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....

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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...