Monday, December 31, 2012

600 Posts

As I sit up late tonight, I'm thinking about how I deal with the momentous list of tasks I laid out for the blog in 2012.   Some goals were blown out of the water, others were met satisfactorily, and more than a few were blatantly ignored.   I'm not quite ready to work through the tedious "annual summary" bit.  Not tonight.

I've published over 600 posts on River Mud in the last five and a half years.  I remember starting the blog in 2007 and not really knowing what I'd do with it, not knowing if anybody would read it, and not being sure if I cared.   One really disturbing but informative thing is that a gear review post can garner 100,000 views, and yet some of the most eloquent words a person can type or write can attract almost no notice at all.  So, out of the first 600 posts, here are some of my favorites that less than 100 people read.

In the Pines, in the Pines (Eastern Shore Spring Gobbler Hunt, 2008)

For All the Marbles (Southern Maryland Duck Hunt, 2008)

Coteau du Missouri in Black and White (North Dakota, 2010)

The Soul in the Easy Season (2012)

The final one (below) has actually been viewed 148 times, but preparing for it and finishing it made me really examine some things in my life, and I wanted to share it again, especially since so few people originally checked it out.

For Love of the James - an Interview with Virginian Songwriter Tim Barry

Friday, December 28, 2012

Gale Force Winds and New Birds!

New ducks and geese are into Maryland and Virginia.  If you can brave the small craft adviseries and get after them, now is the time!   I've missed 5 hunts in 4 days due to family obligations and weather, but next week brings a little flexible time.  Unfortunately, a big, bright moon is headed our way in a week, and will likely shut down most of our hunting opportunities for 4-5 days after that, unless we get big clouds, real weather, and new birds.    After that - more chances at birds and deer - if we don't get frozen out.  Get out there!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gear Review: Cooper AT3: 30,000 Mile Update

Have lost about 40% of tread at 30K miles
A year and a half ago, I was contacted by an ad agency for Cooper Tires whose staff had seen River Mud and thought it would be worthwhile to send me a set of tires and a flip cam for their ad campaign. Over 100,000 people have now read my review!

The tire? Cooper's AT3 Explorer, a new tire that was designed to follow up on Cooper's Explorer series from several years ago. With a few design refinements and expansions in size options, Cooper was betting that the AT3 would allow them to more strongly compete with the BF Goodrich AT that most of us have owned at one time or another in the last 15 years.  Without having any direct sales data on-hand, the feedback from my original review and comments from the staff at my local tire and battery place indicates that Cooper has been successful to that end.

So how's the tire?  In brief, it's held up well on off-road trails, been perfect in wet on-road conditions, and the highway/fuel mileage/noise issue is comparable with other AT tires I've owned, including the BFG AT.

At 30K
Let's go back to my original review.

Highway Ride.  My initial review mentioned that the AT3 produced little noise below 65mph, and a very typical noise above that speed.   As the treads have worn down, the noise at lower speeds has increased slightly, but it's a very slight and steady hum.

At high speeds, the noise has not gotten any worse with the mileage on the tire.  It should be noted, though, that once any of the tires are slightly low on air (even prior to the 10% deflation that my truck's sensor will pick up), the tire produces an awful noise between 45-55mph.  Why? I don't know.  It mostly just says, "you need air in the tire," and then, problem solved.

Rain duty.  Performance on wet roads continues to be, in my mind, a compelling reason to own knobby tires.   I've never had an offroad tire, even one that's worn down, slip in the rain the way that street tires for trucks slip every.single.time it rains.  With rear wheel drive, living in a city of 700,000 people, I can't fish-tail at green lights. It's just not acceptable.  All that being said, I've recently had the AT3's slip, just a quarter turn, while moving forward at a light change in heavy (hurricane) rains.  I'm not concerned about it at 30,000 miles, but it's something I'll be watching for as I move toward 40K and 50K miles.

Light offroad duty.  As I wrote in my initial review,   offroad access here on the east coast is fairly well regulated.  There's very little primitive access, and for most of us (and our poor trucks), that's for the best.  All that being said, forest roads and forest roads.  What may be a dry, sandy ride down into the valley in the morning can be a two-foot-rut inducing ride back up the mountain in the afternoon - all of it on "forest roads."  

I keep waiting for the offroad performance of these tires to deteriorate.  For that first muddy slip.  That first mess I can't get out of, 500 feet from a paved road.  Yet, when combined with a little common sense, I haven't found that in 30,000 miles of driving on the AT3's.  I've had two punctures in the tires, and both tires held up through the puncture (both found by me during routine inspections) and subsequent repairs.

Fuel mileage.  This has been the single aspect of the AT3's performance that has declined over time.  When I replaced my stock tires (Bridgestone Duelers) with the AT3's, my fuel mileage decreased slightly from 23mpg-h to about 21.5mpg-h.   I would have expected this from any offroad tire.  However, unlike offroad tires I have owned in the past, as my AT3's age, my mileage seems to keep decreasing, and I've estimated it recently to be around 19.75 mph-h.  My truck is a Toyota with less than 100,000 miles on it, so I honestly don't think it's the truck.

