Monday, February 28, 2011

Roan, 1996-2011

Southern Delaware, November 2006
The vet eased his stethescope under Roan's armpit and confirmed, "He's gone."  There I was, with my dog on a stretcher on the vet's office floor.  The last 8 days were pure punishment, especially on Roan.  After a nasty fall last saturday, his arthritis suddenly progressed from moderate to severe, and a painless but terminal nerve disease (degenerative myelopathy) showed up, making him incapable of standing or walking.  Five days later (two days ago), he stopped eating and started vomiting, and his blood went anemic from what was probably spleen cancer - also likely fatal on its own. Roan was a maniac and a warrior, and he died just 32 days short of turning 15.

Roan (standing) and duck dog pal Grady zip across the Poquoson Flats
in Southeastern Virginia.  August, 2008.
I watched him ease out of this world, his head in my lap.  And how could I not? He accompanied me on easily a hundred (two hundred?) one-thousand-mile road trips, countless boat trips in the ice, dark, fog, rain, or blazing heat, and dozens (he would say hundreds) of "on the road" boondoggles (caused by me) that would end most human relationships.  

Roan regulates "the hole" at a railroad crossing of the upper Jones Falls
near Baltimore, Maryland. 2009
We first met when he was 1 year old and I had just met my wife - his owner.  His greeting was a shot to my lip, which bled quite a bit.  When Amy finally got a job near me in Maryland (and we realized we'd be sharing a tiny apartment at first), we had to leave Roan with her parents in North Carolina.  I vividly remember the moment that I promised him that I would come back to get him.  I made good on my promise several months later (new rental house in hand).

Roan participates in"Labrador Fight Club" held weekly
in the DU Employees' Parking Lot, 2008

Roan travelled to at least 11 states, Ontario, the Adirondacks, NYC's Central Park, and literally every beach from Delaware to northern Georgia.  He saw the eastern continental divide, hiked his namesake (Roan Mountain on the NC/TN border) and once hiked Antietam with me - nearly drowning that afternoon in Antietam Creek.  He chased a freight train in Trexler Village, PA.   He saved a few duck hunts, nearly ruined a few more, and was just fired up to be alive.   He was a good dog.

Folly Beach, SC April, 2009
Roan, a breeder's "throw-out" because he was a lab-chessie cross, was the first and only dog I've owned without parental supervision.  He and I didn't always agree on who was in charge (there's the Chessie genes).   He was fearlessly everybody (there's the lab genes). He taught me a lot about the importance of being firm but patient.  Of maintaining order but being quick to forgive.  Of being a consistent and unflinching friend.  I think he was still trying to teach me how to be compassionate under duress - an area where I fail horribly - when he died today.

Lewes, DE June, 2008
I lost my composure for only the second time when the vet told me to take my time, and to simply turn the light off when I decided to leave.  The thought of leaving him there in the dark - forever - was an emotional dealbreaker. I stayed seated on the floor and wept next to Roan.  I closed his eyelids for him and thanked him for being a great friend.  I am really sad that his journey is over, but I had to make good on another promise I made to him long ago - to never let him suffer.   The staff at the vet's office - the best in the state and generally recognized as one of the best in the country - cared for him like the giant he was over his last few weeks. They were compassionate and professional, which is a rare thing anymore.

Fighting for sleeping space in my grandfather's room
(actually my dad's bedroom growing up)
in our family's NYC house. 2006.

On the way home, still in shock, I thought of a Mojo Nixon song (about the death of rockabilly maniac (and Mojo's friend) Country Dick Montana) that Roan would have approved of, especially if Mojo was feeding Roan beer and pizza at the same time. 

Bye old pal. Thanks for sticking around for so long.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spring! Wait. Nevermind.

Hank would like you to have this here stick.
We got a sudden burst of warm weather and Hank and I were on it.  With snow still melting in every parking lot for 200 miles, we ran over real quick after work to the neighborhood tot lot.  It became real apparent real fast that Hank is no longer a baby.....

I love danger!
We met a bunch of new little friends and ran around like maniacs.  Hank climbs everything, all the time.  Also a big fan of the Big Boy Slide.  We ran and climbed and climbed and ran until the sun started to go down......

