At least not until I had him put two new tires on my expense account.  I figure that the work accomplished after the few hours of fishing was far more than if we had worked the entire day, therefore, the new tires could be justified by the time savings.  Well, that’s what I told Reggie.  When I got back to my main office in Chicago a few days later, I wrote a check to cover the tires.
My boss didn’t understand.  All he could comprehend was that I had used the expense account to cover personal expenses.  He backed off some when he found out I had already written the check to reimburse the company, but he didn’t let it go.  As the months went by, he would still remind me about it from time to time.
Almost two years later I found myself back at Reggie’s store and of course we went fishing.  Needless to say we went back to the same pond, but this time we caught a few fish, and we heard no hissing.  We laughed and joked about the badger the entire time we were there until we decided to go back to the store.  When we got to the car, the two rear tires were flat, and crawling off into the brush was the butt of our jokes from the last few hours.
I guess some old badgers just can’t take a joke.

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