So there you have it - over a dozen people have emailed me to request a follow up on the initial review, and now you have it.  At 30,000 miles, the Cooper Discoverer AT3 is a multi-use tire that I am still pleased with, and would be pleased with if I had purchased it with my own money.   More importantly, it's one that I will consider on equal footing with Yokohama and BF Goodrich as I compare options for my next offroad tire in the next 12-18 months.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, all. Looking forward to a 2013 that's less divisive.   Less hostile.  Not sure that the world will deliver that to us.   But if not, there's always Spiderman and his Batman Christmas Tree.

FYI Spiderman also works as a Christmas Pageant sheep in his spare time.   Honestly, this was a touching moment of being a parent.   A bunch of 3-year olds singing "Away in a Manger?"  Come on, it's awesome.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

We Miss You, Joe Strummer

10 years ago today, punk pioneer and activist Joe Strummer (John Graham Mellor) suddenly died of a congenital heart defect he didn't know he had. He was 50, and then one day he was gone.

I was introduced to Joe's music at age 12, in 1986 - long after his band the Clash had disbanded, and during his period with Latino Rockabilly War in Los Angeles, and before his band the Mescaleros had taken shape.

But I didn't know anything about any of that.  It was 1986, and I was in Southern Virginia.  The year's top song? "That's What Friends Are For," by Dionne and Friends.  Barf! We had three TV channels, since cable TV had not been run to our County (it's true, young readers!).  It was before the hair metal revolution, and heavy metal culture in our rural, Christian heavily-militarized area was heavily smacked down by cultural fascists like Pat Robertson, who were convinced that anyone listening to Judas Priest would simultaneously catch on fire, become homosexual, and grow a goat head and goat tail.   Wait, that sounds like a bad ass concept for a video!

But I digress.  I visited my Aunt Julie in New York City and while sitting around watching the traffic from her 11th floor apartment and watching NYC public access cable, she put this 7" record on the turntable:

Now again, for you younger folks, please understand.  In the 1970s and 1980s, certain things weren't discussed in the American South.    Any fear that the Soviets could successfully bomb the west was considered to be "letting the commies win."  Any questioning of our government's policies was framed by our local Republican leadership as "pinko ideology."  The same Republicans who said at the time that if you didn't love our government, you should leave the country, because a true patriot supports our government (they never envisioned rebellion from the Right, as we have in 2012).   They (both Republicans and Democrats)  wanted to curtail the 1st Amendment to stop rock and roll.   They played anti-rock and roll documentaries like this absurd 20/20 piece at our Sunday School. The biggest hypocritical tee-totaler of them all was named Tipper, the basically unknown wife of....Senator Al Gore.  I'll never forget the PMRC - Tipper's (and friends') attempts to ban rock and roll which did not live up to their Mom Jeans standards.  Screw parenting.  Ban rock and roll! I know it's hard to believe, but just 25 years ago, that was our country.  I was just learning about rock and roll, and these idiots were trying to ban it! We knew nothing of televangelist scandals.  The S&L scandal was still a few years away. The Berlin Wall, and Communist Rule, still stood.  As did Apartheid.  It'd been decades since our country had seen outward, obscene hypocrisy.  Or the rebellion of a people.  Folks in power were very committed to branding the era as a "wholesome time of pleasant blandness."

Topics of anarchy and nihilism and not loving football and high school debate team and the (southern baptist) church were all very much not on the table for the discussion.  Once I heard the Clash, I started to think about big topics.  Colonialism.  Nuclear war.  What does it mean for an entire country to starve?    When is war necessary?   Then, just a few months after I first heard songs like the Clash's "Spanish Bombs" and "Sandinista," this swallowed up the American media for almost three years:

It was revealed that to further American security interests worldwide, President Reagan signed off on a messy deal allowing the CIA to trade missiles for cocaine for hostages.  Wait.  Cocaine for hostages for missiles.  Wait.  The order is convoluted (I'm making light of a complex situation that was intentionally obstructed by the CIA, State Department, and Reagan White House).  Around that same time, I got a copy of a record magazine (maybe Tower Records' old rag?) that contained a short interview with Strummer and a quote quite similar to this one (from the late 1990s), which forever shaped my way of thinking:

Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn't have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realized that you either became a power or you were crushed.

And for myself and millions of others of Generation X-ers, a decade-old stash of a few hundred published songs by Joe Strummer and the Clash became a trove of anti-establishment history, since history at the time was only available on paper, at a library many miles away, and none of us could drive.  From "Spanish Bombs,"

Bullet holes in the cemetery walls
The black cars of the Guardia Civil
Spanish Bombs onto Costa Rica
I'm flying in on a DC-10 tonight

So went songwriting for Joe Strummer, the son of a British diplomat who grew up with an intense curiosity for the world's political machinations.  His original band, the 101ers, had the Sex Pistols open for them in 1976.  By the time the 101ers had re-organized into the Clash the following year, the Sex Pistols were on an infamous, heroin-laden (and somewhat contrived) tour across the United States - Americans' harsh introduction to British punk rock.  Loud, snotty, and with nothing to say.   Joe Strummer battled that mold, and those opinions of punk rock, for the rest of his life.  Let's face it, the Pistols' Sid Vicious never said anything much more meaningful than, "I just cash in on the fact that I've got a nice figure and girls like me," and Joe Strummer's least meaningful quote may be something like, "We've all got to stop following our own little mouse trail. People can change anything in the world."  Joe had a lot to say.  And a lot to think.  

