Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Patuxent Sunset with a Side of Green Sunfish


Hadn't been back here in awhile.   Kind of gave up after my first two trips to this beaver swamp resulted in zero of the hoped-for snakeheads and zero of the fully expected largemouth bass, but about seventy buckets of green sunfish.       

 I worked a bit too late one evening and, almost assured of missing Hank's bedtime,  I decided I'd wet a line on the way home.  Therapy.  As I sat in some sort of post-apocalyptic traffic jam, I ended up passing by Fifty Dollar Lakes, the headwaters of the South River, and finally, Governor's Bridge Natural Area, at which point I was reminded of Erin Block's comment about another fishing spot from last year

"Go back if only to see another sunset." 

I turned north, which is both towards home and towards this old beaver swamp on the headwaters of the Little Patuxent River.   I recently dubbed it "Green Swamp" because it is surely God's hatchery for the Green Sunfish.  Not just for the earth, but for all of the planets.  If the green sunfish can survive poisoning by turpentine, arsenic, and PCB's, surely it can withstand the environment of Mars, where there are yet no people to pollute its dry, frozen streambeds, strewn with red dust.  

That's the top of a six foot culvert, and
those sticks are each about four feet long.



As soon as I arrived at the access point, a park ranger arrived.  We exchanged waves and smiles, and he hurried onto the road, down to the next access point, I suspect.  I must look like the law abiding type.   After our record-setting warm winter and near-drought conditions in much of eastern Maryland, I was expecting low water and few fish.  I hadn't counted on the beavers.  The swamp is more difficult to access than ever before, as the water surface pools up around the roots of upland shrubs and trees.  But the green sunfish are still there.  I started quickly with the largest greenie I have ever caught.




Nearly a foot long.  I was sure this one was a Snakehead.  Sigh. 

The best lures of the day proved to be unweighted soft plastics in orange/chartreuse combinations, although several other lures produced fish as well.   The two big winners in the former category were the YUM! Woollly Beaver Tail and the Berkley Power Nymph. 

It was nice to be out and catch fish.  I look forward to more fishing in the coming weeks, as the scheduling drain of two April family trips left me depleted and a bit overrun.  

I did catch the sunset, but I didn't feel like I could capture it on camera.  Was it worth the price of admission? Of course.


IMG312a
Crap photo courtesy of my LG Thrill! with Android Platform!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cyberscouting Can Kill You - A Cautionary Tale, Sort Of.

So I was doing a little google image search on a river I hope to fish in the next few months - never been there before.  Let's have a look at the first three results in the image search, shall we?


Ahh, beautiful. Serene. Fishy.


Wow.  Pristine.  Gorgeous.













WTF is that?! Travel plans canceled. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jacks in the Pulpit, and a World Full of Prophets

I was working in the woods the other day. It was perfectly pleasant and serene.  Or at least as serene as work can be.  I saw quite a few "bog onions" or common jack-in-the-pulpits.  This spring ephemeral plant is native to much of the eastern United States and provides some great early season hunting habitat for predatory insects and bugs (look under the leaves in this picture)

I love the plant.  It's weird.  It appears in April and then disappears as the woods thicken in May.  Some subspecies have neat maroon stripes across the flower, but are still quite small.  Some are gigantic, but are still plain green.  But I like the tiny, plain green one just fine - I planted several  in our yard a few years ago, and they return faithfully every spring.





I like the plant.  I'm used to seeing it the way it is.  And I honestly couldn't imagine that its tiny special place in my heart and mind could be supplanted by anything else similar.   But then I saw this in the woods:

I found out later that it's the Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  It is extravagant, maybe even ridiculous.  Stout. Bold. In total, it was wonderful.  I heard of this plant 20 years ago when I worked as a landscaper for five dollars an hour.  It was a new import then, fetching anywhere between $50 and $100 per root.   I had never actually seen it until today.  Not surprisingly, it's a poisonous plant.  And obviously, not native to these parts.  But My God it is beautiful.  I had given up looking for it or caring about it, assuming that I'd seen enough similar plants to warrant not caring about this one.

It made me think about so many things that I read these days, and perhaps some of the things that you read here on River Mud.  It seems like there is no wonder anymore.  Everyone knows everything! No one is pensive anymore.  No one concedes that they could be - or have been - wrong. No sir.   In short, we are a brave culture of blind manure shovelers.