And we ate the last snowball in the park.  Tastes like squirrel pee! 
It was so great to get out with the little guy in some decent weather.  It seems like he can do more stuff on his own every day.  Unfortunately, we had to take our game plan back inside, because the air temperature went from 68 to 23 in about 48 hours, leaving us with another........... four inches of snow.  Hank's finally getting big enough that the snow and cold can't stop him from getting outdoors (as long as he keeps his hat on).

Note: built-in snowsuit gloves to prevent Hank from taking his hat off
There are a lot of things happening in our lives now - some of them are real challenges.  It's been great to break up the anxiety and the February blahs with some time outside with Tiny Darth Vader

Monday, February 21, 2011

When the Enemy Dies

Ah, anti-hunters.  So full of hatred.  So devoid of facts.

While doing some research about the local animal rights folks who are currently trying to spay dense suburban deer populations (part of an effort to roll back bow-hunting priveleges on adjacent public land), I read that one of my great professional nemeses, their mentor, passed away about 18 months ago. 
When I say "professional nemesis," what I really mean is, "person who carried sway in public forums, who in an absence of facts, science, or logic, typically turned to lies and fear, to pursue (anti-hunting) goals that aligned with her ethics."  This person, a waitress by profession, testified opposite of me (a wildlife biologist) in wildlife hearings, public meetings, and a variety of other conservation venues for over a decade.  She was one of those people who believed that passion was more important than laws, truth, facts, or fairness to those who disagree.  There is only la causa. History buffs will appreciate the reference.
She said that deer hunters orphan baby Bambis.  That hunters, by definition, cannot be conservationists, because the only thing hunters care about is killing. She repeatedly hoodwinked the media into believing (and publishing) that environmentalist = environmental scientist.  And in the face of truth, logic, and facts, she somehow still prevailed occasionally.
Apparently She passed away, about a week after my son was born, and her wildlife rehabilitation center (her 501c3) was taken over by three absolutely rabid animal rights activists whose work is resonating quite well with ALF (a terrorist organization).  Her inheritence is being used to spay these deer.
I'm not sorry I missed Her obituary.  Sound weird? I thought so too - and that's why I'm writing.  I feel like, as a human, as a christian, I am "supposed" to feel some type of common bond with this soul, maybe something like, "Yup, she was dedicated to wildlife, and that's a good thing."  Which she was.  And it is.  But my dominant feelings right are flexing between relief and "good riddance," since her passing opened the door to a new set of rabid anti-hunting leaders who know nothing of wildlife biology, conservation ecology, the energetic basis of life on earth - i.e. things must die.   I feel like a horrible person right now, essentially relieved that a woman who loved animals has died. I mean, how awful am I?
Bottom line - with Her departure from this world, I can hope that the next person who I face in that public arena, in Her old shoes, will be just as passionate as She was, but yet 10x more dedicated to facts, truth, and science.  Perhaps one day, there will be room in the anti-hunting community for that person.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What's in a Picture - Freedom Edition!

So, the Downeast Duckhunter asked a while back, "What's in a historic picture?"  Depends on the picture, I guess.  Take, for example, the image above, from the mid-1800s.  Looks like a small-ish American plantation house under reasonable upkeep.  Nothing fancy.   It wouldn't mean much to you if I mentioned that the house is in Yorktown, Virginia, where I went to high school (and the only hometown my two brothers know).   It also wouldn't be terribly significant to note that the house belonged to Augustine Moore, as Moore himself never played a major role in history.
So perhaps you'd find it interesting that in this house, in October 1781, colonels of the British Army sat down with General George Washington at Moore's old, splitting chestnut dining room table and agreed to:

"...march out...with shouldered arms, colors cased, and drums beating a British or German march. They are then to ground their arms and return to their encampment, where they will remain until they are dispatched to the places of their destination..."

The British Articles of Capitulation.  Lord Cornwallis was immediately imprisoned.  Lord North exclaimed, "My God, it is all over" and immediately sailed for England.  Thousands of English, German, and American loyalist soldiers were disarmed and imprisoned within 24 hours. It was done.

America was a free country. The British sat in this very house and said, "Fine. You can have it." While the British Empire did not acknowledge surrender for another 18 months, their regular Army and its mercenaries surrendered here on October 19, 1781.

Look at the picture again.  It is the Moore House, on York Plantation (now Yorktown National Battlefield), overlooking the York River in southeastern Virginia.  Freedom was finally claimed by Patriots at this modest place.  Not Boston, New York, Charleston, or any other great American city. Yorktown.

And that's where I'm from.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Help?! Am I Becoming a Wild Food Nerd?