I'm in the third generation of punk kids who listened and absorbed the things that Joe Strummer had to say.  We questioned a lot - and many of us still do.  What would Jesus think about war?  What is our moral imperative to help others?  What do we have a right to change in this world? What do we have a responsibility to change?   Ironically perhaps, the three largest things I learned from Joe Strummer's writings and rants over the years are things that are completely congruous with the Bible -

1) We each have a moral responsibility to help and protect those in need, 
2) Authority cannot solely be legislated.  Authority is a contract between the governed and a ruling body.
3) Authority whose main defense for existence is its own definition, must fall, and we are morally obligated to make it responsive to us, or make sure it falls.

I am growing older, and it's a shame that no more material from Joe Strummer will ever grace my ears, my eyes, or my mind.   But I hope that other fans of Strummer and the Clash are like me, and we will use our chance at leadership to listen to the generations coming up behind us.  After all, there are already two more generations of Clash fans.   Below are two songs about Joe Strummer from fans of his who are younger than me.

"And this was the sound of the very last gang in town."

"Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer, he might have been our only decent teacher."

And if you don't think the music itself is carrying on Joe's message, try one of these on for size.  New minds are hearing these songs, and Joe's songs, and carrying on those, and others, and songs of their own about what's important and what's not in life.  About what matters and what does not.

And trust me, these are just some bands that a 38 year old square knows about, that have obvious connections back to the Clash sound.  If you really want to find out what's happening in important, conscious rebel music, there's no better place to start than - no kidding - the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music, also known as "Strummerville."  Also interesting is that while Joe borrowed heavily from early ska and reggae music, some of his punk and reggae contemporaries are now covering Joe's songs.

So, we miss you, Joe.  Your light continues to shine and I think that God was pleased with your work here.  I look forward to growing old and being challenged in my hardening assumptions about life by younger men and women, including my son, who have heard your music and do not believe that everything simply must remain as it is, simply because it is today. In your words:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not. There is nothing more common then unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world if full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are Omnipotent.

"If you're out to get the honey, then you better not go killin' all the bees."

Monday, December 17, 2012

No Migration, Plenty of Resident Geese

I'm not going to complain.  Not going to complain.  It's 20 degrees cooler than last year.  Not going to complain.
Oh, hell.

It's officially mid-December and late waterfowl season is open.  20 years ago, even 10 years ago, duck and goose hunters in the Mid-Atlantic would wait for a giant freeze in the first 10 days of December that would lock up swamps, creeks, and marshes from Quebec to Ithaca to Allentown.  Then, around December 10th, late waterfowl season would open and offer up world-class wingshooting for ducks, geese, and even marsh birds.   Those days are gone.

I spent 2011 New Year's Eve in the swamps of Virginia, under sunny 77 degree skies.  This December has proven to be cooler, though not quite the December of distant memories.  Creeks and small wetlands, the critical harbor for "new" migratory birds in the area, remain free of ice from Florida to central Canada.  Yet, our weather has delivered nights just above freezing, and daytime highs below 50 degrees, and that's been enough to make our resident ducks and geese feed with some regularity.    And so, while we dream of Canvasbacks from the Canadian prairies, we gear up to shoot 16 pound resident geese and mallard ducks who have made themselves fat on local acorns and suburban bird food.

The opening day of late waterfowl showed unusual promise for these recent warm years - 37 degrees, and mallards decoying into our spread just a few minutes before legal shooting time.   They were wise enough to stay away after first light, but the daft little buffleheads came in for several visits, streaking into the decoys at speeds above 50 mph.   We never got a shot off, and as some of you know about diving ducks, there is no getting them off the water once they've landed.  And no, I'm not shooting a bufflehead on the water.

The River is a big river, and the mallards use its entire width when they prefer.  Not so with resident Canada Geese.  Fooled by our decoy spread that held promise of free, easy food in shallow water, a pair of absolutely huge resident geese decided to land just outside the decoys.   We were shooting Hevi-Shot. They both hit the water upside down.

Trouble comes back with the first goose

Long swim with a big goose

Old Man and the Geese

And like that, it was over.  The north wind picked up and the other geese hunkered down for the day.  An action-packed day of hot wing shooting? Nope.  But I'll take it.   Winter - or something like it - is actually going to come to the Mid-Atlantic this year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Geese in the Bag

Temperatures are 10 degrees above the long term average, but already 20 degrees below last year's temperatures.  The migration has started, and the late waterfowl season has started with a bang - already harvested more geese than I did last season.  

Stay safe and stay warm out there!  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Camera Falls Victim to the Catskills...

Last raw image off my 3-year old camera.  Easy to point out the flaws in point and shoot cameras from this image alone!

Last month, my 3-year old Canon Powershot SX120 fell victim to the granite boulders in this picture.  Right after taking it, I fell, and the camera bounced on a couple of rocks.  It ain't been right ever since.   I am begging for a replacement - a Powershot SX160 - but fundraising (i.e. Christmas Begging) is going slow so far this season.   Which brings up the standard question:

"You take thousands of pictures a year.  Why don't you use a DSLR?"


