Monday, April 29, 2013

Is Water a "Boutique Environmental Cause?"

Sediment plume in Maryland's Severn River.
Photo: Josh McKerrow, Annapolis Capital 
In the Chesapeake Bay, the debate continues to boil over the estuary's ill health, and the even worse health of many of its rivers and creeks.   I've spent all but 18 months of my 39 years living in Maryland and Virginia, both places where people of all walks of life are quick to tell you, "We love The Bay.  It's so important."

There is unanimous consensus that the Bay, currently holding 1% of historic oysters and 10% of historic crab populations, and a watershed supporting hundreds of millions of dollars in annual water-dependent economic activity,  is in steep peril.   There is unanimous consensus that 25 years of voluntary, patchwork stream, wetland, and forest restoration work has helped slow the decline, but has not effectively restored much beyond the immediate downstream extent of each restoration project.   There is unanimous consensus that the Bay and its waterways will never be restored voluntarily, which means they must be restored via public mandate - if they are to be restored at all.  There is complete agreement among conservative, moderate, and liberal lawmakers, businessowners, and citizens that something must be done, and that it will hurt.

Yet, the consensus evaporates each time a framework (and fee) is proposed.   Currently, a caustic discussion is underway in Maryland, certainly the wealthiest state in the Bay watershed, over whether or not Maryland, its counties, and its citizens should have to pay their representative share of the Bay cleanup.  Sophomoric oppositions to this process have run an impressive gamut, from "Yes we need to clean up the Bay - but this is a federal responsibility!" to "We should phase in the fee!" (an ill-conceived balloon payment structure against a fixed cost and fixed federal deadline (2025)).  However, the most depressing and ignorant comment I've heard and read is that, "Clean water is just another boutique environmental cause."

Hmm.  As I wrote last year in "Why Headwaters Matter," if any of us are sincerely curious if readily available clean water is too expensive, we merely need to do nothing and find out how expensive it is to go without clean water at all.   Idle threat? I don't think so.  Nearly 1 billion people do not have access to any clean water today.  1.7 billion more people fully rely on water sources that are currently being depleted - and that's just quantity, not quality.  One of the fastest drying sources, America's own Ogallala  Aquifer, fully feeds municipal water needs for eight states, and 30 percent of the USA's farm irrigation supply.  The Ogallala, which has been collecting water since just after the peak of the last ice age, was not tapped for irrigation until the 1950s, and yet, is projected to largely run dry by 2030.    Liberal conspiracy?  Ask Texas Governor Rick Perry (yup, the same guy who only slightly opposed Texas' secession from the USA after Obama's re-election).  Governor Perry has ordered state officials to start working with agricultural co-ops across west Texas to prepare for the inevitable loss of irrigation (at least, irrigation as we know it).

Closer to home, Anne Arundel County's own Aquia (and lower, dirtier) Magothy Aquifers supply the full extent of the entire county's public and private drinking water (plus many more counties from Long Island, NY, to northeastern Virginia).  Since irrigation is at a much smaller scale, there should be no problem, even with projected County population growth at around 25% in the next 7 years.  Right?  

The state geologist glumly announced 10 years ago that "The Aquia Aquifer has reached its maximum allowable yield."    The report concluded that with extensive, deeper drilling and extensive (new) treatment of groundwater, the Magothy formation can withstand the short term population growth.  However, this means that well water and municipal water will become more expensive.  And that is simply to maintain quantity, not quality, of the resource.

Back to surface water, Maryland county governments refuse to conduct regular bacterial monitoring on about 60% of the state's public beaches.   Why? 33% of the tested beaches exceed state bacterial standards during the "beach season," which inevitably means more monitoring, politically costly beach closures, and perhaps environmental cleanup mandates from the state.   Current state law does not require testing of bacteria in state waters within the first 48 hours after a rain storm because state governmental policy is that contact with the water after a rain storm is inherently dangerous and assumed to be polluted with bacteria.

