Monday, July 30, 2012

Chasing Perch on Summer Chartreuse

Fishing's been light.  Really light.  107 degrees in the afternoon light.  I was in my friend Tony's neighborhood, and wondered if it was worth a paddle to at least seem like we were getting relief. I didn't know then that it was the beginning of a tough couple of weeks, so it turned out to be wise to spend a morning on the water.

He was game, and had an extra kayak and paddle handy (I hadn't been motivated enough to put my own in the truck).  We set out at dawn.  Errrr.  We set out right after dawn.  Well, it was 30 minutes after dawn when we finally got the boats in the water.

It was a beautiful, still, and humid morning.  The water temperature was problematic, at 82 degrees, but we gave it a shot anyway.   One neat thing about the Chesapeake Bay's rivers and marshes is that most riverfront now has some type of legal protection from land clearing, and so there are more and more really beautiful stretches of water.   However, looks are deceiving - many of these waters, through much of the year, have insufficient dissolved oxygen to support most larger fish.   This is tied to pollution far, far upstream of the waterfront - in the headwaters that run underneath the Home Depot and your own (and my) subdivisions.    But still, it's pretty.

My heart and soul are tied into the "being" of coastal rivers in the Mid-Atlantic - from New Jersey to Georgia.   I work on a coastal river - Maryland's South River.  Yet, I still feel like I don't spend enough time on them.    The smells of salt, of decay in the marsh, and of flowering trees and shrubs is something very particular to these rivers.

As restoration of this particular creek continues, through the addition of a stormwater pond here, repair of a 100-year old leaky sewer there, the water's become "less dead."  Tony (and several other guys I know) started catching largemouth bass here just a few years ago.  That was our goal, too, but the hot water and heavy cover above and below the water made it tough to pick out a winning lure.

The winner(s) turned out to be white lures with a bit of chartreuse.  Tony was throwing small twist-tail grubs and I was tossing around beetle spins.  Everything else either didn't work, or got caught up in the bay grasses.

The fishing ended up being alright, for a blazing hot morning.  I found a spot with a ton of white perch just off of a flooded rock wall.  It was a lot of fun to feel different action than bass and sunfish.

The morning dragged on, and it got hot.  Really hot.  I am slow in posting up this fishing tall tale, but a lot of little things have changed in the last month.  I find a lot of things in question - basic operating procedures, so to speak.  I hope to figure more of it out, but for one morning, a few fish is a good thing.

On the way back to the boat ramp, we got a reminder that not everybody gets federal holidays off.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Complain About Heat, Bees Keep Working

Suffice to say that this summer has not gone to plan. It's been over 100 degrees for most days in the last eight weeks, and over 90 degrees on almost every remaining day.  The creeks and rivers are down.  The oxygen levels in the coastal rivers are too low to support life.   Work in the garden is comprised of keeping up with the drought-tolerant plants and keeping alive (or cutting the dead of) those species that cannot tolerate this heat wave.

This pattern has been reflected all over North America and in other world regions as well - 2011 was the hottest year on record (a few hundred years of dependable records), and 2012 is on pace to blow that new record out of the water.  At last count, 7 of the last 10 years have been in the top 10 "hottest years on record," and 56% of the United States is in a "severe drought." It's freaking hot, Mr. Bigglesworth. Academic careerism aside, the climate is changing.

But the bees keep working, despite every mathematical odd against their survival through the next month, let alone the next winter. Despite the inevitability that humans will introduce or cultivate - perhaps intentionally, perhaps not - more pest organisms that are damaging to bee populations, and despite the fact that too many people I know teach their children to "kill all bees" on sight.  And despite the fact that New York City's newfound ability to "allow" people to own bees has depressingly shown that bees do not have enough forage to survive in New York City in significant numbers.

Despite all of that, the bees keep working, because that is their only reality.

Honeybee drunk on pollen - Marsh Hibiscus

Hoverfly posing as a bee in Morning Glory var. "Jamie Lynn"

Bumblebee on Smooth Coneflower var. "Magnus"

Garden, "Center view", July 29

Carpenter Bee on Bee Balm var. "Petite Delight"

Carpenter Bee on Bienenfreund aka "Bees Friend" aka Phacelia tanacetifolia

Honeybee on Bee Balm var. "Raspberry Wine"

One of my Sierra (CA) Audubon-style bee houses surrounded by Joe Pye Weed var. "Phantom."
Biggest users of the bee house in 2011 were Sweat Bees - currently active in the garden

Bumblebee on my Wild Bergamot - more on that story soon.
Note the powdery mildew starting to show up...