Well, the advantages to a DSLR are unmistakable   300% greater image sizes.  400% faster shutter speeds.  Settings up the wazoo that account for some of the quality that comes out in images from other high quality blogs with amazing pictures.  I won't name them, for fear that they'll think I'm claiming that it's only their camera, not them, that makes the pictures.  Not claiming that at all.  Y'all are wonderful, and you make me jealous of your talent and your access to beautiful places, much more than I'm jealous of your gear.  But to wit, please visit "You Are Not a Photographer," a hilarious blog about untalented photographers who think they have talent because they have a $1200 platform and the newest version of Light Room.

The disadvantages of a DSLR are that they are gigantic, expensive, not receptive to exposure to water, mud, dust, insects, or blood, or....oh, nevermind.   Those are plenty of reasons.   Expensive reasons.

Honestly, the thing I miss most about having an expensive camera setup is the lack of UV and polarized filters for point-and-shoot cameras.  Arguably, quite important for photography on or near water.  Then again, for those of you who have seen me fall in the woods or the water, can you imagine me taking a $2000 camera setup down with me?  I offer just one example as proof:

So, budget and pragmatism honestly require that I purchase another high-end ($200) point-and-shoot setup.  It will fit into my hunting pack, fishing pack, and honestly, fits into the front pockets of most of my pants (though it's not quite comfortable).    The Canon SX160 offers a shutter speed roughly double of my old SX120, a 60% increase in zoom, 40% increase in maximum image size, a 15% decrease in minimal focal length (for macro shots) and HD video.  Whether I can hold it still is another question, but I guess we'll see.  

Anyone have any alternate suggestions for a higher end P&S?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rolling On

Got out with Hank for the first time in.....too long.  Didn't see a fish.
Didn't care. 
One step at a time.  Wrapping up a semester at (night) school.  Executed a $300,000 stream and wetland restoration contract at work.  Waiting on a permit to start construction of a wetland and stream project that my boss and I have been working on for three years (in different capacities). Getting ready for Christmas, and getting ready for late waterfowl season.   My energy level, alertness, and overall will to live continue to improve.

Other struggles loom ahead - one with my medical insurer, over the costs associated with treating my pneumonia (never thought I'd have to defend antibiotics as "necessary").  Others with work (getting ready to request bids on at least one project), and others yet with the usual stresses involved with different groups of family members rolling into town.   And plenty of others.

But things are rolling again.  Hope that I'm healthy to stay.  Hope that no new surprises pop up.  Excited to keep on keepin' on.  

Upgrading a beaver pond outfall, following Hurricane Sandy.  Not exactly the sexy, multi-million dollar wetland
restoration work that recent college grads dream of directing....

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Can't break the grip of this pneumonia.  Luckily duck season is closed. I'm half serious.
On the upside, after over 500 posts on River Mud, this is my first mobile blog post! Unfortunately it's from a hospital.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

For Tomorrow

(I wrote this a while back)

It's funny how in this life, the things you are working on, building, and maintaining can peel off like neat, parallel strands for such long periods of time.  Months.  Years, even.  It all just works.  Not by accident, but through diligence, good decisions, and a bit of good luck or fortuitous timing.

Then, sometimes lines cross, and the inevitable miniature disaster occurs.  You know it - when you're counting on three things to go right, all at the same time?  One of those.   The wreckage piles up in just hours, though it seems like moments.

And then, something else funny happens.  The strands get farther apart and become impossible to manage at the same time.  Where it seemed that some things might overlap in a helpful knot or other construction at some point in the future, it's suddenly clear that it could never happen. It suddenly seems impossible. Sacrifice looms.

Because of a combination of situation, miscommunication and mistakes - and hopefully more of the former than the latter - I've not seen my wife or son for two weeks.  Three years ago, when Amy was pregnant with Hank, I gave up a career on the road, and I guess I'd forgotten what that nightly isolation was like.  Alone. Quiet. Every night.  Every morning.  Sure, as a busy husband and father, I'd now pay hundreds of dollars for a single day like that.  But this is different.  Day after day.  Still busy.  Still empty.

The house is empty and my truck is empty but for my own awful singing in the mornings.  I am grateful for what I have.  Grateful that I still have a life ahead of me to get all of those strands back in order, running out parallel once again.  Work. Family. Outdoors. Health.  God.  Soon, my family will be home.

500 miles from Dad.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Success in the Field - A Special Maryland Goose Hunt

It's hard to believe that it's been five weeks since I fished or hunted.  Pneumonia will do that to you, apparently.  Finally gathered my strength up and accepted an invite to hunt some land on Maryland's beautiful Chester River.

Fellow outdoor blogger Steve Kline kindly had me over to a leased farm during our first week of goose season.  For the first time in 10 years, I'd been out of state on opening day, but after 3 skunked hunts in October, maybe a new tradition on a new farm might be what the doctor ordered.  In addition to finishing my second round of antibiotics.

We set up long before dawn - not a typical practice for goose hunting in our area - and watched the thermometer climb from 46 to 48 to 50 before 7am.  Just a few clouds, warm temperatures and a migration stalled in Canada.  These are not the ingredients for a successful goose hunt in Maryland.