Similar stories from Maryland and other Bay states are legion, but those above should suffice.  In a county like Anne Arundel, with nearly 600 miles of private shoreline not open to the public, who else but property owners who benefit from the water, and directly pollute it with motor oil, lawn fertilizer, Round-Up, septic and sewer overflow, and pet waste should fund the water's cleanup effort?   Kansans?  Iowans? Who else should pay?

So, is water a boutique cause?  I've tried to think my way around it, and I can't see it.  30% of our nation's irrigation supply - 15,000 years worth of water -  is about to evaporate into thin air.  Waterborne disease is the world's leading killer of human beings.   10% of earth's population has no - zero - access to clean water. Most of our nation's beaches now face annual closures (a day here, a week there) due to bacterial contamination.   And here, in the backyard of one of the wealthiest counties in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in the world, people dare to say, "It's not our responsibility to clean up our own pollution - it's a boutique environmental cause."   With all due respect to endangered owls and salamanders, we're not talking about owls and salamanders.  This is freaking water.  WATER. 

At a certain point, "Well, We All Love The Bay, but I'm not paying for the pollution I generate, NOW GET OFF MY LAWN!" becomes its own polluting pile of horse manure.  Its own rotting, stinking, blatantly dishonest statement that brings back memories of neighbors in my native rural Virginia........

"Well, sure I love my dog.  Yeah, he's tied to a tree, in the sun, every day. And sure, we ain't washed him in years.  And yeah, that looks like a rat bite on his ankle.    Kind of festering.  But I think YOU should have to pay me to take care of him, if it bothers you that much.  He's fine as far as I'm concerned - I just try not to smell him or touch him or look at him for too long.  Still, it should be clear to you just how much I love this dog."

Oh yes.  It's crystal clear. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why I Don't Understand the Chesapeake Striped Bass Opener

I have nothing against opening days....trout, duck, turkey, baseball.  All good things.  Opening days evoke feelings of a new season, of a disruption in the doldrums.  It's good stuff.

I also have nothing against striped bass fishing.  I've caught many over the years, in fact.  From the beach. Offshore.  Nearshore.  From a kayak.  Even from fishing piers.  They aren't the most exciting fish to catch, or the most prized seafood, but I admit, there's something alluring about catching a 40" bass in one foot of water on a saltwater popper.  In my mind, this is what an ideal day of striped bass, or "rockfish" fishing is all about:

Photo: Jim Klug - Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures

But here's what opening day of "Rockfish" season looks like in the Chesapeake Bay:

Photo: Lateral Line Blog (Easton, MD) 

Thousands of boats in the water - many of them piloted by owners who have not piloted a boat since last year's early season, also known as the "Trophy" rockfish season.   Game wardens everywhere.   Almost guaranteed tough winds (East 15-25 kt this year), cold water (48 degrees), and very few fish.

Let me describe how the day generally goes:

2:30am: wake up, shower.

3:00am - 4:30am: put $75 of gas in truck.  drive to boat ramp/marina with 5 friends, to where "reports say" the fish have been biting.  put $500-$1000 of fuel in the boat if you were foolish enough not to do so the day before.

4:30am - 5:30am:  wait in line at boat ramp/marina; enjoy slow and bumpy ride out to main channel

5:30am - 6:30am:  ride around in 2-3' waves in the dark, trying to pick up schools of striped bass 30 feet below the surface.   Rig up planer boards, umbrella rigs, trolling rods.  Deploy at legal time to fish.

6:30am - 7:00pm:  ride around chasing what "look like" birds on the water, blow $1,000 in boat fuel, $150 in marina or boat ramp catch one legal striped bass.  "Catching" involves seeing that a rod is bent over, and successfully working the drag so that the fish doesn't throw the hook before reaching the boat net. I'm not saying it's  easy.  But it's not throwing a fly or a plug to a fish from a light rod.  The boat is just driving around with the tackle deployed behind you. 

9:30pm:  arrive home with the promise that your buddy will cut you a piece of the filet of the one bass that was put in the cooler.