People make such wild assertions and have such bullheaded opinions on topics that we cannot possibly comprehend. How can we ever be so sure about things that are of this planet - or of our species - let alone things of the heavens?

How can we assume that we know what is best, when we've only seen a microscopic portion of what there is still out there - unknown?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When Will This Blog Grow Up? Part I of II

I don't even know what this means, but it looks hilarious,
and it came up as an image result for search "blog pimping".
How do we define whether a blog is successful? Late in 2011, I spoke with Rebecca of the Outdoor Blogger Network about possibly doing a few OBN articles on the topic - at what point can you (or I) say, "My blog has been a success."?  The reality, of course, is that if you have not set goals for what you wish your blog to accomplish, it can never be "a success."  Even if others consider it to be a great blog.

In writing those two OBN pieces (published here #1 and here #2), I realized that I've not gone through all of those exercises either.   I wrote about that recently here.   And so for the purpose of making sure, 10 years from now, that this blog has accomplished what I wanted it to, let's do this. 

1. Why do I blog?  This is fairly standard territory for me, but I'll lay it out.  I blog for three main reasons.  First and foremost (a), I blog to keep a record of my outdoor time, because my memory for experiences is really poor.  The days surfing, fishing, and hunting honestly just blend together unless I make a record of words and photographs.  And so I do.  The phrase "educational tool" also comes under this heading , since many of the outdoor lessons I've learned (the hard way) are reflected here.


Second (b), I like to share my opinion about conservation, environmental law, and occasionally some other issues.

Third (c), I want there to be a permanent written record (beyond this blog) of my existence on Earth. Whether that's a book or a serial column in Field and Stream, or a TV show ("Duck Dumbasses" comes to mind as a potential title), I don't know yet.  Hey, just being honest.


2. Define success and failure for this blog.   River Mud is almost 5 years old, which seems insane to me.  It's accomplished some interesting things that don't totally coincide with the "why I blog" rationale above.  That's food for thought in itself.   Into the future, "success" should be composed of the following things:

a. Continued usefulness and utility for my own purposes (see 1(a,b)) through Fall, 2017 (10 years)
b. Continuing to serve (and grow) as a resource for the wider outdoor community (my gear reviews and conservation posts have incredible staying power, which makes me happy)
c. Laying a material foundation (written material) for a larger piece of print work, most likely a book of some sort
d. Laying a business foundation (written material, relationship management, networking, etc) for professional writing opportunities in hard copy publications
e. Giving myself increased motivation to get outdoors, meet new people, see new places, and then tell those stories.

All that being said, failure might look like:
a. a blog that I do not want to write, but force the writing and storytelling anyway, or periodically neglect to post for more than 3 weeks at a time.
b. not being taken seriously by others in the outdoor/conservation community and outdoor blogger community
c. not making progress (volume or quality of material) toward a larger piece of (hard copy) work
d. failing at managing high quality relationships with potential publishers, gear partners, etc.


3. Focus and Work It.  As I type this, I can already sense, "this is the hard part."  I really want to hit "save/publish later" at this exact moment.  (post-script: I did). (one week later....)....what are some actual actions I should do on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis to ensure the success I described/envisioned above?

Per Blog Mission 1(a) (records and lessons from my time afield): 
Weekly:  a) Read other blogs and at least two print magazines to find ideas for new adventures, tactics, or writing ideas. b) Leave online feedback. c) get afield at least once. d) blog at least once.
Monthly: Reach out to at least one outdoorsperson/writer/blogger to ask for additional "how to tips"
Yearly: a) reconfigure elements of the blog that aren't generating interest or value.  b)

Per Blog Mission 1(b) (running my mouth opining on a variety of topics):

Weekly: Keep up to date on conservation issues (ethics, litigation, legislation, news stories)
Monthly: a) write a gear review. b) request gratis or discount gear for review at least once. c) write at least one narrative/opinion piece.
Yearly: a) travel (> 60 miles) to meet at least two writers, conservationists, outdoorsfolk, or bloggers.  b). Write in detail about the experience. c) Write at least four blog entries that require input/interviews from other authors, anglers, biologists, etc.


Per Blog Mission 1(c) (creating detailed records or ideas for future hard copy publishing): 
Weekly: a) Write one blog entry, however short, that forces me to write concisely and coherently.
Monthly: a) Make sure that major life events get recorded, even if out of format for the blog
Yearly: a) Participate in a writing course, public reading, or something similar to build my writing skills. b) Reach out to at least one author or blogger for tips or for a critical review of my writing. c) analyze my success at building a meaningful narrative about my life outdoors (thoughtful vs. top-of-my head posts). d) identify six new authors whose style holds a connection to me. e) submit three pieces of work to online publications.  f) submit one piece of work to a hard-copy publication.