Monday, July 23, 2012

For Love of the James - An Interview with Tim Barry

Tim Barry is a Richmond, Virginia musician whose roots bury down into the bare soil of the early Mid-Atlantic punk scene, and who, 25 years later, can frequently be found on the road with alt-scene standard bearers like Hot Water Music, Gaslight Anthem and Lucero.  I've been a fan of Tim's for about two decades and while his writing has always drawn strongly from the eastern Virginia area we both hail from, it's grown increasingly so, and increasingly intimate, over the last decade.  I decided to reach out to Tim to discuss his new album 40 Miler, his current American tour (wrapping up in Baltimore on July 28th), and his freight train riding habit......and figure out exactly why Richmond, the James River, and Virginia in general are so special to him. He was happy to oblige. 

River Mud: So,  I grew up in York County.  As you wrote in "Wezeltown," “All I am is where I’m from.” Given that, are you a Henrico boy or a Hanover boy?

Tim Barry:   Well, neither actually.  I moved from Fairfax, Virginia to the City of Richmond in the 1980s and have never technically left.  Now, keep in mind, I’m 40 years old and I grew up in the old Fairfax – we played with electric cattle fences, to give you some idea.....  I am so thankful to have lived there before Fairfax became what it is now.  But you know what, I’m also thankful to have seen over time, with my own eyes,  what happens when the public doesn’t intervene in the development of an area – when for-profit interests oversee it and they tell the people and the local government who should live there and what it should look like and what the place should actually be.

River Mud:  Your writing, for two decades, has centered around the streets, train lines, and shorelines of  Richmond and the James River. I understand that focus on - or that return to - that one central, special place, and a lot of outdoors people understand that.  Tell us why the James River is so critical to your writing and your life. 

Tim Barry:  Man, we could talk about this all day!  For as long as I can remember, the James River has been where I ran to, my refuge.  The River has been the only place in my life where I have found pure content.  It has filled my life with memories, so many things I’m fortunate to have experienced have happened on that river.  I’ve also spent a lot of time on the James River alone – and you know – being outside by yourself is its own thing.   A camp fire without friends means that you become filled with thoughts and questions about yourself and your life.  The solitude brings an intense internal conflict.  You are forced to tune into the struggle inside.  You question yourself about things you were so sure about.  A campfire with good friends is kind of the opposite.  But it's easy to find yourself alone on the James.

The James River is just an intimate place for me.  All my pets have gone back to the earth there.  It is simply where I go – and 20 years later, my house is less than two blocks from the trailhead.  It also makes me think about a lot of those adult issues like pollution and zoning and clear cutting forests and people getting sick in the river….that’s my river, you know.

And as Richmond keeps trying to sell itself as a passageway to the outdoors (RM note: Outside magazine refers to Richmond as "Best Town Ever, 2012" and one of America's "Great River Towns" ), there is, or there should be, some real pressure to keep that outdoors access safe and clean for the people.

River Mud:   I feel the same way about some of Virginia's swamps.  They are part of me, and I feel like when I arrive there or pass through, they welcome me as I return home - and I'd sure like them to be around, and accessible, and safe for the next 10 generations. Is there a place where, once you hit that point, you know you are nearly home, despite the condition you're in, or the circumstances?  That you will probably survive or succeed, because you are back to a place that you fundamentally understand?

Seaboard Line crosses the James in Richmond
Tim:  Oh absolutely, but since I travel back into Richmond from so many different directions, it's different  from each angle.  From the north, it's the countryside between the Potomac and Richmond, along US 301.  From the west, it's the sight of Afton Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley.  It raises the hair on my arms and my thoughts turn to my chickens, my garden, and cold beer at home. 

From the south, it's the factories in Petersburg and then the James River.  Riding over it on the rails or the road, looking down and seeing if the shad fishermen are out, or campers are on the banks, or what.  And also it's the moment when my dog Emma, who travels with me, gets her first scent of the River - you’ve never seen anything like a sleeping dog that awakens to that smell of home, either in a truck or a box car…..she’s done at that moment.  she’s ready to cut loose!