Compare that to the opening day of spring gobbler season, which occurs around the same week of the year:

4:00am: wake up, throw boots on, make coffee.
4:30am-5:30am:  put $25 of gas in truck.  drive to turkey hunting spot.
5:30am-7:00am:  watch the sunrise while sitting against a fallen tree in the woods.  Listen to the birds sing.  Hear the turkeys gobble.  Watch the season's first snakes, toads, and turtles look for food in the woods.
7:00am-12:00pm:  Feel the cool forest floor grow warm.  See the wind in the tops of the trees and chuckle at not having to be out on the water that morning.  Hopefully get the chance to work some turkeys with calling and decoys.   Maybe even get a shot at one.
12:01pm:  legal hunting ends, do a tick check, grab a quick lunch and drive home.
1:01pm:  arrive home.

I mean, come on, which trip sounds like more fun?

Photo: Ken Neil - Healthy Grin Sportfishing

Call me a wuss, but if you need to wear a survival suit to go fishing, it just might be too cold!'s too cold for me, that's for sure. Kudos to the hardcore who are getting out there after the fish! I'll be in the ponds, bogs, and woods until the Bay warms up a bit more!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Groggy Spring, Groggy Bass

Made a quick local run to see some of my favorite spring wildlife.  Ewww.  Not that one.  Although she and all her sisters are all over the place right now.

Yes, so the other distinctive spring wildlife that one encounters in Maryland's waterways in April!

Yikes.  Not him, either; though he was there as well.

These guys.

It's not as big as it looks.  But it was fun to catch some - about two dozen largemouth in an hour.  I saw one decent (>12" bass) lurking next to a beaver dam, cast to it, snagged my lure on the beaver dam, and ignorantly snapped my rod in two trying to loosen the lure from the beaver lodge.  

Not sure what my problem is, but I've broken two rods in less than 10 hours of fishing this spring.  I obviously need to cool down a bit.  I'll get right on that.

Spring's here.  Get outside!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Deep, Dark Jersey Romance - An Interview with Director Kevin Slack

Kevin Slack and crew preparing for
a shoot in the woods of
Northwest New Jersey
Recently, I had a chance to chat with Kevin Slack, a critically acclaimed film and music video director who's done notable work for bands like The Gaslight Anthem, Bouncing Souls, and Dave Hause.   Kevin's work focuses in great detail on the growth and hardships of people, with a very solid, dark background of place.  It's impossible to miss, and I figured I'd ask him about it.
RM: Kevin, tell me about your hometown.  What do you remember most about it, and what made it a place that either pulls you to return to it....or not. 

KS: My hometown is Roxbury, New Jersey which is in Morris County.  I think for the most part it was your run of the mill American town. It's fairly crowded, like most of New Jersey, with lots of suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, chain restaurants, malls, movie theaters, etc....   There are some small wooded areas in pockets throughout the town, but no major areas of untouched land.  I used to ride BMX pretty seriously for a few years into high school so some of my best memories are hanging (trespassing) in a small wooded area near this park called Horseshoe Lake.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I think I really enjoyed the isolation and quietness of the space.  It was a beautiful escape from everything else.

RM: I've spent much of my life traveling in, or near, the places in your videos, throughout New Jersey. Yet I've never lived in Jersey.   Ever. I have my own thoughts about the hidden value of the state's "special places," but this is where I'd like to delve into your mind and your work.   What makes New Jersey special to you?

NJ Pine Barrens - photo by Mike Medici
KS: New Jersey is special to me because it is SO hated by people that don't live there.  It's like I get to enjoy the things people don't know exist.  People think they know New Jersey from stereotypes and what they might see on TV.  In reality New Jersey has gorgeous neighborhoods, tons of open farm lands and wildlife, beaches, mountains and everything in between.

Again, like I said before, although the state has a lot of things I love, mainly it is special to me because of the people.  Besides some social and political views, I really think people and places are similar throughout America.  I remember complaining about being bored in high school because there was nothing to do in town but realistically, every high school kid across the country has had those same thoughts.  Maybe the grass really is just greener on the other side.

