Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shad, Bands and Peanut Cokes

A few random pics, totally unrelated, because I'm too lazy to write anything today...

I saw something busting spawning shad along the dam and tossed out a white fluke, which was immediately inhaled. As I was taking the hook out I noticed something moving down there at the back of her throat. I briefly thought about trying to pull the shad out, but figured the bass had caught it fair and square and it wasn't my place to screw her out of a real meal, seeing as how I'd already just screwed her out a fake one. So I put her back in the water. Sorry, shad. Such is life for a baitfish.

I don't give much of a damn about collecting bands, or "jewelry" as the waterfowl warriors like to call them. I wouldn't mind getting one (I never have, despite killing a respectable number of ducks in the past thirty years or so), but as a measure of a hunter's worth I think it's a pretty bullshit yardstick. But damn it, bullshit or no I really want a quail band, and for the past two years I've tried hard to get one. Of course I've failed miserably, need you bother asking? But every season I hear of some lucky asshole who comes up here from Tulsa or OKC and kills a banded quail. Screw you. Maybe this fall...

On the last day of quail season the wind was howling so hard that it was impossible to hunt. But I tried. Damn but I tried. I leaned into the wind and swore. I raised my hands to the sky and swore. I wiped the stinging dust from my eyes and swore. And then I said to hell with it and gave up. I drove into a nearby town and bought an ice-cold Mexican Coke and a bag of peanuts. I drove to the lake and sat in the truck pouring the peanuts into my Coke as the dogs and I watched whitecaps curling across the water. I'd rather have had a banded quail, but real Coke (sugar, no corn syrup) and peanuts is a pretty good consolation. Does anyone still remember this, or still do it, or is old-fashioned, glass-bottle, ice-cold Coke and peanuts strictly a weird regional oddity from a bygone era?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not-So-Small Potatoes...

                                                                Please Fund Me...

A year or so ago I was sort of half-ass contemplating starting a small Kickstarter campaign to fund (in what would, in all probability, be a one-and-failed proposition) the type of publication I've mused about in several different blog posts, mainly here and here. It was one of those ideas that sound promising for a bit, but then begin sounding progressively less so the more you apply that damnable reason to it. All sorts of reasons why it'd invariably fail: Too small a potential market. Wouldn't be able to raise the cash. And even if I could, I wouldn't be able to find the time to do it, couldn't financially afford to make the time to do it, didn't have the skills, didn't have the vision and probably didn't have the confidence to do it. You know, all the things you run through your mind over and over when you want to do something bold, but know deep down that it's not such a great idea, and even it were you just aren't brave, smart or stupid enough to do it. So I didn't.

As it turns out, I guess I probably should have asked for money to make a bologna sandwich. I'm sure you've all heard about the guy who started - as a joke - a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising ten bucks to make potato salad. If you haven't, oh, hell, just Google it, preferably with a drink in your hand. I don't have the heart to link to any of the billions of stories about it.

 As of now he's raised over $71,000. And he's got 23 days to go.

Isn't life just a big goddamned kick in the nuts sometimes? You just gotta laugh. You really do. Maniacally.    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

He Sleeps With the Quail...

A couple years ago, following a fruitless yet interesting quail hunt (2012 was a brutal year, quail and weather-wise) I posted a short blog about the experience. I'm just going to post it again in its entirety because you really need to read it in the context of this current blog...

Saturday. I wake up, and in what is becoming an increasingly pointless act of (waning) faith-based rote, load Jenny and go for yet another late-season death march on my favorite local public hunting area, which happens to abut a minimum-security state prison.

I park on the northern edge of the area along a lonely, seldom-used county line road, and as Jenny and I start hunting down toward the river bottom (and toward the direction of the prison, which sits across the river) I happen to look back at the parking area and notice one of those official-looking white vans that scream "government vehicle" parked directly behind my truck. I'm still close enough to notice that the driver is eyeballing me through a pair of binoculars.

