Oklahoma, 2008

My uncle Jafar and my aunt Jackie bought a house on a hundred acres last year. On 3rd October, we flew from Boston to Oklahoma City with all our kids to stay on The Ranch for a long weekend. We landed at the Will Rogers World Airport at around lunch time. There was a massage chair outside the gate.

A little farther along the concourse, the toilets were marked as tornado shelters.

We drove in our rented minivan to a Santa Fe Cattle Co restaurant. The waitress put a bucket of peanuts on our table and told us to throw the shells on the floor. The floor was polished concrete. We ate a lot of peanuts and threw the shells on the floor.

The drive to Jackie and Jafar's ranch in Calvin Oklahoma took three hours with an hour-long stop at an ice-cream store. The first thing Haley asked Jackie when we arrived was whether there were any scorpions in the house. Jackie said yes, there were. That morning, when she had been cleaning out the bathtub, one had crawled out of the drain. Here's a picture of one of the local scorpions I found under a rock later in our visit. They are about an inch long in the body, with another inch for the tail.

Jackie put a fly swat in every room and said we should use them to hit the scorpions if we see one. She said we should walk around with shoes on at night. But I didn't see any live scorpions in the house during our stay, but I cleaned a dead one out of the kitchen light fixture for Jackie before I left. Jafar claimed that one of the reasons the previous residents had sold the house was because they could not cope with the scorpions. But Jackie and Jafar have had the place sprayed, moved scorpion-attracting rocks from near the house, and sprayed the outside as well, and it looks like they have the scorpion situation well under control.

I wasn't worried about the scorpions. I was more interested in the big meals Jackie cooked for us, sleeping late in their comfortable beds in their quiet house, listening to our hosts play with the kids in the morning, and fishing in the pond.

Below is a view from the pond up to the house. The house has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen and a big living and dining room. In the picture, I'm holding some cheese with which I hoped to catch a catfish. I did not catch a catfish with the cheese, but a snapping turtle ate some of it, and bit off the hook as well.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

The weather was clear, dry, and warm all day Saturday and Sunday. There were hardly any mosquitoes. On Saturday morning, we took out my fishing tackle. I had brought with my a five-piece rod that packed easily in my luggage and a light reel spun with four-pound monofilament.

I caught a large-mouthed bass about 1.5 lb. Here's a picture. For the kids, I made rods out of various sticks and stems. My favorite were those made out of the stems of cat-tails (also called bulrushes or typha). These rods were about four feet long. I tied on four feet of line and a small surface popper lure. The rods would bend right over with the weight of a sunfish. Here's Alice with one of the cat-tail rods.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

Alice caught about ten sunfish that day with her cat-tail rod, earning the envied title of "natural fisherman" from aunt Jackie.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

My cousin Sam arrived with his wife Amber. He and I set about trying to catch a catfish. He even went and bought some worms. Apparently, every gas station in Oklahoma sells worms for catching catfish. But we didn't catch any. The children were busy splashing about with their sunfish and throwing rocks in the water.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

Emmett says this was the first fish he ever caught, but he's forgetting some sunfish he caught in the Charles River a couple of years ago. His rod was one I made out of a light, dry, stem. It had a bend at the end where the fight of his sunfish broke it. Here's a picture of Emmett with his first sunfish of the trip. You can see Sam in the background tying on a lure.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

I taught Haley how to use my rod and reel. She caught her first bass. It was a proud moment for her father. Here's a picture of her ready to cast. Emmett is in the background with his ultra-light pole.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

You'll find another picture of her fishing here, and picture of her first bass here. I taught Alice and Calvin to use the rod and reel as well. They picked it up quickly. Emmett was not interested, and I doubt he has the coordination to do it yet.

I told Alice that I was going on a hunt for a praying mantis later in the afternoon. I wanted to find a big one. She and Emmett went to get some red sand for their baked goods game, and came back with a fossil showing a dozen clam shells, and a praying mantis. Here's a picture of the praying mantis with Alice in the background.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

We took a movie of the praying mantis, which you can see by clicking here.

The kids went back to making burgers and hot-dogs out of red clay and sand. I was fishing from the tall grass farther along the pond when Emmett shouted, "A snake!"

"Where?" Haley said.

"Right there!" Emmett said, and pointed to the base of a tree beside the pond.

I started running as soon as the word "snake" passed Emmett's lips. I doubted his judgment when it came to identifying snakes once before in Boston, and he proved me wrong. And sure enough, at the base of the tree was a snake about two feet long with brown stripes and a triangular head.

Jafar said, "I'll get my axe."

It was clear to me that Jafar intended to kill the snake, and Jackie had previously made it clear to me that she did not like poisonous snakes, and that she believed the right and proper thing to do with poisonous snakes was to kill them. This one looked poisonous. It was equally clear to me that my children would be mortified if Jafar killed the snake, and he would fall from grace in their eyes. Jafar falling from grace would be a pity, because he had earned the esteem of all the children that morning with his Broken Computer question and answer game. I was therefore left with two viable courses of action. Either I could kill the snake myself, which would distress the children and stop them from telling me about any other poisonous snakes they found, or I could capture and release the snake far from the house, thus disappointing Jackie but probably not Jafar, who appeared to have a cavalier attitude towards scorpions and snakes.