Oh, there's more, but this post is getting too long, and if I don't quit now, I may never get around to publishing it.  Next time, I'll be looking at #4 and #5 on my list, "Increasing My Impact" and "Setting Real Goals," both of which are starting to look like they are already being handled in #3, above.  There's got to be a better way to condense it all, and I look forward to figuring that out and showing it off to you.

Thanks for reading!

I'm so glad you're here! Come in and lay - I mean sit - down!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Garden 2012: A New Hope, Or Something

After 10 minutes of clean-up
 I'd like to think that I'm good with plants.  I've worked with plants for most of my life and I feel like "I get them."  So that makes it incredibly tough to be wrong.

My 2011 garden was not amazing.  It won another "most beautiful garden" competition, which was awesome, but last year's drought and stinkbugs sure made it tough, and several important plants didn't meet basic expectations.   Hank was about 22 months old  at summer's peak and he didn't make it any easier.   As I planted winter cover crops last September, I figured, "Next year will be easier."

The rabbits and rats ate my fall/winter cover crop (a mix of field peas and oats), and when I replanted the cover crop, the critters ate the seeds and seedlings again.  It was so bad that I didn't bother with a full planting of winter/spring greens.  In December, Hank and I spread a layer of straw over the garden to try to help protect it from spring weeds. I visited again in February, and everything seemed okay.

Our community garden changed the gate's padlock on March 1st, and it took me almost 6 weeks to get a new key from the garden coordinator. I finally got out to the garden last weekend.  What a mess.

After one hour of cleanup
In addition to record high temperatures creating ideal growing conditions for garden weeds, we are now into the fourth week of a real drought here in the Mid-Atlantic.  Even my supple, loose no-till soil has become blocky and hard to work.    Eventually, it will pass.  I think.  Here's what I'm planning for the garden in 2012:


  • add in small scale drip irrigation, gravity fed.  Never seen this in action, but finally found directions online for building a system.
  • repeating several of 2011's successful crops
  • planting heavy summer cover crops - in case Hank's schedule prevents me from spending big chunks of time in the garden. 



Finally, my garden helper showed up.  He is undocumented and works for cheap.

After another hour of work, the garden started to look like a garden again:
garden 4-21-12a


Here's last year's garden (below), and I hope we can do even better this year. Seems nearly impossible at this moment, but given a little more rain and some good plants, maybe it'll turn a corner.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Sportsmen's Heritage Act, Laws with Cool Names, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Grownups are supposed to know that some things sound cooler
than they really are.
I recently read a complaint that too few hunters and anglers have celebrated from the rooftops about the House passage of the Sportsmen's (not Sportsman's) Heritage Act of 2012.  Like many sportsmen, I read the legislation and had questions, excitement, and concern about it. There's a major problem with this bill - an aggregate of four separate bills: it leaves wide berths for unintended consequences, and where it doesn't, it's creating redundant legislation.  Maybe that's why so few people are celebrating.  Or perhaps it's because pundits are universally predicting that the Act will not pass the Senate.

The law has four parts:

I. USFS and BLM lands, including Wilderness Areas, shall remain "open until closed" for human use in general.  USFS has themselves to thank for this portion of the law, after failing to mount a competent defense of their basic "open hunting" policy in federal court.  Brilliant.  The great thing about "open until closed" is that it circumvents numerous bureaucratic planning processes that are normally required for every piece of federal land in the country, and in doing so, makes it unlikely that large sections of public land will realistically see hunting and fishing bans.

That is also the worst thing about "open until closed."  The law doesn't specify "for hunting and fishing only."  So it makes it unlikely that large sections of public land will realistically see bans on other human activities, like, say..........drilling and mining.  Oops.    Not exactly something to cheer about.

Another fundamental problem with this portion of the bill is that it sets a precedent that local wildlife management decisions should be made in the halls of Congress and not by local foresters and wildlife biologists.   Hopefully, you conservatives understand the poor example that sets for other agency decisions.

II.   A replication of Part I for National Monuments in eight western states.   Good for hunters and anglers (yay!).  Also good for miners, timber harvest operators, and gas well drillers (errr....yay?).

