Vienna (Sausage) of Truk Lagoon

“A kitten is in the animal world what a rosebud is in the garden.”  ~Robert Southey

I love cats.  And it’s just not that like “there, I said it…” as I had over my man-card to the manly authorities.  I state it proudly and openly.  And on my diving excursion to Truk Lagoon earlier this year, I meet a rosebud of a kitten which I came to affectionately call Vienna.


Me and My Feline Friend Vienna

I don’t have many pictures of this little boy cat.  He didn’t pose well, struggling as he was to just survive.  But he was a looker.  Obviously too lean due to a restricted diet, he had a very long snout on a very triangular head, making him appear much more “wild” than the average domesticated short-hair.  And he was part of a pack of three or four strays that seem to inhabit the Blue Lagoon Resort, the “resort” (I use that word loosely) where we were staying before and after our liveaboard scuba diving cruise aboard the dive boat Odyssey.


I’m a sucker for cats, wherever I go.  I’ve made many cat friends over the years, and in many countries – most places I’ve spent any amount of time, in fact.  This skinny boy cat scurrying about the resort caught my attention.  And making my patented “pssssst-psssst” cat-call (which works pretty much every time), this little boy of about 4-6 months came trotting up like a best friend.  Unshyly rubbing my leg and looking up to bellow a meow too voluminous for his body, I immediately knew he’d be my feline friend for my stay.


Knowing he was hungry, I started to brainstorm about how to help this little guy out.  Taking food from our normal meals taken at the resort’s only restaurant was easy, but that was hours away (the cats actually would congregate around dinner time in the area).  So instead, I headed to the small shop the resort had where various souvenirs and snacks were sold, nothing really to suite a cat’s taste, or a kitten’s nutritional needs.

Then I noticed the cans and cans and cans of Vienna Sausage in the glass display case found at the cashier’s.  PURRR-FECT I thought, right?!

I’m not sure what’s in those tiny little minced-meat formed tubes of soft flesh (or muscle, or fat, or various animal parts unmentioned!), but I know that my ex-wife fed them to my son when he was a little toddler and could handle his own finger food.  Oddly enough, I don’t remember my daughter getting any as a child – maybe a reflection of our increased socioeconomic status perhaps….  Me, well, I’m sure I’ve tasted them(??), but I sure don’t remember that taste-test.  And before you say, “…how can you feed something to your child that you won’t eat,” I ask how many dads out there have actually tasted all those mushy, slimly and smelly baby foods we gleefully shovel down our offspring’s throats?!


Hence this kitten’s newfound name.  Of course he loved the sausages.  And he loved me for the chance to love those sausages.  Literally.  After filling his belly with a can (or two) of that fatty, moist goodness, he would be ready for a nap after expressing his thanks as only a cat can.  And nap we did together – in the resorts various hammocks found along the beaches of the property.  And once I was sure he was relatively clean from parasites (definitely no fleas or ticks at least), he was invited into the room with me.


Vienna would purr and purr, and when I would stop rubbing him, he would bat at my hand with his head, a cat’s demand for more.  But only for a few minutes, because then he was crashed into his cat nap.  I’m sure the dual security of having had a full meal AND a human to cling with made for some much-needed deep, restful sleep.  I’ve had many cats in my life, and I have two right now.  But I’ll tell you that Vienna was more trusting, more loving and more affectionate than most – including those two at home right now (hear that, Cleo and Naka??).  I will forever be amazed at how much peace and tranquility can come from the sound of a cat’s simple purr as their warm, soft fur brushes up against your skin.  It was the perfect counterpoint to the week’s focus on war, destruction and death which any trip to diving the WWII wrecks of Truk Lagoon involves.  And I remain convinced that some of the very best, irrefutable proof of a god is found in the dedicated and unconditional love of an animal….


I said my hard and saddened goodbyes to Vienna when it was time to leave, and I swear that if I could have in any easy fashion, I would’ve taken him home with me.  From Chuuk (part of the Federated States of Micronesia), it is, however, a 3-plane-ride trip home, including an overnight stay in Guam, ending up in Japan, which has some of the strictest animal importation rules I’ve ever dealt with.  It simply was not possible, and sadly so.

But I was also able to smile, having had the opportunity of knowing this small creature, if only for a very little time.  I only hope that Vienna was able to continue to thrive living on the grounds and gardens of the Blue Lagoon Resort in Chuuk.  If you happen to visit BLR, be on the lookout for a sleek, wildish but friendly grey male short-haired tabby of sorts, frisky and playful, and with a purr to melt your heart.  If you do see him, do me a favor and buy a can of Vienna Sausages from the shop and leave them out for him.  He’ll be your BFF, and perhaps, just perhaps, he’ll remember me and the short time we had together.


Last “Ticket to Ride!!!!”

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”  ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher

I got the news a few days ago of the passing of a friend and fellow skydiving brother, Daniel Eric Morgan.  When I first heard, it was via a biker friend of mine through a FaceBook message, and I’ll be honest:  I didn’t even recognize his name, or the connection due to the convoluted path of the message.

But that wholly understates the importance Eric had on my life – and so many others’.  You see, I became known in skydiving circles for shouting “TICKET TO RIDE!!!” in the jump plane as it took off on its climb to altitude so we its passengers could fling ourselves from two miles up in the sky.  People in proximity would often brace for this moment; I often would grab and vehemently shake the person closest to me, or perhaps someone I wished to target on that particular jump.  BUT, truth be told and in full disclosure, Eric was the originator of this phrase – and it will always belong to him.

That notion – of illuminating the charged emotions of a skydive in voice, gesture and motion, captures the very notion of life and living.  Skydivers now this feeling all too well.  That we experience life to the fullest by accepting that death may be just around the corner, or in our case, a mere 50 seconds away….  And it reflects the gregarious nature that Eric would extrude from his very pores at those times when he could be found at the dropzone.

I didn’t know Eric well.  Actually, I didn’t know him really at all.  I probably knew his last name at one time, but over the years, it slipped away.  He was a Navy “bubblehead” veteran of the submarine force, and worked in some IT or technical capacity based on his navy experience and training.  He was a family man, although I can’t even say how many kids he has or whether he was/is currently married or not.  He wasn’t what I would consider a “regular” at Emerald Coast Skydiving Center (ECSC, our home dropzone, now sadly defunct), but when he was around, his charismatic presence was unmistakable.  In a sense, he was a caricature of himself, a zany personality full of smiles and laughter.  Because of this, I came to refer to him as “Crazy Eric.”

I have almost 10,000 photos on my Flickr photostream tagged “skydiving.”  But I can only find a single photo of Crazy Eric.  That makes me sad, but his loss causes an emptiness that I can only really fill by capturing and sharing our intersection, our story.  In this one photo, however, one can gleam all that needs to be known about Eric:  his welcoming smile, kind eyes, and a rig on his back ready to jump.  And clearly, just beneath his calm exterior, that clever grin, ready to exclaim in only the way in which he could, “TICKET TO RIDE!”

Crazy Eric has a TICKET TO RIDE!

Eric’s life indeed can be warmly found in the happy memories of the skydiving family he left behind.

Blue Skies, Black Death My Friend.

Ride on.