Friday, September 30, 2011

Four Years of Blogging at River Mud

4 years.
200,000 pageviews. 
Over 450 posts published (420+) or scheduled 
150 Google, Google+, and Facebook "followers." 

All without ads or ad revenue.

I have to admit I'm a little proud of myself.  Proud that I have improved my writing over the last four years.  Proud that I have a better understanding of what good web publishing looks like (I think).  And maybe a little surprised, too.  Surprised that this blog has turned into something that people actually use as a resource (hopefully not for school research papers!), and surprised that at times, it's been a good sounding board for some of the tougher issues of our day - issues like conservation funding, professional guides and guiding, and private vs. public outdoor land opportunities.

I originally envisioned River Mud as a depository for my outdoor memories and an occasional rant or two.  You see, I am blessed to have a life where my fond outdoor memories literally blend together for the most part.  It's hard to tell (in my mind) when one great day ended, and the next one began.  This life and lifestyle have not been accidental, nor have they come without sacrifice in other areas of my life.  But the blog has become a great vehicle for me to transcend that inconvenient fact and remember the spark of individual days afield, whether alone, with friends, or with family.

5 Important Things I Didn't Blog About in Years 1-4
1. The exiling, forced retirements, and firings of my three highly inept former directors at Ducks Unlimited.
    Great story. One sided.  My side.  Still a great organization.  As a result....story left untold.
2. Pregnancy trials and tribulations.   Had enough already? Thought so.
3. My weight.  Honestly, nobody wants to hear me complain about this.  So there you go.
4. Home improvement.  Our house was built in 1945.  It falls apart.  All the time.  And this isn't younghouselove.  "Hey look another pipe busted and I fixed it, and wrapped this cool, ironic ribbon around it.  How cool is that?"
5. My dog dying.  I gave it one post.  Part of me's too busy.  Part of me doesn't have time to cope with the fact that my buddy has been gone all summer, and another hunting season is here, while he's not.
Of the outdoor blogging world in general, too many have simply dropped off the map.  Some got bored.  Some got hired as outdoor writers (yes, I'm jealous). I've read that the average blog lasts anywhere from 2.1 to 2.8 years, and that seems about right.  While I sometimes question why I pressure myself to post so regularly (3-4 times per week), I never question why I keep writing.  In fact, I wish I had started 9 years earlier than I did (although blogging in its current form did not actually exist at that time).

More and more outdoor and conservation blogs keep popping up, which is great, as far as I'm concerned.  While it's true that I'm a little dismayed by many new bloggers' attitude of "OK, I've had this blog for three months - when do the checks start rolling in?", I am surprised pretty regularly by the quality of a new blog's setup, the quality of writing or photography, or the obvious passion that the blogger has for natural resources and outdoor recreation.  I also feel a bit deflated when I look at a the archive of a great outdoors blog and see: "2011 (1,140 posts); 2010 (2 posts)."   I just get a feeling that it will flame out.  Great blogs have a history of it. 
With that, here's the River Mud Rundown:

My Wife's Blog:
I rarely refer to it because she used to leave it alone for months at a time.  I don't know what she was busy doing, with our young child and what not, I don't understand why she didn't have free time to blog it up? And you probably would have guessed this, but she is better looking than me, too. A little bit, anyway.

Longest Standing Blogs I Still Read
The Maine Outdoorsman (2006)
Downeast Duck Hunter (2007)

Good Blogs I Currently Visit for Inspiration
Mysteries Internal (challenging myself to be a better writer)
Root Simple (challenging myself to walk the walk)
The Unlucky Hunter (challenging myself to expand my vision of hunting and fishing opportunities)

Good Blogs that I Wish Inspired Me 
(Don't Worry, none of them read my blog)
Mallard of Discontent - Chad is a great writer, writes about really cool stuff and really awesome places....this blog could be amazing.
NorCalCazadora - I love Holly's blog, and I have learned a lot from how she runs it.  But she's been repeatedly taking it in the direction of "in defense of hunter ethics,"  which is not nearly as inspiring (to me) as her talented storytelling. However, her readership continues to grow, so she's doing plenty right.
Owl Jones - Owl is a hilarious, pointed writer, who (I think) is trying to figure out the ideal pace and meme of his blog.  He'll get there, and it'll be consistently awesome once he does.  He posts on a wide variety of topics, not all related to outdoors stuff (hey, it's HIS blog, not mine, so who am I to say?), so sometimes I just tune out a little.

In Year Five (wow!)......