RM: Jersey is known for being challenging to work in, from a rules-and-regulations standpoint.  It's a "permit for everything" kind of place.  Yet, you continue to use Jersey to tell your stories on film.   What draws you to keep going back to the same old neighborhoods, shorelines, and boardwalks for very different shoots?  Two obvious are Bouncing Souls' "Coin Toss Girl" and The Gaslight Anthem's "I'da Called You Woody, Joe."

KS: I have actually shot four music videos in Asbury Park.  That place is just so damn romantic.  When I'm there I can imagine so easily what that place was like in its prime.  I like seeing it getting rebuilt and imagining what it will be like in 15 years.  There is this great contrast of complete ruins like the casino against this beautiful beach and massive ocean.  It creates this really wonderful balance which I think comes across on screen.  It's also just become a comfort to me.  I know that area now and I like it.  Also bands like The Bouncing Souls, Gaslight Anthem and Dave Hause all have connections to that neighborhood so they all love shooting there as well.  

In regards to having to get permits for everything, I just....don't.  Run and gun baby!

Dave's video was really fun and pretty stressful to shoot.  We shot on the beach at Asbury Park at night.  One of my favorite things is hanging on the beach at night.  As a kid my family would go stay on Long Beach Island or Wildwood beach and I'd love to run around at night and hang out on the lifeguard chairs.  I still climb those chairs today if I see them.  However I don't really love the beach during the day in the summer.  I have too much english blood and pale skin that anything over 70 degrees and I'm a sweaty mess haha.

But yeah, that video was fun.  We didn't get bothered at all (we had no permits, so fingers were crossed) and it was fun to just beat Dave up over and over.  All of that fighting was totally choreographed though which was the tough part.  I don't think Dave or I really know how complicated that can become to make it look real without actually hitting someone.  I'd be lying if I didnt think someone was going to get hurt.  I just held my breath for each take. Dave is awesome though and was totally up for the challenge.

Dave Hause's "C'mon Kid," filmed in Asbury Park by Kevin Slack

RM: When you're writing, what part does "the individuality of place" figure into your work?   How does that differ when filming someone else's story, whether a short film or a music video?

Kevin Slack works with Elisha Cuthbert
at the shoot for The Gaslight Anthem's
"Here Comes My Man"

(video at end of this post)
KS: Well, location is everything.  You can have the best camera, best actors, best cinematographer, etc but if you are shooting in a room with 4 blank white walls it will be incredibly boring to look at.  If you have a great location, everything else can suck but the video/film can still thrive.  So anytime I'm writing a treatment for a video or a script for a film I'm always thinking about location.  It's usually one of the first things I imagine.  Unfortunately, I can't always get what I want but finding the right location is a huge part of the job. 

RM: Do you spend much time outdoors, other than scouting for future productions?  What do you like to do outdoors?  What's your favorite place to go, where you live now (and do you still live in NJ)?

KS: Most of my time outdoors these days is spent wandering New York City.  I used to be a huge snowboarder riding 3 or 4 times a week.  Before that I was really into riding BMX and would ride every day after school.  I hate that I'm not out in nature as much as I want anymore.  I live in Jersey City now but work in New York City everyday so most of my life is spent in an urban setting.  I remember a couple years ago I went to Texas with my fiance for vacation and we found this spot outside of Austin where nobody was around and we were able to wander this wooded area with a big open field.  I remember feeling so happy being lost in Texas and being completely alone with her.  I wish I could trap that feeling in a bottle and keep it with me.  Sometimes, even though I'm outside, I feel quite claustrophobic.

RM: Describe the place - the spot on earth - that most influenced you to become the person you are.  That most influenced your way of thinking about life and work.
KS: I guess that would just be childhood home in New Jersey.  I lived there for 19 years so that has to be the place that influenced me the most.  My Dad still lives there today, going on 29 or 30 years in that house now so it is still a part of my life.   
RM: Tell me a little more about the Banquets video for "Sometimes a Wolf."  Specifically, the context and the place.  I've got the lake scene pegged to maybe Passaic County, where my family has had a cabin for 75 years.  Am I right?  And I'm not going to lie, that makeup job pretty much freaks me out.