"Who the hell are those guys and why are they watching me?" I ask myself as he puts down his binoculars and resumes driving, slowly, on down the road. I shrug my shoulders and promptly forget about it as the dog and I continue hunting  a brush-choked draw that leads down into the riverbottom.

Three hours, numerous miles and zero quail later, we work our way back up out of the bottom toward the road when I notice that same damn van parked behind my truck again. Once again, they eyeball me for a few minutes before slowly pulling out of the parking area and cruising on down the road.

Odd behavior, for sure, and I wonder if one of the inmates at the prison has decided incarceration is a bummer. It's actually a fairly routine occurrence, not like this prison is Alcatraz. Once or twice a year someone gets happy feet, and the fleeing inmates generally fall into one of two distinct categories: those smart enough to slip into the small town adjacent to the prison and quietly steal a car, or those who climb the fence and blindly run like hell to the north across the WMA.

The former generally at least make it back to a major metropolitan area before getting recaptured, while the latter spend a few very uncomfortable nights wandering aimlessly around the prairie before being spotted by a rancher and picked up.

So maybe it's not just the dog and me out here, after all, because there sure as hell aren't any other quail hunters. Sure enough, when I get home and check the news, I discover that nope, we weren't alone...

From the Oklahoman
An Okmulgee County man who escaped from a prison in Fort Supply remained missing Saturday, Warden Marvin Vaughn said. Michael Weber, 50, was last seen at an inmate count about 9 p.m. He was still missing at the next count taken at 10 p.m. Weber is serving a five-year sentence for two counts of possession of a stolen vehicle in 2009 in Okmulgee County. He began his sentence in October 2009 and was to be released in August 2013. Weber is 5-foot-9 and weighs about 170 pounds. He has numerous tattoos on his arms, legs and back. The William Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply is a minimum-security prison housing about 1,100 inmates. Deputies from the Woodward County sheriff's office are assisting in the search.

As of Monday morning, Monsieur Weber, much like Monsieur Colinus virginianus, has evaded all attempts to locate him and is still hiding out somewhere in the wilds of far northwest Oklahoma. He sleeps with the quail. And where that may be I have no idea...

He sleeps with the quail, I wrote back then in jest and homage to a great and enduring cinematic meme. However, as it turns out Mr. Weber really was sleeping with the quail, in the true Luca Brasi sense...

Again, from the Oklahoman (last week)

Human remains found in Woodward County may be those of an inmate who escaped from an Oklahoma prison in 2012. Michael J. Weber escaped Jan. 7, 2012, from the William S. Key Correctional Center, a minimum-security prison in Fort Supply that houses about 1,100 inmates. Weber, 52, was serving a five-year sentence on two counts of possession of a stolen vehicle in Okmulgee County in 2009. He began his sentence in October 2009 and was scheduled for release in August 2012. Weber was last seen at an inmate count about 9 p.m. He was missing at the 10 p.m. count. On Wednesday, the skeletal remains of an adult were found by a person walking in a pasture outside Fort Supply, Woodward County Sheriff Gary Stanley said.

An occupational hazard, I suppose. It's big and fairly empty country out here, and at that time of year it wouldn't be too hard to die of exposure if conditions were right and you weren't properly clothed for it. Still, it's not like this is the edge of civilization. As long as he kept walking a straight line in any direction, eventually (and by eventually I mean within a day) he would have stumbled upon a road. It wasn't particularly cold (at least that weekend), there were numerous windmills to get water, no megafauna to eat you, and the snakes weren't out. So why'd he die, out here in this semi-benign and wholly subjugated land? Broken leg or ankle? Maybe. Hypothermia? Good possibility. Or perhaps just the sheer terror of being alone in the unknown did him in, his mind and then his will giving in to those ancient, vestigial fears of what lay beyond darkness and knowing that still reside within our DNA from a time when such fears were well-grounded? Who knows? He most likely got lost and simply wandered until he died. I imagine that for someone on the run and not familiar with the area it'd be a terrifyingly easy mistake to make, even in a place like this, a region once so magnificently wild but now a century domesticated.