I hope to expand my "real life" interactions with other bloggers - I've been blown off by several outdoor bloggers, or sent to inactive email addresses or Facebook pages they don't check, when I contact them to see if we can get together when I'm in their area.   That is a real bummer, and it simply doesn't make any sense.

So I'll keep you all up to date on my progress in that area.  Should be interesting!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

To Hank On Your Second Birthday

The birthday boy, mommy, and friends...and juiceboxes and cupcakes, of course
I don't know why I am so blessed.  Just to be blessed with a life long enough to see all of this - to meet you and be your Dad.  You've turned from an idea into a baby and into a little dude.  You have thoughts, you have ideas, and you even have a few fears (like thunder).  Not many fears, though.
Enjoying a birthday party that ends at the Natural Play Space
at Irvine Nature Center, northwest of Baltimore

I had no idea that any person could be so fascinated by garbage trucks ("shrash twuck"), airplanes ("look! Pwane!"), and motocross ("mo'cyco!!!"). And I had no idea that I could ever be so motivated for a simple hug that I could actually finish my day's work on time (or leave it - and the guilt - at the office) and boogie on home for the night with a clean conscience.

These two years, especially the last few months, have made me re-focus on what is actually important.   The importance of living, and being present, and playing a part in something you created.

The biggest realization? Those things aren't only at work.   Work is an important part of life, but it's just a part.   Two years of being your dad has given me real, sincere pity on those people who work double-time and have a weak excuse for a life on the side.  I used to admire it.  Now I don't.  Now Hank, let's you and I go play music or go outside...or both... before the day is gone.
Salamander collecting time at Irvine - also part of the birthday party!

Happy second birthday, Henry.  I am so proud of every little thing you have done.  Well, almost everything. But I'll keep forgiving you for the rest! You have a fearlessness and a positive attitude that I've never known, and always wanted.  I hope you get to keep them both, buddy.
Hank met a hedgehog, a wood turtle, and a screech owl at his party! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chasing Moonlight Bass on the Upper Shore

Some days I feel like a sprinter who's been told 2 miles into a race that he's actually running a marathon.  Life is full of activity right now, and not enough of it is fun, or even mentally tolerable.  And that's how it goes, right?     Well, I had a little time one evening to stop at one of my favorite fishing spots on Maryland's upper eastern shore right before the sun went down.  The photos are in order, taken in the span of just an hour, so you can see how quickly it got dark!

As I've been doing lately, I tried hard to concentrate on the moment, although it was tough - life swirling around in the back of my mind, and the sun moving further west every minute.  It was pretty clear that no one has fished this spot since our earthquake/hurricane/tropical storm/ wet week / tropical storm p2 / wet week part 2, so I figured it might be easy fishing.  I was wrong.  But after about 15 minutes, I finally hooked up with a reasonably sized bluegill...from his coloration, I can guess that he's feeling pretty stressed in the high, acidic, black water that is still draining out of our coastal swamps.

I caught a few more over the next 20 minutes, all about that same decent size...

Predictably, the light got thinner and thinner, and I suddenly hooked up with one of the bigger bluegills I've ever caught - a true copperbelly, too!

And was suddenly dark, and the mosquitos descended.  They were atrocious.  But I still hadn't caught a largemouth - which has only happened one time I've ever fished here (mid-day in August 2010).

There was some good moonlight, but combined with  the tannic black water, there was no way that a bass could see most of the lures in my tacklebox.  So I grabbed this square-billed crankbait and started tossing it around in the dark.  It's glossy pearl white and does not look like any real baitfish in this river - and I am a stickler for "match the hatch."  But at least I could see it on the surface.

After a few minutes and a few utterances of "1 more cast," I brought it back to the weedline on shore and BOOM!  My bass.  Finally.

And with that, I packed up and went home.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Standard Garden Update

Tons of sweet potatoes for us, and tons of flowers left for the bees!

The sweat bees are living next door to the carpenter ants!

Harvesting lemon balm and purple millet for the 2012 garden!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Starting Garden Cover Crops on the Right Foot

I have a blogging conundrum.  Either gardeners don't read blogs, or don't comment on them, or specifically don't read or comment on mine.  For that reason, I thought I'd switch up the format of my next few garden entries to be a little more educational and a little less, "Yeah, so I tried this, it worked.  Yay."

It's late September in Maryland. The squash and okra are done and gone.  Tomatoes and peppers following quickly.  The only strong production really going on is sweet potatoes, and soon they'll be gone too.  It's time to plant cover crops for the winter.  Sure, we'll do some greens and beets and onions and garlic.  But I want to keep my soil nice and safe for next spring.