But it is November, and so out we faithfully go into the chilly goose pit, into the water blind covered with cedar branches, or into the field blind covered with switchgrass.  Amazingly, a toll of geese came around at 730am.  They turned in for a closer look.  My gun jammed.  Austin's and Steve's did not, and three birds fell.

We were giddy that the season's success to-date had been eclipsed in one quick volley of shots, although I was less giddy that my firing pin had not come forward in my Mossberg 935.  I worked on it, hoping I'd get my shot as well.   A few  more flocks of birds looked, then continued on to the Chester River.   At 8:15am, an interested group of geese decided to take a look.  We nervously confirmed with each other the number of birds in-hand and the number still available in each of our bag limits.   I shot first, and dropped two geese with my first shot, on the edge of the decoy spread.  Hevi-Shot B's will do that, I suppose.   Austin and Steve immediately followed, downing a single bird to complete both of their bag limits.    Done at 8:20.  Doesn't happen too often, and I was conscious of that for the rest of the day.  What a wonderful morning.

And since it was Thanksgiving week, it didn't take long to put these birds to great use.  Hope everyone had a restful holiday.

Game food prep "mentor" Hank Shaw would have been proud, watching me remove the breast fillets of these geese, then contemplate it for a moment and go back into the birds for the drumsticks and wings.

Another minor note: please excuse my (phone) photography - I dropped my camera while scrambling around on rocks in the Catskills with my son.  I ate it big time, and my camera flew out of my jacket pocket and onto some rocks.  It ain't been right ever since. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Adventures in Old Places

My dad probably caught his first fish at this spot around 1955
Just got back from a whirlwind trip to my family's old place - still in the family-  at the base of Bearfort Mountain, on the Appalachian Trail (well, a quarter mile from it), on the New York - New Jersey border.

It was the first time that Henry saw the house, or the mountain, or the lake, which stirred up some pretty interesting thoughts and emotions in me.  At 3 years old, he can (almost) sit through a meal now and (almost) sit through the 4 hour drive to the Lake House without an emotional meltdown and (almost) play in the woods without running out into the street.  He sword fights with sticks.  He pretends to look for bears in the rocks.  He climbs.  He jumps. He falls.

I get the feeling that some real adventures are coming up soon.  At the same time, it's easy to see that our little baby boy is long, long gone.

"Shhhhh Daddy. If you wake up the bears, they will be very angry."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Catchin' My Breath - Literally

I've been sick with some kind of walking pneumonia now for almost a month.  Two courses of antibiotics, chest x-rays, doctor, it has not been a great time.    Of course work (much of it outside in the cold) and family life are as busy as ever, but fishing, hunting, and gardening are just things I'm not physically up for right now.

See y'all soon.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fishing New Water: Catoctin Creek

Hooray, no more politicking.  Maybe some more fishing.   I was in western Maryland and had a few hours to poke around.  I had intended to fish nearby Antietam Creek, but I'll be damned if it wasn't running two feet high, with water the same muddy blonde color of the cut banks.  Oh well.

Backtracked a little bit over to another Blue Ridge creek and found it at a trickle - nearly bone dry.  Hmmm.  Tried a third creek - Catoctin - and found it running shallow, but wide and fairly strong.  Best yet, there were fish. Caught up with this little smallmouth right off the bat.

When I say shallow and wide, I mean it.  The bulk of the creek is less than a foot deep, but over 100 feet wide.  Not happy that I left my fly tackle in the truck, because the relatively clear water gave me away over and over. So many big shadows in the water.  Rainbows? Fallfish? Not sure.  But they only stayed in pools, and they moved out at the first sign of a ripple, so that was a real challenge.

However, in addition to a few more of those little smallmouths, I'll tell you what was biting.  Redbreasts.  Hundreds and hundreds of them.

I don't think I've ever caught so many redbreasted sunfish.  Ever.  They are just as mean as green sunfish, and almost as meaty.  They hung tight underneath big floating logs in pools, so getting to them with the ultralight rig really wasn't too tough.   Overall, it was neat to get on some new water - something I rarely get to do anymore - and see what its potential might be.  The access is not easy, but with smallies (and possibly rainbows) reproducing in Catoctin Creek, I'd bet there are some hot spots.  Maybe one day I'll find them.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Where American Conservatism Goes from Here

Earlier this week, there was a wide open referendum on the sitting president's performance.  It was exactly the type of referendum (jobs, leadership, foreign policy) the Tea Party, and American conservatives in general, had been hoping for.  And yet, conservatism fell extraordinarily flat, despite all of that.

We had a situation where a sitting Democrat president had largely marked his first four years by passing a few progressive, extremely expensive laws, but who otherwise largely pursued and enlarged his Republican predecessor's unpopular agenda (bank bailouts, Patriot Act, DEA enforcement of marijuana, drone strikes, unfunded war in Afghanistan, planned withdrawal from Iraq (another unfunded war), high deficits, failing trade negotiations with China).  As a result, the incumbent also oversaw the continued smoldering of the economy - only able to claim, "Hey, we poured 4,000 gallons of gas on the fire, and the fire didn't completely go out - so that's good - right?"  Sure doesn't sound like a recipe for re-election to me.