 But I guess even a whipped dog can still bare fangs now and then, and the unfortunate Mr. Weber's demise is a good reminder of that, as well as a reminder that nature - the mean old harpy -  still has terms upon which you must pay to play, or live. And when you think about it, that's a completely scalable truth, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Sportsman's Library Project...

It started with that old (1942) ex-library copy of Marjorie Rawling's Cross Creek, which I found rummaging in a thrift store while in town running errands this morning. They're worth exactly nuthin', but I've always been a sucker for those old library discards with their intoxicating old book smell and their stolid library bindings and their tattered book pockets with the names and stamped due dates of long-gone students. I like to take them off the shelf and read them, look through them, and wonder about all the people who read them before me. Idle silliness, I know, but I'm a silly man.

This particular copy, which I assume has been floating around the Woodward (Okla.) high school library for the past half-century or so, looks like it was last checked out in September of 1990 (kind of surprising, actually. I'd have guessed much earlier) before being jettisoned from the stacks forever in some modernizing literary pogrom. Who knows how it came to be where I found it? Old books and old guns bob on currents beyond knowing. Best not to, for speculation on their origins and prior history is all part of the enjoyment of owning them, is it not? After I'm gone I'm sure all of mine will be scattered, lost, and hopefully found (preferably in a dusty old book, gun or junkshop) and bought cheap by someone (like me) of very little means and much curiosity. I can think of no better fate for my books and guns (whatever my children don't want) than to be discovered by someone who will appreciate them as much as I have.

At any rate, I saw it, bought it (for a buck) brought it home and put it on the shelf (right next to my equally vintage copy of The Yearling). And that got me to thinking: why not try to collect all one hundred titles in Steve Bodio's A Sportsman's Library? Why the hell not, indeed? I've never done anything like that before. If I'm honest, I'm not much on book or movie lists. I find that most of them, quite frankly, suck (unless it's one I've done, of course). But A Sportsman's Library is such a goddamned good list that I think it'd be a worthy endeavor.

About the book: if you haven't bought it, then by all means go do so now. It doesn't cost many pennies, and it's worth every one. It'd be more than a bit laughable and pretentious for me to "review" it. I'm not a book reviewer. In fact, when it comes to books and music, I'm a disciple of the Justice Stewart Porn Doctrine: I can't define a good book, but I know it when I see it. And A Sportsman's Library is a damn good book.

Oh, I have a few minor quibbles, any subjective list will. I'm not really a Stephen Rinella fan, so I wouldn't have included his book. And River Monsters? I'm gonna have to take your word for it, Steve (although my son and I do enjoy watching the show. Guilty pleasure). I probably would have chosen John Barsness' Western Skies over Life of the Hunt (although I have and love both, Western Skies is simply one of my favorite bird-hunting books).

Probably my biggest gripe is that I wish he'd chosen more books that I already own rather than ones I don't so as to make me look smarter (I'm just being honest). But other than that I have no complaints and much praise. In fact, perhaps the reason I don't have more minor quibbles is that, well damn it, I'm just not very well read, and as a result don't know if Steve's other selections are garbage or not. I kid. I'm thinking not...

In fact, a tally of my bookshelf reveals that I own a grand total of twenty-two of Steve's chosen books. Not even one-fourth. And that's with today's acquisition of Cross Creek. I've always considered myself reasonably well-read, but uh...not so much. Unlike Bodio, no polymath am I. However, in my defense I think I have copies of Waterman's Gun Dogs and Bird Guns, Dinesen's Out of Africa, and Faulkner's Big Woods in boxes somewhere in the garage. I think. So screw it, I'm gonna say I own a quarter of Steve's list, and that's not too shabby for a rube. I've also read a few other titles that I don't own, and own quite a few alternate titles of some of the authors on the list.