If you're reading this, you probably already know all about cover crops and how they are the cheapest and easiest way to protect your soil and stop your soil nutrients (and your soil) from running out on you over the winter months.  If not, just take a cruise through my cover crop and no-till blog tags.   There are tons of reasons why people plant winter cover, including those listed above.  But getting your urban or suburban garden to actually meet those objectives is a lot more complicated than just throwing down some deep-rooting hardy seed.  Here are the basic steps.

1. Know what cover crop species you're planting well in advance of the planting date.
Do your homework - your state extension service is a great resource for choosing species and for planning for planting dates.  Here's an example from Indiana:
Dubois County Soil & Water Conservation District's Cover Crop Web Tool
2. Prepare the soil.  If this is a new garden (currently under concrete, gravel, turf, etc), you will need to do a lot more than lay down old newspapers (an old hippy method) to get the soil ready to accept high quality cover crop species.  If you have to till the garden just once, you have not forsaken Mother Earth.  You may want a soil test (always recommended if you are going to grow food), or you may just go ahead and incorporate tons of compost, wood chips, and manure under the assumption that the soil is worthless nutrient-poor.

For existing gardens, just clear out dead summer crops, kill any and all pervasive weeds, and rough up the surface to the planting depth (usually less than 2 inches), either in rows or across the entire bed.  If you have a seed drill, that's even better, but a seed drill doesn't punch through rocks, bricks, or mulch in your garden, so make sure to remove all debris. The key here: make room for your new seeds.
The bed on the left has been (largely) prepared for winter cover crop seeding.
The bed on the right contains late-growing sweet potatoes.
Oats and peas for winter 2011-2012
3. Set aside time to plant.  Especially in the case of winter cover, you are making a lasting investment for very minimal effort.  Do it right.  Take a few hours.  You won't have to fuss over it for another 4-6 months.

4. Plant based on real information, either from the seed dealer or from your local extension agent.   For example, based on your garden's soil, do you need to buy legume innoculant?  Sometimes, blog information can be helpful, too.  Example: my cover crop test from last winter.   It's not scientifically validated, but a decent guess at what you're getting yourself into.

5.  Don't be afraid to experiment.  Try different planting methods. Different species.  See what happens.  One tip: unless you love spraying herbicide on your garden, don't use cover crops that will not succumb to spring mowing, especially if you are interested in no-till, as I am.   If you search the internet for "harvest green manure" followed by the species you planted, you'll see how to deal with the greens next spring.

6.  Give your soil every possible advantage.  That's what this is about, right?

a. If you plant winter cover in rows (as I did), backfill the rows with compost instead of garden soil.

b. Mulch the garden very lightly once the cover crop is 6-8" tall.

c. After you've planted it (ideally, before), read up on your cover crop species - how deep does it root? How effective in removing soluble nutrients? Protect from rain and snow runoff?

7.  Don't be despondent if the cover crop looks weak in the spring.  While a poor cover crop may not accomplish all of your goals, if it "sort of lived" through the winter, your soil is better off than it would have been without the cover crops. Every pound of soil you keep in your garden is a pound that doesn't end up in your local creek - and a pound of topsoil you don't have to buy at your local garden center.
My various covers from Spring, 2011. Look at those peas!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Seriously? Last autumn, it was 95 degree temperatures until Thanksgiving.  This year, we're in our sixth straight week of rain.  Time to give up staying dry outdoors in the never-ending storm, and transition to my All New, All Seattle, All Indoors wardrobe!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Baltimore's Most Freak-tastic Garden

So, I won A Major Award for the second year in a row.  Yeah, true, it was for "Most Beautiful Garden," not "Most Freaktastic," and just for my particular part of Baltimore, but who knows - maybe I'll grade out at #1 City-wide?  In 2010, I had Baltimore's Third Most Beautiful Garden overall.   Ain't that something!

What do you mean, "that sounds tedious and lame?"  OK, fair enough -  here are a few garden photos from 2011's Masterfreak Masterpiece:

Native male thread-waisted wasp on native Joe Pye Weed "Little Joe."
Native carpenter bee on native lemon balm. 

Native Two-Spotted Digger Wasp on Spearmint "Kentucky Colonel" of dubious origin
Native Lemon Balm aka Horsemint in all its summer glory...

The elusive Hoverfly on Hyssop "Purple Haze"

And let's not forget the food!
Here's to hoping we can keep it totally freaky for 2012!