KS: Ha ha! That video was fun to shoot.  The lake is my older brother Keith's backyard on Lake Swannanoa in - yes - Passaic County.  The rest of the video was shot in Sussex County in a field and a wooded area.  Unfortunately I couldn't tell you exactly where, because I'm not sure.  We just drove until we found things we liked and shot them in that moment.  This was an incredibly small production where I played every crew member and my fiance played the ghost, ha ha.  It was fun to shoot a video that way, though, and it was extra cool to have my brother Keith helping out and letting us use his backyard, boat and lake.

Stills from the above video...not at all creepy!
RM: "Every Word Handwritten" is a pretty ambitious undertaking - I love it .  Did The Gaslight Anthem initially ask for the video, the short film, or did one evolve from the other?  Everything in that video is meticulous.  What can you tell us about it, and the places that the characters move through?

KS: Thanks. It was ambitious, we had lots of locations and moving parts for a few days of shooting.  We had to create a short film and music video during the shoot.  Benny, the drummer, came to me with the concept for the video about following the vinyl record.  We then developed the idea more together and as we were doing that we realized we had a lot of story that we wanted to tell.   We also knew we had to include band performance in the video so we only had like 2 minutes to fit that story in.  I wanted that story to breathe and move slow and that couldn't happen with the music video.  Luckily the band and record label were both on board for the film.

The locations were personal for me.  We shot in New Jersey in the suburbs so I felt really comfortable there, it's what I know.  I love portraying the suburbs in film and some of my favorite films are all about the suburbs in a small town.  Brian does conjur up tons of imagery in his lyrics and some of those visuals have made it into the videos but I really wouldn't say they had much to do with the locations.
Asbury Park's Stone Pony
 What - to you - is the role of individual places (outdoors or urban) - in understanding who we are and from where we come?  Would you still be doing what you do if there was no Meadowlands Diner, no Stone Pony, no Pipeline.  No pine barrens, no Great Swamp.   If it looked like the media presents it (as a Turnpike Service Center).

KS: I think we can't help but be influenced from where we come from.  It is all we really know while we grow up.  As a kid and a teenager, New Jersey was the world.  However what does growing up in New Jersey mean compared to someone who grew up in Georgia or Idaho.  I'm not so sure it affects a person beyond maybe social and political stances.  I think I would absolutely be doing what I do no matter where I live.  It's much easier being close to New York City and having access to different types of locations but I didn't become a filmmaker because of New Jersey.

You mentioned the Meadowlands Diner and the Stone Pony which are both great Jersey spots but I guarantee in Juno Alaska they have a great diner and a cool music venue that has a great history to them.   It's all relative I think.  We all know what we know, but are we really that different? I'm not entirely sure but my gut tells me we are all more similar than we think.

Monday, April 15, 2013

First Beaver Pond Bass of 2013

After striking out on fish so magnificently in North Carolina, I had a little time to fish on a Sunday after we returned to Maryland.   Coincidentally, some folks wanted to see some professional looking photos of me doing my thing outdoors, and so we did it.  I'd never done "official outdoor photos" before, and it was weird.  Every time a fish hits the lure, the cameras are popping away, waiting to see you reel in the fish.  Luckily, the photographer chosen for the job was Paul Bramble, an avid outdoorsman with a ton of high profile experience photographing hunting and fishing scenes for national publications.  Paul let me know exactly what  he needed to see, and for how long, once I would catch a fish.

I was surprised and distracted the first time, losing a 4+ pound largemouth at my feet, in knee deep water.  With a stiff wind blowing and no leaves on any trees yet, it just seemed like a weird setup.   Mostly, my drag was set too tight,  and I was waiting for him to break the surface once more when he threw the hook.  A 1/4oz Joe's Flies inline stream (black and chartreuse, gold spoon and gold beads) was the ticket.