The Kershaw Antelope II.  An ugly ass knife to be sure.  And for the first time, a knife that I bought specifically for butchering and game prep. Sure, it was half price.  But I still bought it.  I bought a technical knife that will never go in the field with me.  When did that become something that I do?
If that wasn't disturbing enough, I just upgraded my first vacuum sealer (in name only), bought just two years ago, and recently deceased. The $25 Ziploc Vacuum Sealer did a minimal job, and then the batteries blew up and leaked into the electronics and the thing is dead.  So, currently on the way to my house (thanks to a gift card from my parents) is a Foodsaver Commercial Vacuum Sealer.  It's awful purty (sound: chorus of angels).............. 
So what does this all really mean?  Well, for one thing, I am taking food storage a little more seriously.  I want our garden veggies and my wild game to last longer in the freezer (so I have to buy less at the grocery store).  But I'm also feeling a little reverence here - for food and its value.  I don't know how this value has crept into my being.  I don't have time for it.  I don't really have the energy for it.  Maybe I am just getting older.  But (against my will), it seems that my ethics surrounding "how I treat my food before I eat it" and "how much waste is acceptable?" are changing. 
I guess it's a surprise to me because we live in an urban area.  I can't keep chickens or quail.  My neighbors would riot if I kept honeybees. So my natural ties to food are more distant.  I even have to drive (about a half mile) to my garden. I shouldn't feel a connection to food and its treatment.
So bear with me on this journey.  I don't have the time or talent to turn this blog into Honest Food (a blog I've been following for years), and a blog that you must view if you cook any fish, game, or fresh plants.  And I've certainly dabbled in food preparation on this blog - you can see the evidence here.  But I feel stronger about it now.  Let's see what happens. You never know, I might end up inventing the game processing version of the Slap Chop!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hen-sanity 2011

A google search of my current home life looks like this:

You wouldn't think that the screaming, crying animal baby who has invaded our house is literally the same person as this guy:

But somehow, it really is the same, the one and only, the Hankinator.   Our house is in complete chaos!  I wonder what our neighbor think of the 12am - 330am scream fests over the last few nights.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stoicism Starts Here

It's here again. February.  Know what's in season most Februaries? My bitching and moaning about the lack of outdoor activities to pursue. The season is usually in full tilt until the last two weeks of April, when the warm water fisheries turn on, spring gobbler season opens, and planting season begins.  How bad do I usually complain?
Just look here, here, and here to start.  This is the downside to running a blog year after year - documentation of your (my) own stubbornness and poor attitude.  There it is. Like clockwork. I tend to enter each February like a toddler whose favorite toy has been taken away.  "Why oh why does duck season have to be over!" and I celebrate each tiny monument of spring - from cold weather flowers to fish migrations - with Gollum-level morbidity. "Schmeigel is cold, damp, and gray.  But Precious crocus is pretty and yellow!  Baaaaaad Rainy February Schmeigel."
The net outcome is that I hate - really hate - these months.  There is dirty gray ice and snow everywhere.  The days are short.  The outdoors is pretty inhospitable and pretty much dead.  Every year I allow these 10 weeks or so to pass, with me in an awful mood, and I don't make use of the only serious downtime that I could possibly afford myself all year.  This year I plan to do it differently, and I'll do my best to embrace this time.   My goals for the period are similar to any other year, only this year I'll try to really embrace what they are - part of being outdoors.  I look forward to writing meaningful and somehow interesting posts about:
  • Losing the first ten or so pounds toward my weight goal
  • Getting fishing gear organized and re-assessing how I gear up for each fishing day
  • Getting prepared & scouting for my first turkey hunt(s?) in 3 years
  • Planning a spring fishing trip to FL, NC/TN, or VA, depending on finances
  • Getting the garden up and running
While these are extremely unsexy topics, I have kind of had an epiphany that I need to stop neglecting them.  I need to think (and write) about why and how I do these things - not just focusing on hurriedly getting them done half-assed because "Spring is coming! Spring is coming!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Last Duck Hunt of the Season