Monday, September 19, 2011

High Water Trout in Northern Maryland

Chesapeake Bay - not looking so good
It has been almost a month since our first hurricane of the year, and only a week since our last tropical storm. Each time I cross the Chesapeake Bay, I am simply astonished by the sewage, the sediment, and the debris that continue to float down it from Pennsylvania and New York.  It is impossible to imagine how any living being can exist in that environment.  Toilet seats. Tires. 80 foot long trees. An endless flotilla of garbage that the Bay neither wants or needs.

But since our hot and humid weather pattern has broken, I decided to go fishing.  The conditions I've already described seem to be present on every major river, and so, as I've done so many times in the last few years, I picked a headwater stream in an area with lots of forest, and without sewers, farms, or much notable erosion.

Here's the reach of headwater stream I chose to wade - just a few miles away from the mud-thickened Susquehanna River - and safely outside its drainage:
Clear enough to fish for trout? I think so!
High water - very high - but cool and fairly clear. As has been the case the prior two times I fished here, I did not see another angler the entire time I was on the water.  I started with a weighted inline spinner in white and silver.   Fish rose and fell. Rose and fell.  I don't consider myself an expert trout angler, but I understand structure and how fish hunt.  It was weird to abandon the spots I knew in this reach and focus on "thinking like a trout."  Finally, I caught two fallfish, before losing the lure to a gigantic fallfish or rainbow trout in an 8' deep pool.  Sigh, 2 pound line.  I stayed with white inline spinners and worked above and below two great riffles that used to be granite boulders in the floodplain.   After about 40 minutes....victory!

My biggest brown trout of the year!

Chub were chasing my lures all around the river bed, and eventually one chub had a bad run of luck.
Reminiscent of my years in western North Carolina, I had to keep my lure off the bottom to avoid the River Chubs
The damage on the upper floodplain was pretty extreme, including a go-kart stuck 20' up in a tree, and a car that was crushed by the flow of the river.....and everything carried by it. Based on that fact, I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that this guy suddenly showed up in a boulder pool below a big riffle....

The Joe's Flies "Glo-Trout." Can't say enough about that inline spinner!
I ended up catching 4 fallfish, 5 river chub, 2 brown trout, and a smallmouth bass in less than two hours.  It was a fast, well-planned and single-minded visit to the river, and I was proud of myself for not getting distracted with everything else going on in my life....or not going fishing at all. The flow is still about triple what I'm used to fishing there, so I look forward to getting back on it in "less life threatening" conditions.  I'm sure there will be some surprises, as there's very little cobble left in this reach -  mostly boulders and bedrock.  But I continue to come here and fish, and the fish continue to oblige.  I'd be foolish to ask for anything more.

Friday, September 16, 2011

That Rain was Getting Out of Hand

In the last two weeks, we've had a hurricane (Irene), an earthquake, and a tropical storm (Lee), with another tropical storm (Marina) on the way. And yes, I refuse to post pictures of flooding.  What I need to know is whether to expect locusts or zombies next - I'd prepare very differently for either! The farms, fields, and forests are overwhelmed with mud and water. The Chesapeake Bay is muddy, and carrying a giant field of debris downstream to the ocean.  On most days, is at least partly covered by small craft advisories. Ponds and streams are a disaster.

My last trout fishing trip, around August 1st, found a cold but healthy small stream at 40 CFS. Hurricane Irene's rain took it to 1,500 CFS about 10 days ago. Now TS Lee has us at 6,000 CFS. I don't even want to know what that stream looks like!

It seems like a few times a year, I have to blatantly complain about weather. You see, getting outdoors is religiously important to me.  Spiritually important.  Getting 2 feet of rain in a 2-week period (and being without electricity for 5 of those days) does not help me get outside any more often. It makes September birds and deer act funny.  It makes very hungry fish act not-so-hungry.  It turns playful September ocean waves into a riptide death trap.  And I am running out of dry GoreTex. And just in comes the storm debris from central Pennsylvania and upstate New York.  I'll go ahead and say that bay fishing is done for another two least.

I was getting  close to cutting back on blog posting when the rain finally subsided - this is primarily an outdoors blog, and there'd been nothing going on outdoors.  Except rain. And flooding.   Hopefully, the sanity, and the time afield, will return soon.  Until then?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dove Hunt on the Chesapeake Bay

 There is an awful lot of stuff going on - vertical feet of rain, hurricanes, tropical storms, an earthquake, and some pretty nasty water pollution headed this way from upstate New York and central Pennsylvania.  Work is pretty intense, teaching is time consuming, and all I can think about are the two things that are being neglected - little Hank and the outdoors.  But usually around that time, the weekend finally shows up.  I spent most of it hanging out with my little buddy, but also got invited to spend an afternoon in a field of sunflowers - just what the doctor ordered.