And yet, the other esteemed party in our God-awful two party system was seen, in this election, as "not a viable option"  by a majority of Americans.   Not just at the presidential level, but in Congress, in many state elections, and at the local level as well.  Three years after the supposed "tea party revolution" that was going to "change the course of politics in America."  The problem is that the population of American conservatives (as defined by "core politics") continues to grow older, and every four years, the new stable of young voters is more liberal than the group who came before them.  In addition, the actual composure of the country is changing.  More women voters (almost 50% of voters).  More minority voters (over 30% of voters).  Conservatism's "core values" don't seem to appeal to either group.  And the leaders of America's conservative movement - to date - haven't really cared a lick about that fact.

So what can the Tea Party - and conservatism in general - do to maintain relevancy - or perhaps gain more relevancy - in the years to come?

1.  Get real on what America looks like.  The conservative bloc is dominated by older, white voters.  That group is making up a smaller percentage of the electorate every year.  By 2020, whites will be America's largest minority - not a majority at all.  Whites over 65 years old (the core of the Tea Party's supporters) will constitute less than 18% of the nation's population.   See where I'm headed with this?

Conservative politicians on the national stage cannot win on a racial or class war platform.  Or a platform advocating aggressive anti-immigrant policies.  Or plain-out foolish immigrant policies like "voluntary deportation."  The fact that white Christian conservative candidates consistently fail to attract Christian voters of other races should be a huge red flag, but it has not, at least so far.  Why in the world do devout Hispanic Catholics vote for Democrats, despite the Church's insistence that they do otherwise?   Because conservative Christian candidates in many cases don't want to attract the Hispanic vote.

And it's not just race.  More women are voting.  More women are large campaign donors.  More women are running for - and winning - elected office.  Every year.  Political campaigns based on state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds for pregnant girls (see #4, below), for example, are generally not going to sit well with women (again, around 50% of potential voters).  Even conservative women.    Core values are great.  But one can't be surprised when core values strike other people as "tone deaf." 

2. Get real on the role of government.  The role of government is not to give you money (I'm sad to say that some of our countrymen disagree with that statement).  Likewise, the role of government is not to stand idly by and "hope" that de-regulated industries will suddenly see fit to give you money or a job, for a pay rate that pleases you, or within working conditions/hours/safety that please you.   Our country did that in the 1850s, and again in the 1920s.  Worked out wonderfully.   Government exists, in many cases, because non-regulation failed.  The FDIC.  The USDA. The FDA.  The DEA.  The EPA.  All created after industry failed to police itself, and lots of Americans either died or lost a lot of money.  Or both.

An intellectually honest discussion on "Cut the EPA!!!!"  must include, "with what shall we replace the EPA?"  To date, most stronghold conservatives and basically all Tea Party members I've met are unwilling to consider that second part.  And back to the tax issue - does anybody really think that conveying the EPA's responsibilities to the state of Georgia (and Georgia having to raise taxes as a result) would cost significantly less per taxpayer?  What about a corporate, for-profit pollution police?  Would that - by necessity - be cheaper than EPA? Are we really sure?

3. Get real on what can be blamed on government.  Federal taxes are at a historic low.  That's because Obama kept the Bush tax cuts in place, and because our tax code is full of loopholes for everybody.  Federal taxes did not kill your job.  NAFTA killed (and continues to kill) jobs.  Favorable trade status with China is killing lots of jobs.  Poor fiscal management killed many, many jobs.  Uncertainty about Obama's economic policies kept many from coming back.    Carrying forward a meme that "Obama killed these jobs" really means that you must believe that it's government's duty to encourage (read: subsidize) business with tax breaks that are funded by higher taxes paid by someone else, and that's hardly a conservative stance if you ask me.  At what point are corporations responsible for turning their profit into jobs, despite their fear that the Democrat-led economy might crash again?

On a separate note, I'm finding it completely nauseating that so many self-avowed "personal responsibility" conservatives are decrying Obama for their current position in life.  How can someone who didn't finish even community college, who has never gained traction in a single meaningful career field, who lives in an area where there are no jobs, and who refuses to move to an area where there are jobs, or to even apply for jobs in those areas, say, "Yup.  Obama.  That's why I'm unemployed. And you're next!"  (hint: no I'm not).  

4.  Enough of Regulating Private American Life.   Tell me again how we need to make water pollution legal (potentially killing Americans, poisoning farms, and putting commercial fishermen out of business), but simultaneously keep illegal a lesbian's ability to visit her dying girlfriend in the hospital.   I know that what passes for traditional family values is still very important to some people.  To you, I say: keep it important in your house. Your faith.  Your values.  I look at those things and I don't see Leave it to Beaver.  Though I wish I did.

"Families" look like a lot of different things these days.  And Americans are not going to be convinced otherwise.  If conservative politicians want to move forward at the national level, the "1 woman; 1 man; no abortions; no sex education" platform is a dead horse.  Decry our movement away from the King James Bible as a model for our personal life - I won't mock you for it.  But trying to reclaim 1950s Christianity as a nation is going to be a failing effort.  This long-term shift away from our citizens having personal relationships with God is really awful, in my opinion.  But it's reality.  It's most certainly political reality.