III.  A part of the Act explicitly prohibits the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition.  I'll be honest, every time these left wing groups try to ban lead in ammunition, it's clear that they are not genuinely concerned about lead in soil or water.  They are interested in disrupting the economics of the firearms trade in this country. And yes, honestly, it makes me a tiny bit nervous each time we have to go through that little bit of kabuki theater for no reason.   Hey, lead ban people - do you think that convicted felons would stop buying lead ammunition for their already illegally purchased and possessed handguns?  Probably not.  

Anyhoo, the EPA is already prevented (by a 1976 Act of Congress) from regulating ammunition.  And to bolster that fact, the EPA has three times (including once under President Obama) flatly rejected demands/request to enact a ban of lead in ammunition and lead in fishing tackle.   In short, I don't see the Sportsmen's Heritage Act as being an amazing victory - I see it as a comfortable insurance policy against errant findings by an as-yet-unknown EPA Director from a future era.  Solid legislative work.  But not worth a fireworks display.

IV.  A part of the Act makes it legal for hunters to import the "parts" of legally killed polar bears from other countries.   I honestly didn't know you could not import a legally killed polar bear.  Glad Congress is interested in fixing it.  Not because I hate polar bears or want to see hunting pressure on them increase, but because it's pretty obvious that opening up the border to a few dozen polar bear rugs is not going to cause a huge wave of polar bear poaching.  However, the USFWS policy of "no endangered species shall be imported" would now have exceptions if this law passes.  That means that serious poachers, when caught, will state in court that it's legal to bring "some" endangered species into the country, and that the singling out of polar bears is arbitrary and capricious (it certainly seems so).  Again - cause for celebrating? I.......guess?

"My Congressman said this is
the prototype new deer stand
for public hunting
on USFS properties."
Pandering plays heavy here.  This legislation, to me, is a big chunk of pandering.  Do I appreciate it? Sure!  I appreciate that someone (notably, not the Democratic Party) is interested in discussing these types of issues.  But is this law truly necessary?  Are we back to depending on Congress to pass a law to save us? Are we legislating wildlife management from Congress?  Those last three questions, if applicable to legislation proposed by the opponents of hunting and fishing, would be unilaterally opposed by sportsmens' organizations and perhaps most conservatives.  But when the laws "suit us" (or so we think), then it's okay to have Washington D.C. tell everyone what to do.  That's hypocrisy.

So by by all means, stand up and cheer.  An oil lobbyist has just told the waiter that the man standing across the room and cheering (i.e. you) will pay the bill - estimated at $2.5 million per year for the passage of this law.



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

God Bless This Hot Mess

Graphic design by Baxter Orr
Things are nuts.  I had three days off of work (led to five days of chasing my toddler around), and now things are totally blowing up.  Work is really busy.  It's great.  I've been spending a lot of time outside for work too, which is great.  But I am sooooo behind.

I haven't been fishing in two weeks (unacceptable), and the garden is just barely starting to get back under control.  Forget about turkey hunting - not gonna happen.

So what's been going right? Well.......plenty.  I've lost almost 20 pounds in the last two months, with another 20-30 to go.   Work is busy, as I mentioned, but it's worth mentioning again because I serve in a leadership role at a small non-profit, so "busy" is very important.

Because I haven't spent enough time playing outside recently, I don't have a lot of fun blogging to do.  As you may have seen around here recently, I've been writing some pretty heady articles about the ethics of meat eating, and other conservationy ethicsy kind of stuff.  That's fine, too, but I am yearning for the fun stuff.

Another week or so, and I should be back in the pocket...

Another week after that, and my new fishing kayak will be delivered.....


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pebble Mine Controversy - Missing the Mark

I suppose it's time to finally write this.  I'm not angling for a newspaper re-print, or a free trip to the White House (although...I'd take one if offered), or to gain more followers on Facebook.  I hope those facts earn me your attention for the next few several minutes.  The debate over Alaska's Bristol Bay Pebble Mine deserves an honest look for what the resource offers to humankind - the kind of discussion that flatly ignores hyperbolic pleas that "The EPA's mission is to stop mining!!!!"  and the converse argument of "USA! Jobs! Regulations kill jobs!"  Come on, people. In our hearts, we know that "preservation" works too little and too slowly, and that those vaunted "American jobs" never quite seem to materialize in the advertised numbers, even when regulations are peeled back simply for jobs' sake.  What we have here is a big mess.

