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.

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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...