I have a name for these, "symbols of re-entry."  I want to find more, too.  My wife and I bought a paper map of Virginia roads and we've committed to travelling every back road we can, stopping in every little town and corner and monument to see all the things that history might forget.  We highlight each road we've traveled, and now we are at the point where we need to start booking hotels because we've hit everything within a half-day's drive of Richmond, it seems. 

River Mud:  One of my favorites on your new album isn’t about Richmond at all, but, I think is about Asheville, NC – "Wezeltown."  Am I right?  The song describes a positive place where you and your people can just “be.”  Tell me about that song and about that place.

      Tim:  Well,  yeah, close.   it’s east of Asheville, near Black Mountain and Chimney Rock.  My friend      Wezel bought a big piece of land there decades ago, and I spend a lot of time there when I’m not working in Richmond.  “Wezeltown” started as a camp for his family on that land, and has now turned into an amazing place with amazing houses and amazing gardens and landscapes.

River Mud:  Tell me about the Rivanna Junction, the title of one of your previous albums.  All I know is it's that big freight line just south of downtown. Same place? 

Tim:  Yup.  Rivanna is the elevated split line over Shockoe Bottom.  It carries both grain and coal trains, along with mixed freight loads.  I’ve ridden the trains through there and out of there countless times.  Let me talk about freight riding in general.

Seeing Virginia - or anywhere - by train is special.  The train lets you understand what’s going on – it’s not the manufactured landscape of highways and McDonalds.  It’s the real guts of Virginia. Clear cuts and strip mines, the back side of paper plants, the inner city, the front sides of for-profit prisons.  The inside of big forests and swamps.  Real Virginia.

It also lends itself to asking big questions, “Why is this train sending all these soybeans to China?” and “Why did a forest in Virginia have to get clear cut just to export wood to China?” Most Americans don’t get to see that, don’t get faced with those questions.

Safety is an issue, including staying away from railroad police.  All of it is dicey right now because there is a new subculture of violent, drug-abusing freight riders (or train kids) who are popping up in the rail yards and leaving behind, you know, 40 oz bottles and dead dogs, because they ride with dogs but don’t take care of them.  The railroad police are cracking down, and for everybody else, that is a real issue.

Over the last several years, my riding is changed for a lot of reasons.  They call me a “40 miler”  – it’s the name of the new album -  and it’s a derogatory term for a part-time freight rider or a “weekend hobo.”  Like a “sellout” in indie music or a “poser” in skating. But you know, whatever.

River Mud:  OK this is for our survivalist readers.  What makes a good camp? And when you are looking for a new place to camp, do you take into account how long you might be staying?

Tim:  Totally different than what you are thinking.  Setting camps for freight riding isn’t about staying. It’s all about leaving.  Once out of town, its important to find that beautiful, dry, safe spot within a walking distance of  the next spot where the train will stop at a signal, a yard, or anywhere that train crews will change.  You need to be able to get going in a hurry, if you can hear, as an example, that one train is already on the line, and another one is coming to that junction and will have to stop at the signal for awhile. 

River Mud:  What’s next after the world tour? Any places that have been burning up your mind to write about?

Tim: After the tour, I really just “do it as I do.”  It takes 9 months to prepare for a year of touring. And then the tour starts.  So I am just rolling with the tour for 40 Miler for this summer, then I'll be coming home to deal with the fall harvest – both foraging and gardening, and then just focusing on my family and extended family this winter.

Then I'll get the itch, and it will all start again. My entire life is this push and pull to and from home - and the river - and knowing that my mind starts to wander once I get comfortable at home.

River Mud:   I write about about the passage of time, and the coming and going of the seasons quite a bit. In our family, it drives an awful lot of how we live and how we spend our time.  And for me personally, how I think about life, living, and my own mortality too.

Tim:  That is the truth, and it’s one of the reasons I have lived in Virginia my whole life, and I have no interest in moving somewhere else.  I want the sunburn in July.  The cold in January.  The seasons should drive us.  We need those seasons to remember that time is changing – time is moving on.  Doesn't wait. My friends in San Fransisco are kind of like, “Who needs all that? The weather is perfect all the time here.”  But for me, and I guess you’re the same, I need that change.  It’s supposed to happen.

River Mud:  Anybody else who thinks and lives this way, that you interact with on a regular basis?  