I refocused, caught a few crappie, and then started landing bass again.  It turned out to be a really fun afternoon on the water, and Paul took hundreds of pictures.   The pond - an abandoned gravel pit - was in transition from winter to spring, with a sand bottom and ponding created by beavers. The fish were almost all associated with heavy structure on the shoreline, though they were willing to follow lures out into the channel between us.

Still waiting to see what the final publication might look like, but it was fun to get out and fish, meet local hunting and photography guru Paul Bramble, and think ahead to the many possibilities of Spring on the Chesapeake Bay.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Old Decoy Line and Old Ways

Replacing some of my first-ever decoy rigging from 2001
with new Tanglefree line in April, 2013
As a rainy night kind of project, I recently re-rigged a few dozen of my diving duck decoys.  It's a tedious task usually left until about 36 hours before the decoys are needed (admit it!), but it needed to be done.  It's not a complicated process - the old lines are cut, and new lines are either tied or crimped on, with a lower loop for attachment to a single anchor rig or a long line.  The old material is thrown in the trash.

The first duck decoys I ever bought were Flambeau mallards, purchased in 1997 from the Boone, NC Wal-Mart.  The price was right, and although they featured an infamously dreadful paint job, they served their purpose on more than a few hunts.   I think my brother still has them, or at least a few of them.   Most likely, they've been repainted as diving ducks.

Which brings me to my growth in duck hunting back on the coast.  I started hunting on the coast in the 2000-2001 waterfowl season, and quickly saw that amongst salt cordgrass, osprey, and oyster beds, a pile of cheap mallard decoys was not gonna cut it.   What I saw, and I saw many of them, were flocks, rafts, and pairs of buffleheads and scaup.    My very next decoy purchase was a dozen #60 Herter bluebill decoys from Cabela's in September, 2001.   That's one of them in the image above - I still have them all, and even hunted over them last waterfowl season.   Along with the big box of weighted foam ducks, I purchased my first serious decoy line - some kind of waxed nylon cord, and my first long line rig for decoys (held 15 decoys).  

I didn't know how to rig any of it, so I just tied a square knot in the keel hole of the decoy and clipped it on to the long line when it was time to hunt.  The error of this method was obvious the first time the dog swam across the long line, tangling himself in the lines and nearly drowning.   Subsequent diver decoy purchases were rigged up with a substantial "drop line" to ensure it didn't happen, but I guess I never got around to changing some of the old decoys around.

So, it was funny to be sitting there, cutting old waxed nylon braid off of those decoys and replacing it with fancy Clear Tanglefree Decoy Line, crimps, and a real crimping tool.  The product is better than what I used to have.  It's simpler to use.  It's sleek and it just works.  I'm a better hunter now than when I was back then, but not really by leaps and bounds.    I wonder if it's true in other parts of life as well.  When's the last time you looked at where you started, how far you've come, and understood the cost of those changes inbetween?

All that,  from a poorly tied knot in cheap waxed rope. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Express Yourself! Prison Fishing in Western NC

FYI, when you enter any property or building that advises
you to "secure all weapons," stuff is about to get real. 
I was workin' to the best of my abilities, but now I'm fishin' at correctional facilities.  Isn't that how the song goes? Please don't shoot me sue me, Ice Cube.

Due to work being red hot in February and March, and also my liberal use of vacation time in two to four hour increments during hunting season, I hadn't had a full day off since January 1 (paid holiday).   We had an opportunity to visit some friends and family in central and western North Carolina over Easter, and the poor weather and tight schedule looked like they'd doom any chance at fishing.  Regardless, I packed my bass spinning gear (BPS Micro-Lite w/Shimano Stradic reel) and bass fly fishing gear (Redington reel on Cabela's TQR 5wt)....just in case.