Call me cynical.  Call me a "paid conservationist" (I hear that in some circles, that's an insult).  In 2012, many Americans are still unwilling to acknowledge that life is expensive.  That it won't and can't get cheaper, no matter what the politicians say, because we haven't been paying the environmental or societal bills of resource extraction for the last 400 or even 1,000 years - and now the bill is coming due.  That the answer to our nation's woes is neither eliminating the EPA, or doubling its budget.  That doing either would not significantly impact resource extraction or resource protection (if you're under the assumption that the EPA and its emissary USACE are doing an effective job of regulating water pollution, please, look up "Nationwide Permit 21").  Let me spell it out.                                                                


We are looking at all the wrong things. 

The earth is about 5,000 miles deep and the atmosphere is 300 miles high above us.  It's big. Yet, the portion of both which generally sustain our species on this planet is only about 10 miles over our head and a half mile below ground or sea level.   And of course, the vast majority of the food grown for 7 billion humans grows in an 18 inch layer of rich soil at the surface, heavily oxygenated.  But for some Godforsaken reason, we're doing all we can to kill this fragile lens where we exist.  We are literally killing our life support system. And all our pro-conservation and anti-regulation folks can argue over is whether 25 years of economic gain is worth the risk of losing game fish and drinking water for roughly that same period of time.  Come the hell on. It's the wrong discussion entirely.

 Unless we start thinking about things differently, there will simply never be enough.  Not enough water. Or fuel. Or food.  Or open space and protected land to help us recall what we have inherited from God and nature. 


 But please, don't let me interrupt the discussion about whether some mining jobs that could last 1, 10, or 25 years is worth the risk of harming salmon for 1, 10, or 25 years.

To those of you headed to Washington today to meet with the President about this issue, I hope that your conversation is earnest, and deadly serious, and looks far beyond this one site in southwest Alaska and its 25 year life span.  I hope you get to ask the EPA directors in attendance how they plan to evaluate natural places like this per these places' ability to sustain human life, economics, and natural beauty into the next 100 or even 500 years.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ridiculous New Gear - Penn Battle Reel!



So, I was at my locally owned tackle shop today, where they are getting ready for the opening of rockfish (striped bass) season this weekend.  Saltwater gear for big fish is flying off the shelves.   Trolling rods, planer boards, 80lb leaders, umbrella rigs, all that stuff (wow, that's also the list of things I hate about the first 60 days of rockfish season).

The store had just sold out of big game sized Penn Battle reels and the owner was standing there, joking about the ultralight Penn Battles, and about how he can never sell them. They run about $50 lower than the comparable Shimano Stradic line (which I love).  Like most Penn reels, the Battle is nearly all metal, and weighs quite a bit for its size.   Like most Penn reels, everything about it is smooth.  Unlike most Penn reels, it is not dipped in super gloss gold coating all over the entire surface of the reel.  Instead, its surfaces are almost entirely painted flat black.  It looks awesome!  The ultralight size (1000) was so heavy and smooth in my hand that it somehow inspired confidence at the moment.  Weird.

I half jokingly told the owner that I'd "help him out" by purchasing one for half price.  Drum roll......

After a bit more negotiation, I now own one.   I almost never get this excited about gear.  The Battle holds significantly less line (80 yards of 6lb mono) than the next two similarly priced reels down the line (Shimano Sahara, $69; Pflueger President, $59), so for multi-day fishing trips (a rarity for me, these days), this reel will not be a good choice.  But for my 60-90 minute jaunts to the water after work, it'll do just fine.   Looking forward to reviewing it here!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Am I A Writer?

"Are you an outdoors writer?"  I get the question occasionally, and honestly, I love it. But am I?

As I start to dose up on my own advice about the direction and "eventual disposition" (love that phrase) of this blog (such advice featured here and here on the Outdoor Blogger Network), there are a few important items I feel like I need to resolve.   Whether they're enigmatic because I can playfully bat them around without coming to a conclusion, or whether they are old, hardened cysts that I can't quite ever separate from the surrounding tissue, I don't know.  One of these unresolved issues is simply:  Am I a real writer? And if not, do I intend to become one?

This, of course, is not a unique conundrum.  Erin Block wrote about it beautifully.   Alex Kain, significantly less beautifully, but then again, bouncy, light prose is quite the opposite of his intent or interest.  Alex did me the favor of invoking one of my favorite Hemingway quotes:

There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

That being said, I most thoroughly enjoyed Patrick Konoske's response to Alex, found here. Heh heh.