Great offshore decoy rig and a snowstorm moving in. 
Perfect late January morning.
After a fun duck hunt the previous week and a courtesy return-invite from my host, I called T to see if he could make it up to Maryland during the waning hours of duck season to possibly get a crack at his first canvasback.   After some scurried phone messages back and forth between parties, we had a date.  
The day before the hunt, and 48 hours before the end of duck season, we received a foot of snow.  Suddenly, northern Maryland began seeing tens of thousands of new ducks and geese who could no longer pretend to survive in NY, PA, and NJ.  Unfortunately, our planned duck hunt was in southern Maryland.  We moved forward with our plans anyway - partly in an effort to not screw up my new relationship with the guy who's blind we were going to be hunting.  Yup.  Once again, we would be stuck with smart, wary birds with plenty of local knowledge.  Let's do it.
Trouble lets off some steam, literally
We had an early shot on a canvasback, and took it (an unplanned group shot).  Apparently too early - a hen.  In the early light, it looked like a drake.  Still legal.  Not preferable.  We passed up dozens of shots on buffleheads, if for no other reason than to watch them zip in and out of the decoys over and over again.  A lesser scaup made a turn into the decoys and paid the price, which was fine.  Reminded me of a lot of Virginia diving duck hunts! 
This was another one of those days when all conditions were perfect for an epic hunt, but somebody forgot to tell the birds.   The divers were staying farther downstream.  The puddle ducks and geese were far too well patterned to their "safe havens."  Then finally, T had his chance.  A lone canvasback circled the decoys once, twice, and on the third pass, T and I both shot, twice each, within about 2 seconds.  I am pretty sure he killed it - crushed at about 50 yards!  I don't know for sure, but you know how when you have a great shot on well, anything, you just know it?  Yeah - I didn't have that feeling about my shots.  And judging by his reaction, T did have that feeling about his second shot (the 50 yarder).   That's enough evidence for me.  In the snowfall, Trouble had a the bird, but ultimately got it back to us.  It was T's first ever Canvasback, and that alone was worth the price of admission. Because he was moving on to hotel accomodations for the last day of the season, he was kind enough to leave me his Canvasback for me to process for him.  Gee thanks!

We ended up having breakfast at the local diner, and we ate a ridiculous amount of food.  And it was delicious. So delicious.  It wasn't a legendary end to the season, by any means, but I think it was fairly indicative of my season in general.  Lots of work to get a little piece of mind and a few ducks and geese.  I hunted some new spots, met some new hunting partners, and learned a lot more about how game species use the farm where I usually hunt. On those counts alone, it was more productive than my previous hunting season.  And as I've said before, I've had worse seasons, no matter which metric by which you measure it. 

So I'll take it. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thanks to All of You

American Beautyberry, Nov. 2010
January 2011 was my greatest month of readership ever, according to the ol' Google Stats. Over 4,900 pageviews!  I also surpassed 300 posts, which is really insane!   I am grateful that you all continue to stop by to read my stories (or steal my photos).  You know, whichever. Either way, since I don't have ads on River Mud, I don't make a penny off of it.
This would be a good time to note the first several consistent readers and commenters I had on River Mud in 2007 and 2008 - interestingly - all of their blogs are still active and are the same age, or older, than mine.  Which is quite an oddity, considering that a"high quality" blog lasts an average of 34 months.  River Mud is at 41.  Some of these guys write better than me, some take better photos than me, and some tell better stories and do more interesting things than I do.  You should see for yourself.
Baltimore Urban Revival Blog
The Maine Outdoorsman
Florida Duck Days
Ohio Nature Blog

It's also worth noting my most popular posts of all time (by hits, as of 1/29/11)
3. Now Woodcock, Walk It Out (2009, 951 views)
2. Cicada Killer, Qu'est Que C'est? (2009, 1,479 views)
1. No Alligators in Virginia - None (2010, 1,944 views)
Should I mention that my copyright page has only 16 views?  Sigh.

And my most popular (or dubious) posts of all time (by comments)
3. Shooting Tecomate Bucks in the Knee - TV Worth Watching? (2010, 13 comments)
2. Alligators in Virginia - The Science (2010, 14 comments)
1. No Alligators in Virginia - None (2010, 15 comments)

I'd be remiss if I didn't throw in a few posts that I wish you had seen.  Please click through if you have a minute:
3. The Best of Bristol Rhythm & Roots (2008)
2. Surfing & Fishing the VA-NC State Line (2009)
1. Light Tackle Lunchbreak at the Chickahominy Headwaters (2009)

Thanks as always, and always feel free to send me comments, suggestions on how I can improve the blog.  Compliments too, ha ha. As Esteban says to Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, "I must warn you - I am susceptible to flattery."

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...