On our last full day there, I got an opportunity to get out for about three hours.   Our location didn't afford me enough time to get to any of the bigger lakes in the region or to get up the mountains into the trout streams, but what I did have time for was an opportunity to fish at the local prison's former pond and the local state-run mental hospital's water supply reservoir.   Talk about fishing in weird contexts.  Hard to argue with the scenery, though:

Unfortunately, the continued cool night temperatures had persisted, as had the rain.  I found most waters stained to turbid, and water temperatures not yet really pushing beyond the low 40s.   The sun eventually came over Benn Knob, ushering out the fog and allowing the air temperature to ease up to the 40 degree mark.  I did not see a sign of a fish at the old hospital reservoir, and so I decided to stop by the prison pond (now a wildlife management area) on the way back to the highway.  What I found there was simultaneously encouraging and weird:  dozens of stunned, half frozen largemouth bass sitting in the shallows as hundreds of mating American toads swam overhead, quite casually.
Do a little dance....

I also saw a few sunfish and a crappie, but none of the fish were mobile enough to chase prey (or a lure).  I tried both flies (poppers, hoppers, crayfish) and light tackle (inline flies, small plastics), and nothing made an impact.  Phhht.

In the end, it was good and get out and fish - my first outing since last October (start of duck season).  My hand hurt from so many random casts through the course of the morning, but it was good to get the feel back.   Soon, the fish will start biting.  Soon.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Fishing Has Begun...

Benn Knob, North Carolina

Finally got out fishing.  Three times, in fact. It hasn't been pretty, with temperatures running about 15 degrees below normal and rain/snow happening every three days since January 1st.   Considered going before work one day this week, then look and saw that the temperature at 7am would be 36 degrees.  Again.    It's getting ready to turn....and soon enough we'll be complaining of heat waves and lackluster fish.  But a few good months of fishing are right ahead.  Here it comes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

To Do Nothing by Accident

There is a nervousness within me that I have not known before.  Far more than the disquiet that runs as white noise in the background of everything I do and think and say. And yet it lacks the ambiguous flush of terror that erupts from true anxiety over any one single thing.  I don't know what it is.

It's hard to examine the tab I've left unpaid for decades.  It's like an old bartender's pad - smudged notes on fears unconquered and so many folded carbon copy notes of reckonings I was bound to face, but escaped like a drunk who slips out of the bar unnoticed.  And it's easiest for the bartender himself to leave it alone.

There is much to be nervous about - the nature of my work has bulldozers churning sometimes in three parts of the same county in the same day, and I'm the responsible party.  Literally - the County permits list me as "Responsible Person."  At home, my son grows older, and decisions about schooling and its cost loom large for next fall, and for every crisp September after this one for perhaps another fifteen or twenty. My wife - herself a project manager by day - struggles to connect time and money with an impossible need for both, on a daily basis.  We talk about numbers, about people who are in our way.  Sometimes we have little to discuss out of exhaustion and mutual anxiety for what's coming next.

But perhaps, in all of this, there is a path.  I attended a leadership meeting recently where someone said, "We have been succeeding by accident for so long.  It's time to start succeeding on purpose."   The statement struck me, and the more I thought about it, I thought about how my changing views on mortality, God, legacy, and a purposeful life really reflect an ideal of doing nothing by accident.   On my best days, I do as many things that I can, in a driven and focused way.  Whether I'm focused on killing a bird or two, or finishing a critical piece of work at the office.  Sometimes, the ideal amount of focus still doesn't allow me to finish everything I really wanted to do.  But I sure beat it up and can feel good about it.

And then I think about how my days too often become like those of so many people I know.  "I meant to do 10 things, and I did none of them, and I got distracted by this other thing which not only wasn't that important, but forced me to work late, miss dinner with my family, and now I'm somehow behind at work!"

Surprises are great, but they are not the same as distractions.  Even "living in the moment" should involve a quick assessment of what's truly important at that moment. And I think that's how I'm going to attack this stress.  With devotion and precision.  With a positive outlook attached to concrete actions.   To move forward with the intent of neither succeeding or failing by accident - to do nothing by accident.

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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...