Tim:  Yeah, you need to look up Edward Trask, he’s a prominent Richmond artist and these kinds of changes, and places, and thoughts are the basis of what he does.  (Note from me: I had totally forgotten that Ed was the drummer of Avail, and had no idea that after that, he was the drummer of Holy Rollers - I had the pleasure of seeing both groups live.....way back in time). 

River Mud: Thanks again Tim – looks like I'll be able to catch up with you for your Baltimore show.   Safe travels and good luck overseas!  Also much thanks to Tim's agent, Vanessa of Mutiny PR, for setting up the interview not just once, but twice (thanks to the giant East Coast power outage). 

Tim's "This Land is Your Land" singalong in a Richmond elementary school.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Longing for Simpler Times

Hank and his Spider Man rod among stocked Rainbow Trout 
near Pisgah National Forest

In the words of Tim Barry, "things ain't half bad, but they sure as hell ain't ideal."  Things are complicated.  Nothing this summer has been easy.  We are hoping for an end to the heat wave.  Perhaps it'll be here soon. Don't know that autumn will be better, or simpler, or easier to understand.  But it'll be different, which might be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No, You are Not Ready for an Apocolypse - or a Derecho

Five days after losing power.  No trucks. No help.  Just a road closure
(took them four days to get the sign and cones put up).
I've lived through a few dozen hurricanes - including a few rides through the eye.  I've seen a few waterspouts and tornadoes, and a few big snowstorms (say, over 30" in one week).   Yet, last month's derecho, a violent thunderstorm system that swept from Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean in the course of several hours, rendering 8 million people without electricity, caught everyone unprepared.   No NWS warnings.  No forecasts. Nothing.

Tough couple of days. Well, six days, and then I gave up and left.

On the first night back in my house with electricity in about two weeks, I did a few pretty predictable things:
1. Adjusted the AC (it was still 104 degrees outside with 86% humidity, and had been 91 in the house until power was restored, and a friend stopped by and programmed the AC down to 85 for us)
2. Plugged the refrigerators back in.
3. Put several pitchers of water in the refrigerator - HOORAY ICE COLD WATER!
4. Went to the store and bought lots of high quality fresh meat and fresh fruit.
5. Watched the Yankees vs. Red Sox in HD while DVR'ing the same game. Then watched the highlights on DVR.
6. Slept in the air conditioning.

And not to go all "this fragile web called life" on you, but it struck me through this period that we are all pretty vulnerable.  Yeah, I know, you've got a week's worth of food, and well water, and a generator, and a garden, and a handgun and 2,000 rounds.  So what?  What happens to all of that when The Crazies (generally defined), or the government come rolling up in one of these?

Shoot on, Tex! Let me know how that works out, as 20 armed, hungry people pile on out of there, and into your house.  Hope that Glock doesn't jam (hint: it will)!

In all seriousness, though, the biggest and most immediate equalizer is the loss of power and fuel.  Now that generators are small and cheap (and dirt bikes and ATVs abound nationwide), we can all (or, most of us) stay relatively powered up for a while.  Until guess what disappears next? Gasoline supplies.  Next? Clean water.    But all that don't matter.  You got 4-wheel drive and can go as far as you need to.  Hmm. Except for all the downed trees and abandoned cars on the roads.

Now, you can think you're going to go all First Blood on any intruders, but let me ask, do you have a wall? A moat? Is your home on a defendable mountaintop, ridge, peninsula, or island?  Sure, maybe you can shoot the first 15 intruders.  Or paint yourself tree color and stab them with a giant knife.
It's embarrassing that this even happened in a movie.

What about the next 1500 hungry, armed bandits (or soldiers)? If you're really paying attention to this, you're realizing that your odds are looking pretty bleak right now.   The sad fact is, for those of us (99.9% of us) living on less than about 40-60 acres of defendable (or at least fenced) land, and the 99% of us who have significantly less than a full year's supply of canned goods on-hand, your best odds in a natural, human, or zombie apocalypse are to:
  • lay low!!!
  • have ample food on-hand
  • have ample water on-hand
  • be able to power up a generator, somehow, at least part of the time
  • have access to antibiotics
  • make good decisions about food and water usage 
  • do not wander off!
  • pray that order will be restored in 10 or 15 days, before other folks start coming after your stuff.
It's a tough world out there, and you're probably less prepared for it than you truly think. Have a real emergency plan in place and get some supplies together.  See you on the other side - and crank down the AC while we still have it!

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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...