5.  Stop Repudiating Science.  For too long, some circles in conservatism have been able to shut down entire scientific efforts by simply stating that, "A margin of error exists.  Therefore, none of this science is valid, and in fact, this topic is not worth studying."   I can show you reams of data that demonstrate how watershed protection (or lack thereof) in the headwaters of a river system impacts water quality downstream (ie. on other peoples' private property).  Claiming, as a rebuttal, that regulating headwaters is a communist takeover does not make any of that science invalid.  Sorry.  Americans, by and large, want to understand basic science.

Trying to convince Americans that science is just a big liberal government takeover conspiracy is yet another losing platform.  15 years ago, the percent of Americans who believe that evolution had "absolutely no part" in human history fell below 50%, and that rate continues to slowly drop (46% in 2012).   As of 2012, only 14% of Americans believe that the climate is not changing, and 46-50% of Americans (two different polls) believe that human activity impacts climate change.   Again - sorry - Americans want to understand basic science - not just bash it because science is bad for some business.

What happens next? It's hard to tell.  Unfortunately, the two dominant memes I've heard in the days after the 2012 election have been, "We need some Hispanic and Black Republican candidates that have tea party values - we can trick minorities into voting for conservative politicians if they are the right color!" (see: election of Michael Steele, re-election of Allen West), and "We need to return to core values!"   Neither of which will have any real impact on national politics - I can promise that.   If Conservatives can't get honest about the five things I listed above, I don't understand how we could possibly see another Republican president in the next 12 years, during which a majority of the Supreme Court will be replaced.

That's it.  No more overt political posts from me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Me and Pneumonia. Hello, Old Friend!

The doctor was stern, with one admonishment following another. Almost like when you're trying to get one ice cube out of the tray, and they all come out, and hit the floor, and the sink, and the counter, and you're like, "Holy crap, that's enough. ENOUGH."   But.  Out it came.  "You have pneumonia. You are contagious. Why did you wait to weeks to come see me? What were you thinking? Your wife and son could get it! Do you know what pneumonia can do to a little boy?!" So, the weekend's being spent in the shadows, until the mega-antibiotics render me non-contagious.  Hrmph.

But in fact, I do know what pneumonia can do to a little boy.  Meet my first friend in this world, who I spent my first weeks fully dependent upon, as I stared at it from the comfort of a warm plastic tub.

Actually, it would have more likely been the Arp Infant Respirator, featured on the last cover of Virginia Tech Magazine.  Here it is.  With its two switches and five knobs. Technology!  I was born early, and born with what's now called IRD - infant respiratory distress (JFK's infant son Patrick died of IRD).  And fun was had by all.  Mortality from IRD was 50%  in that era - now it's down to 15%).  So that was the beginning.

One of my first memories - though they are quite hazy - is from being in the hospital at age 3, with pneumonia.  I remember the horrible, tiny TV against the ceiling that was black and white, with nothing to watch, and nothing worth eating except jello.  I remember crying.  And being alone. And so, so terribly bored.

I repeated that again at age 6 - pneumonia again.   My grandfather visited me in the hospital.  Actually I'm sure it was both grandparents, but I only remember my grandfather being there.  I remember some toys that my parents and grandparents brought me there.  I remember falling asleep alone in a hospital room.

The river I grew up on was full of septic, sewage, and farm runoff.  When I was 18, we were wakeboarding on the River (because we are idiots) and I wiped out really bad and got water not just in my throat, but a tiny bit in my lungs (I could feel it sloshing around).  How weird.  Within 12 hours I had a fever, and had full-blown bronchitis a day later.  I went to the doctor, got antibiotics, and five days later, was in the emergency room.  After a bunch of extra labwork, it was confirmed that I actually had a mycoplasmic - not bacterial - infection, and to no one's surprise, the antibiotic-resistant mycoplasms had turned my lungs into another case of pneumonia.

Dorm life was tough on the immune system, but the student health department's instinctive desire to give everyone antibiotics for everything certainly kept some of my nasty bugs from causing pneumonia.  But once again at age 22, a misdiagnosis of viral bronchitis left me with a closed left lung, a blackout, and a surprised me waking up in the emergency room.  With bacterial pneumonia.

That was 16 years ago.  I've had health insurance for the last 14. And no pneumonia, despite years of playing and working outside in absolutely ridiculous conditions.  Until now.

I don't know.  I guess when you (I) don't have something like asthma, or some other condition (say, a chemical addiction) that constantly reminds you of your mortality, you forget about how thin the line really is.  I certainly forget it - and I think about my own mortality....err....let's just say...too often.    At what point do I look myself in the mirror and say, "This is what's going to kill me - but hopefully not this time."   The funny thing is, no doctor has ever told me, "You know, these things are tied together and you need to live or act a certain way."  I don't know what that means.  I guess I don't know what any of it means, except that I hate pneumonia, I hate its presence in my life, and it makes me thankful to God that I do not have a real, frequently occurring hardship or illness that never lets you turn away from it, the way I've been able to turn away and ignore pneumonia so many times, for so many years.