I like Hemingway's take on writing.  As a result, it amuses me to no end to read the self-defense of presumptuous, self-important bloggers ( reflecting many articles I found on this topic via google search, all from non-outdoors blogs) who write ridiculous statements like, "A true writer writes because they have to, because there is no choice."  Wow, that's a true writer? Because to me, that sounds like the description of a pronounced mental illness.

To hell with all of it. Writing is just something I do - it's something I have done since I was 14.  And unfortunately (just being honest), no amount of encouragement or discouragement from others really seems to impact my ability or need to put my thoughts on paper (or screen). I write a lot of proposals and technical reports for work, so the exercise of writing is not a daunting obstacle by any means - my first "paid" writing was a wildlife management plan for an Army base, which I completed in 1996.   Of course, that's a very different type of writing than what I feature on River Mud.   Let's be clear - River Mud is a compendum of outdoor thoughts, stories, and images glued together by insomnia and ADHD.  Wait. There must be a better way to state that....hmmm......

As I write and delete this post, a paragraph at a time, only to re-write it almost identically, I have to force myself to come back to the central question: Am I a writer?  As I mentioned above, if you were to google search, "What defines a writer?" the search results will make you want to wrap your lips around a loaded pistol with no mechanical safety, and dance a tiny, insane jig until the inevitable conclusion of that exercise is realized.  Some honest thoughts, though:

  • Being a writer, I think, is a mental or spiritual state that may or may not persist in a person once it surfaces within their consciousness.  It does not necessarily require that any talent is involved, just that the process and desire can't be completely turned on or off at will.
  • Being "someone who writes" (as opposed to a writer) is a task oriented exercise, at which a person may be talented  - because at some point, if they are not talented, they are likely to stop writing. In fact, I'd argue that there are larger numbers of talented "people who write" in the world than talented "real writers."  What's the difference to the reader? Probably none.
  • Both of the above can involve honest struggles to write, write well, and write often.
  • Converting a mental or emotional chain of thoughts, words, images, and events into any written form is by nature a bastardization.  You can attempt all of the "raw honesty" you want, but you'll probably find that at some level, you are limited in expression by the medium, the English language (or any language), and the manner in which you've chosen to structure your written words (i.e. anything that does not look like stream of consciousness rambling - ever try to read Kerouac's Big Sur?).  



I am a writer.  River Mud, even in its annals of deleted posts and half-deleted "working articles", is a repository for a huge variety of wanted and unwanted thoughts that want to be written for one reason or another.  The most heady, reflective writing here often comes at the worst times, when I have a million more important things to do.  That's often at 2:30am, when I'm unable to sleep and facing an 8am meeting, and suddenly this blog becomes an exorcist. And that's okay.

For fishing and hunting reports, this is just a repository for my memories, because I tend to lose them.  As I've written before, I've been blessed with a life full of amazing outdoor experiences.  So blessed that those experiences and special moments start to fade together.    I've hoped from the inception of this blog that writing it all down might prevent that.  I think it's been partially successful, and I think that on its own merits, it's a defensible reason to write, or to want to write.


I am a writer.  This is my tool.  I owe it to myself to become better, stronger, and more efficient at using this tool.  But knowing that, and striving for that, certainly doesn't make me a non-writer.   As I start to look in detail at why this blog exists, and why I've kept pestering with it for five years, I want to keep my reality - and my goals - in mind.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Psycho Slabs, and Other Crappie Notes from the Bass Pre-Spawn

Don't be fooled - the channel is about eight feet deep.  A few fish hang out here.

I have to admit, I'm becoming fond of my "near work" fishing spot.  It's been an experiment in progress, but a good one.  I've caught fish every time I've visited the spot, regardless of weather, time of day, et cetera, and on the few occasions that I've caught less than a dozen fish, those "less than a dozen" are bass and pickerel.

As everybody on the east coast has seen, the weather is prompting nature into action from three to six weeks early this year.   Right now, the bass seem to be a little confused. Fishing's hot for a few days and then the bass are nowhere to be seen for another week. And right now, I don't have the time or energy to run all over the Mid-Atlantic to find them.