While I was figuring my way through this social dilemma, I took the precaution of capturing the snake in our insect net so I could retain control of its fate. It was a mighty fine looking creature and the children were enchanted by it. At no time during my effort to catch it did it make any effort to strike me. Its mouth was not large enough to bite even a child on the leg. Only our fingers would be vulnerable to its bite, and we'd have to try to pick it up by hand to get bitten.

And anyway: I certainly did not want to kill the snake. So we set off along the dirt path, all the family with Jafar, and released the creature a couple of hundred yards from the house.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

It's a copperhead, a venomous pit-viper. Here's a movie of it slithering away from us. You can hear my wife complimenting the creature upon its markings. Perhaps Jackie will forgive me one day.

Note: Click to Play

Sam and Amber left on Sunday afternoon. We took some family pictures. Here's the first one. From left to right we have myself, Alice, Jafar, Calvin, Jackie, Emmett, Kirsten, Sam, Haley, and Amber.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

We tried another one. This time I sat on the ground after setting up the shot. But the ground is scattered with prickly things. One of them stuck in my hand, and another couple in my bottom. I complained, but the family thought I was joking, and so they are particularly happy in this picture, while I am not.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

Here are the Hashemi men.

I gave Jackie a hug after Sam left. We piled in the minivan and went to see her mother, who lives on two hundred acres a couple of miles away (almost neighbors). Her mother is Lois Edwards. She likes to bake, and provided rolls, chocolate cake, and pumpkin bread for us during our stay. Haley was particularly taken with Lois's rolls, so we photographed her recipe, which is in her fine hand-writing. You can see it here. Kirsten asked for her cole slaw recipe, which is here.

Lois and Jackie walked with us a few hundred yards out across a field to point us in the direction of Lois's best fishing pond, a half-mile away across the property. The fields were full of grass with prickly seed pods that stuck to the children's trousers, shoes, and socks, but not to my leather boots or my hairy legs. Here's a picture of one that made it home to Boston with us, stuck to something. I found it on the floor here.

I made a path for the family by beating the prickly things with our small minnow-net. The net soon filled with the prickly things, but the beating was effective, and the family followed in single file. We eventually arrived at the pond. We slid an old aluminum row-boat out into the water. We were polling along the shore happily when a mouse emerged from under a seat carrying a baby mouse.

"We have turned her house upside down," Kirsten said.

"Dad, we have to go back so she can get her house back," Haley said.

"But," I said. This pond is hardly fished at all, and I'm confident that it holds some big bass, and if only we could just get to that inlet over there...

"Dad," Alice said, "There's water coming in the boat. If we don't go back, her babies are going to die."

So of course I had to pole us back to the shore and pull the boat out and turn it over. We fished from shore for fifteen minutes. I caught two bass in the first few casts. Everyone else had five casts each: Haley, Alice, Calvin, then Kirsten. Haley caught a bass on her fifth cast.

Alice did not catch a bass, which explains the facial expressions in the following picture.

Calvin did not catch one either, but he handled the rod well, as you can see in the following movie. You can hear Haley advising him as to his form in the background.

Note: Click to Play

Kirsten caught a bass as well. Here's a picture of her fishing. Needless to say: that pond is well-stocked. On our way back to Lois's house, we saw two armadillos. Here's a picture of one of the armadillos running and another of an armadillo crouching. But better than the pictures is the movie below.

Note: Click to Play

Emmett drew the following picture in honor of the sighting when he returned to school.

Here's a panoramic movie of the Edwards Farm as we returned from the pond.

Note: Click to Play

On Monday, we took this picture of Jackie, Lois, and us.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

On Monday morning we found a stick insect on the back porch.

We took a movie of him too, with some excellent commentary by Emmett.

Note: Click to Play

Jafar left on Monday morning. We were all sad to see him go. Here's a move of him hugging his wife goodbye.

Note: Click to Play

And a final photograph with Jafar beside his roses.

It was a bit rainy on Monday, and I found myself alone by the pond. Sam left me a dozen worms, so I fished one on the bottom. I sat quietly and watched the rod tip. Half an hour later, I caught my first catfish. It fought hard.

Catfish swim with a slow, powerful stroke. You can see the movement of its body in this movie of the catfish in Jafar's net. An hour later, I caught another good-sized fish. This time a small-mouthed bass.

I thought about keeping both these fish to eat for supper, but Jackie had already planned supper, and she had been working hard all weekend, so I decided not to make extra work for her, or to force myself upon her kitchen with a dead fish. Next time, however, I'd like to try fresh catfish. It's popular in Oklahoma. A restaurant in Calvin has an all-you-can-eat catfish fry every friday night. Jackie's grandfather paid $25 for a catfish bait recipe. For the recipe, see here.

On Monday night we stayed up until 1:30 am talking to Jackie. In the morning, we said goodbye. We stopped in Calvin to take a picture of the town sign with our own son of the same name underneath.

Note: Click on Image for Higher Resolution

What does, "No Jake Brakes Within Town Limits" mean? Note that of the five vehicles on the road, three are pick-up trucks, one is a tractor, and one is a truck.

We drove to Norman, Oklahoma, where I was born. In Mockingbird Lane, we found the house my father designed. My parents, my sister, and I lived there from around 1970 to 1972.

For another view, click here or here . From Norman, we went back to the airport and so home, well-satisfied with our entire trip. Many thanks to Jackie and Jafar for having us to stay.