I am thankful.  And it's time to take some more codeine.

Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 Maryland Early Duck Season, Take THREE

Yup.  Poop.  Pokeberry poop.  Paw Paw poop.  Just poop.

Hit the local river once more looking for the Mystical Resident Mallards and the birds did not show.

Had great conversations, some funny stories (I'm sure) blown way out of proportion, and just enjoyed the sunrise and watching the decoys bob around.

But no ducks.  I committed to keep the  waders hanging until it gets colder.  Bah.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, I Can't Let You Go

(Writing on Sunday night) Yeah, this should go well.

Please pardon any errant posts as we deal with Hurricane Sandy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Maryland Early Duck, Take Two

Tidal river hunting, upper eastern shore of Maryland
With not much improvement in weather planned over the season's first hunt, I set out with a new hunting partner on Maryland's upper eastern shore to hunt resident wood ducks on the River.

With so many ducks known to be around, I wouldn't have predicted that we wouldn't hear whistling wings before shooting time.  But it was silent.

As the sun started to come up, we found out that it was only the birds who were silent.  We were treated to the sight of whitetail bucks crossing the muddy river one at a time for about an hour.  Several got within earshot of us, figured something was up, and waded the 200 yards back across.

We finally were treated to a few flights of wood ducks - most of them about 20 ducks each, about 75 yards out in the river, moving from one fixed point to the other.  No question that these local ducks knew where they were headed (and it wasn't to our blind).   I also have to admit that we had a trio of woodies arc directly over the blind at high speed, about 15 yards up in the sky.  We didn't see them coming and pledged, "Next ones that fly that way are OURS."  Needless to say, no more ducks flew that way. Tim's retriever Gibson was none to please with our lack of shooting.

All in all, it was another beautiful October morning, and I felt blessed to be out in the duck blind again.  Tim and I had met when he took me up on an anonymous offer of my old decoys (free).  It was really neat to see my decoys (which sadly, hadn't been in the water in the last three years that I owned them) in somebody else's spread.  As a friendly (but unrequired) quid pro quo for the decoys, he offered a spot in his blind to me.  Hopefully he'll invite me out again, but you never know how those things will play out.  It's October.  Life is good.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Maryland Duck Opener 2012

Pink in the morning = Ducks are Snoring
About five Octobers ago, I remember sitting on a baking hot Chesapeake Bay shoreline with my brother T, wondering why the hell we were duck hunting when it was 90 degrees outside.   We were sweating in full camo and neoprene waders that just smelled like burning tires in a high school locker room.  What a way to start the duck season.

In the Chesapeake Bay, the October duck season, also known as "wood duck season" or "first split," is dominated by 75-90 degree high temperatures, and few migratory ducks other than some late teal.  However, around this time, the area's rivers are still generally populated by fat, happy, and warm resident mallards and wood ducks.   Sometimes, you're on them, and they are moving.  Other times, they never leave the roost.  It's quite maddening.  This year, a local guy that I hunt with was "on top of" about 30 resident mallards.  Around here, we don't like resident mallards, except to shoot.  They scoop up all of the food resources that could be used by more valuable (frankly, more important) migratory ducks as they arrive in December and January....notably, the declining American Black Duck.

So with great prognostications of our nearly assured success, I was ready.  "Just bring three shells," he said.  "We'll be done in 20 minutes!" he said.  A quick scouting report the night before the opener came back pretty promising...."25 birds on the shoreline.  Get ready." So, I mean, we got ready.....

Only thing we were shooting was the breeze...

We didn't see a single duck.  Or hear a single duck. I kind of knew it was doomed as soon as I carefully snuck out the front door at 4:45am.  Just 6 hours before, the predicted low temperature for the morning was 46.  46!  That's perfect for October duck hunting."  But as I walked through the front yard, I just saw the warm, wet diamonds of warm weather fog.  It wasn't 46.  Or 56.  Or 66.  That's right, the night's low temperature turned out to be 68 degrees, which I guess is "kind of like" 46 if you are a meteorologist.

I think back of the Octobers I've duck hunted over the years - Western Virginia and North Carolina in the 1990s. Central Maryland and Southern Virginia "big water" in the early 2000s.  Beaver ponds and offshore blinds in the last 5 years.  In those Octobers, I haven't killed a lot of ducks or even shot a lot of ammo.

Maybe October is for getting ready.  Figuring out that your headlamp actually isn't that bright.  That your dog isn't quite ready.  That you should have cleaned your gun in January.  Or March. Or June. Or September.  So perhaps this is another October First Split that's light on memories and heavy on trying to get it right for the arrival of our big flights of ducks and geese in the next two months.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game On! The Glory of October

Whitetail crossing Maryland's Bohemia River at Dawn
It's October. Some years it's dominated by rain and unpredictability; this year we're still on a thread of a drought and mild temperatures.

It's a month full of hunting, fishing, family "fall" activities, and trying to wrap up work that can't, or at least shouldn't, continue past our first hard freeze in late December or January (or in last winter's case...never).

I'm hardly writing at all right now.  But I'll be back very soon. See you all then.

Pink Sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay
Obligatory fall type activity

Built this bog in watching it fill with water and turn green...

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...