This is one of those times of the year when I just want to catch fish. Any fish will do, well, almost any fish.  It's an exciting time of year, too - one that inevitably finds me waiting for my breakthrough session, whereafter I'll be content to work on my flycasting because I've already caught 40 nice fish.   I'm proud (and lucky) to say that I really do have those days.  As in, maybe two per year!   But I've packed my fly tackle on at least 5 fishing trips this year......and it still hasn't been broken out.  Soon.....soon (maybe).




I had trouble figuring out exactly what the fish were doing, but decent size bluegill and crappie started hitting a variety of Joe's Flies patterns in brown/gold and chartreuse/gold.  Fair enough.   I fished for an hour, caught about a dozen really feisty black crappie and a few big bluegills like the one to the right, and then figured, "It's time to go home."  Clearly, the bass weren't biting, and how many crappie can one really stand to catch on ultralight tackle?

The short answer is "more."  I thought for just a second about how strong the crappie were hammering my lures, how hard they were fighting, and how much fun it had been.   For really the first time in 2012, I was actually enjoying myself while fishing.  Not just excited, not just amped for the one big fish I caught.  Honestly having a good time.  As I was walking out of the park and its myriad of security precautions, I decided, "Nawww.  I'm gonna fish a while longer."  And so I did.

The fish were receptive to my quest, as several black crappie ran out the drag, went aerial, forced me to work close on heavy cover, and short-struck my lures time after time after time.  It was awesome fun.  With another 15 or so fish caught and released, I started to notice that daylight was getting away from me a little bit.


I kept fishing for a few more minutes - hey, maybe a bass would come shallow for me.  Then, with my polarized sunglasses still on, I caught a glimpse of something bright in the sky, in the wrong direction for it to be the sun.  I looked up to see.....

Oops. A little later than I thought.  I hastily tossed my gear in the truck, and stopped at our local yuppie organic store to pick up a half dozen bright pink gerber daisies for my wife.   All was forgiven.  Or at least, hasn't yet been brought up in reference to another unrelated situation.  I'll take it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

After Work Canoeing


Some weeks are just losers.  Slogging through work - typical "middle of the process" stuff, and nothing amazingly awesome or strenuous going on at home.  Still losing weight, but still doing it slowly.  Overall...uneventful.                                                                              But a phone call can always change that, and it did last week when a local buddy called and proposed, "hey we should paddle the creek behind your office one afternoon."  Now the "office canoe" is an old 17' Grumman and it weighs "a little bit."    With J's help and a dose of good attitude, we got it down to the ramp (300' from the office) and into the creek.

J and I are fairly close but hadn't debriefed about life, work, and the outdoors for quite a while, and so we had a great paddle.  We were hoping for jumping fish, but only got a nice sunset and evidence of some beaver activity in the tidal section of the creek.   I think we originally thought we'd chat about work related topics (we do some work together) but we somehow ended up talking about the wives (all good stuff, I promise), kids, and just the accelerating speed of life overall.  Mellow.  Nice.  Funny how that works.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

For the New York Times: The Ethics of Killing Food...and Killing for Food


I recently read a piece in the New York Times that jokingly lamented the lack of coherent "pro-meat" arguments in the realm of dietary discussions.   The Times asked for responses (in less than 600 words) from meat eaters, and I offer such a response.  First, allow me to complain briefly.  To ask a cohort of people who are vehemently contrary to your beliefs to "agree that you are ethical" is a bit of a red herring.  Prove that using paper is ethical.  Prove that using wireless technology is ethical.  Prove that any human diet is truly ethical, considering that living things must die to sustain us.  Prove that it is ethical to cut down a tree that even one animal  uses. You cannot do so, without reverting to an argument that starts with, "I believe....." or even worse, "well, one is not as bad as the others," a clear indication that purely ethical/unethical solutions to the problem are unusual at best.

The review panel for this contest is assembled of a self-admitted "murderers row" of vegetarian activists who have published book after book on their beliefs about animal rights (no 600 word limit there).  Below is my response to them.  I cannot imagine it will ever see the light of day on the New York Times website, and so I am publishing it here.   If you've also written a response, please leave me a comment and I will edit this post to show a link to your response.  And to those who have written (significantly longer than 600 word) complaints on their own blogs about how this writing challenge is "unfair," I respond: of course it's unfair.  That's a ridiculous reason to not do something.


In most polls of vegan and vegetarian Americans, the overwhelming primary motivation for abstaining from animal products is defined in terms like "ending animal suffering" and "morally oppose killing."  There is no ethical ambiguity in such responses.  Americans who do not eat meat strongly believe that they live a life devoid of killing, devoid of animal suffering. 