This alleged sunflower patch is at a farm that remains one of central Maryland's few well kept secrets. I had never even stepped foot on this legendary property, as the access is buttoned up tight - not a tough accomplishment when a farm is surrounded by 20' cliffs and open water on three sides.  It was first converted to farmland almost 400 years ago, and the "most recent" house and cottages were built about 100 years ago.

Bands of thick, heavy rain from this tropical storm or that hurricane - I've lost track - kept blowing through and we honestly didn't know if the weather would allow us to hunt. The wind and clouds hung around all afternoon, but the rain subsided, which got the doves moving in a hurry.   Shooting was fast and furious and my shells started disappearing at an alarming rate.  I started to question the wisdom of bringing my 20 gauge Browning for some of those long shots, instead of a heavier load in a 12 gauge.

Finally, I started connecting with doves.  First a single, then several more misses, then a double, then more misses, then a single, and so on.  I was set up in a precarious part of the field (against the cliff's woodline), so unfortunately I killed a few birds that sailed into the Bay.  I never even approached my daily limit (15), but I would have counted them towards it.

The funny thing about hunting small birds after a rainstorm is that all small birds are trying to feed after a rainstorm.  I was very pleased with our group of hunters for taking extreme caution in not shooting doves that were flying in flocks of blackbirds, mockingbirds, and sparrows. 


This was only the second hunt on this farm so far this season.  Unfortunately to the guys who regularly hunt there, the doves were already starting to adapt to the hunting pressure by flying higher, making repeated passes over open water, and just being overall hesitant.  I imagine their next hunt has been even more difficult. 

Overall, it was a really therapeutic afternoon, and the result was a few birds to put on the grill. It was great to get out and reconnect with the outdoors - something that's been difficult due to our recent slew of natural disasters.  I don't know when, if ever, I'll get a chance to go back out to this place, but I'm really glad I got to see it - and hunt it - firsthand.

Luckily the farm's osprey are more interested in fish than doves

Monday, September 12, 2011

Disappointing Garden Season Winds Down

This year's summer garden was a great lesson in "You get what you put into it."  In the case of my garden, I didn't put a whole lot of time and effort into this summer's veggies.  Part of my excuse is the ubiquitous "life," but the other part of it is that I worked hard to improve the beds and soil last summer, last fall, and this spring....and luckily those efforts still paid off a little bit this summer.  Still.......a little disappointing.

What went wrong?  While I still need to do a soil test (and suspect a very low pH), the weather was a killer.  We went from a cool, wet spring to an extremely hot and droughty June and July, to a very wet August.  Not good.

September 1st - the summer garden slows down

iPhone picture of stinkbugs on millet!
The invasive brown-marmorated stinkbug was predicted to be bad this year, and the species lived up to its billing - sucking plant juices out of tomatoes, peppers, okra, and even purple millet (left).  There are very few chemicals that can even touch the nasty little bugs.

The Roma tomatoes were pretty resilient to the stinkbugs, but were also victimized by mockingbirds, raccoons, and rats (although Amy did manage to make some delicious salsa and . The peppers got off to a horrible start, and are still lagging behind. The cucumbers, for the second straight year, were weak at best. The okra came out dry - just skin and dry seeds. The herbs did okay, the wildflowers did okay, and the squash would have been perfect, had I picked them every other day instead of once or twice a week. Still, we had food to eat. We still have buckets and buckets of sweet potatoes on the way.

The summer plants are dying.  Fall is on the way. In the next two weeks, I'll be putting cover crops in - oats and field peas this winter.  We'll do some more lettuce and spinach as well.  And this year, I have hoops to keep them warm into November or December.

What will I do differently next year? It's too early to tell.  Going no-till was a great success.  I spent far less time weeding the garden in 2011, compared to 2010. The soil, based on appearance alone, is far superior to what's sitting in conventional tilled farm plots just a few feet away.  Occasionally, I still find roots and stems from 2010's gardens.  Organic material is great for the soil! I hope to send the soil out for testing in October to see if I need to be doing anything differently.

However, it was pretty clear that another experiment - staging my spring plantings at different times under the lights - did not really cause an extended harvest, as I had hoped.  That knowledge will reduce the stress and complexity of my February, 2012 indoor plantings. 

One thing that should improve is Hank's ability to hang out while I'm gardening next year - he'll be going on THREE years old - can you even believe it?  He is becoming very interested in "helping," and while the quality of the assistance rendered is dubious at best, it's awful cute.

No Video Content For You

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...