The problem with that assumption is that the American vegetarian lifestyle requires complicity with the trapping, shooting, and poisoning of hundreds of thousands of animals every year. It's called farming. Your local co-op, farmers market vendor, and other local veggie heroes manage a delicate balance between natural living and not getting eaten into the poorhouse by deer, rabbits, geese, groundhogs, and a myriad of other hungry critters.   Except on a very small scale, those animals are almost impossible to exclude from agricultural lands, and so they are killed.   Deer, rabbits, and groundhogs are pretty interested in that "product," and they will eat it all, given the opportunity.  This reality obviously requires us to ask ethically ambiguous questions like, "how much killing is okay?" "why?" and "how?",  It's immediately obvious that we're no longer having a discussion about ethics at all.  We're having a discussion about how humans feel about killing animals.  We are discussing a belief system - not an ethical standard.

I believe in having an honest moral accountability for the food I eat.  And three or four times per week, I eat meat.  I'd say that my diet is about 10% - 25% meat.  When I buy or order food, I try to consider my own health, environmental impacts, humane animal treatment, sustainability (i.e. buying tomatoes in January), and who had to work in what conditions to bring me that food.  All that being said, I'm married, have a 2 year old child, and I work two jobs, so I'm not always proud of the food decisions I make under duress, or at 10:30pm when I am crawling home from my second job and there's not an organic market open within 200 miles.   I don't always know where my food comes from - but I do strive to know.

Even worse (you might say), I prefer to kill my own meat, when I have time.  Why?  I highly value the connection to my food.  I value spending time where my food is grown.  Whether the garden, the forest, or the river.  Is this more or less ethical than the vegetarian who falsely pretends that no deer are slaughtered on the local organic farm where he or she sources their food, then falsely claims to the world "my lifestyle harms no animals!"?  Ethics do not have a sliding scale.  Your food choices are responsible for killing animals, or they are not.  In almost every case in America and Canada, your food choices are responsible for killing animals. I can't make that any clearer.

And so, back to ethics.  Being conscious of where your food comes from, and making good decisions based on that, is an ethical thing to do, regardless of how one "feels" about the value of animal life and animals' roles in feeding humans.  We should be sustinained by food and our lives enriched by food.  Eating the national average 171 pounds of meat per year won't get us there.   But "not eating meat," and pretending that our lives are "free of killing" will not get us there either.  It's simply not ethical to pretend it's so.

(end of response)

Can I prove that human reproduction, human life, vegetarian diets, or omnivorous diets are "ethical?"  I suspect not.   Human beings are creatures on this earth.  We yearn to survive.  We eat. We reproduce.  We manipulate (and destroy) the earth to provide more immediately utilizable resources for us.  If you want to eat ethically, grow your own eggs and chickens.  Grow your own grains, greens, and fruit.  Learn what it means to lose a portion of your food to hawks, rats, and a hundred species of seed-eating birds.  Go hungry for a day because the deer ate all of the oats one morning. Learn to hunt or fish.  Learn what it means to take moral responsibility for your food.  But in all of this, I ask just one favor: please don't pretend that your diet is free of animal killing, free of the cruelties of life on earth, and therefore somehow "ethical"  because you refuse to pull back the curtain.

My supermarket - no animals were burned out or bulldozed under to make it a productive place for human food.




Monday, April 2, 2012

Fishing After Work - An Hour Outdoors

Too distracted. Too busy. Too frantic.  Seems like half or more of my fishing stories start that way.  And yet, once or twice a week, I find a way to sneak in some water time.  I'm almost never disappointed with the mental results, and I usually catch some fish, so that's good, too.

I stopped by "Fifty Dollar Lakes" on the way home from work and thought I'd try to increase my haul from that park.  So far, I'd fished there twice and caught a grand total of three fish (two bass, one chain pickerel).  When I bought my permit for this park, I was really hoping that it'd be a good place (with little pressure) to work on my warm water fly fishing.   But I refuse to fly fish somewhere (where fly fishing's not required, at least) when modern tackle isn't getting the job done.


It took a lot of work to figure out which lures were moving fish, but ultimately I did well on a Rebel floating balsa minnow.   No bass unfortunately, but a few nice "copper belly" bluegills, my first black crappie of 2012, and my first redear sunfish of 2012.   I think I ended up with about 10 fish in 60 minutes - not mind-blowing but pretty respectable still.  Hopefully better things are yet to come!