But the fact that I've truly never even heard of the majority of the titles or authors on this list is the very reason it's such an awesome list. What the hell would be the point and where the hell would be the fun and discovery in reading about a bunch of books and authors you already know well? That's the key difference between a list of "best books" that's been Googled by some clueless dipshit "editor" and then published as a listicle and a list of books put together by someone as erudite and knowledgeable as Steve Bodio. One is based in experience, rumination and scholarship. The other is cynical clickbait shite that isn't worth a moment's attention, much less a concerted effort to read or collect.

 A few more thoughts: I like the book's layout and design. Good job there. I also like that he included some oddball selections that I recognized, like fellow Okie Burkhardt Bilger's Noodling for Flatheads (Like me, Bilger started out writing for the excellent regional magazine Oklahoma Today. Unlike me, Bilger had the talent to go on to the New Yorker...). Bilger's a great writer, and under-appreciated. I also like that he included a few tips for the prole-income level casual book collectors like myself. Otherwise, I never would have known, for example, to look for the 1966 Abercrombie & Fitch edition of The Book of Saint Albans.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'll start my own little "Sportsman's Library" project, wherein I eventually hunt down and buy and/or steal all the books on Steve's list, beginning with the twenty-two (or maybe twenty-five) already-owned titles you see here.

They're not worth much, of course. The 1972 Scribner's edition of Gasset's Meditations on Hunting (first American edition and first English translation, I think...) is probably the most valuable of the bunch, and that not much due to the missing dust jacket, but they're mine, and good readers. I've had fun finding and reading them over the years, and that's the point, isn't it, discovering something you previously knew nothing about? Broadening your horizons just a bit? Trying something different? Unusual? And that's the point of Steve's book, too. You really should give it a try: the book, and the journey it promises. It should be great fun, and not too expensive, I hope.      

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Change and the Melancholy of Impermanence...

Friday noontime, Texas County, Oklahoma. Lunch rush. Not a drive-through window as far as the eye can see, nor water. And out here you can see a damn long piece. Just the rattlesnakes and the racerunners and the horned lizards and the mule deer and the blues and the bobs and the mourning dove and the roadrunners and the wind and the sky and me. It's a little off the beaten path, and the menu's pretty basic, but the ambiance beats the hell out of McDonald's, I'd say. After eating my lunch I place a quarter on the tabletop, just for grins. I will come back in the fall with the dogs, chasing quail, and I will see if anyone has taken my quarter. I'm betting not. It's a lonely place, one of my favorite places, but why is there a gubment-issue picnic table high on this lonely, abandoned bluff overlooking a dry valley? Interesting story, that. But that's another blog post...

A little farther down the lonely road...

Eureka School, Texas County, Oklahoma. Only barn swallows and memory occupy these halls now. The last student walked out the doors in 1969. The plains are full of such ghost schools, abandoned and forgotten. They are sad, haunting places. I poke around in the ruins for a few minutes, then get in the car and drive off, pondering the impermanence of everything. I've been doing that a lot lately. It's something of a prerequisite for life on the plains. Or anywhere, really. And then, a few minutes later, another reminder of impermanence and change...

Round bales slowly being buried on the side of the highway, Texas County, Oklahoma. All that picture needs is a rusty Ford Model A and a gaunt farm wife leaning into the wind and you'd think it came from the shutter of some WPA photographer in the 1930s instead of May, 2014. The wheel of life spins round and round and round...

Change is all around us, I suppose. Some of it is subtle, and some of it is stark. However, for better or worse, it is the only true state of being. To think otherwise is arrogant folly. Change may quicken or it may slow to an eon crawl that fools us into believing that what we hold fervently dear will always be, but change always laughs last, whether it's a lake, a school, or maybe an entire region. Who the hell knows? 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wither Crops, Hopes, Humanity, and Quail...

 The Oklahoma wheat harvest is under way, and it's expected to be one of the worst - if not the worst - on record. This time of year we should be covered up with custom cutter crews and wheat trucks and combines in the fields. Instead, many of those wheat fields have either been hayed, turned out to cattle or turned into patches of cracked, bare earth.

Bread's gonna get dear, so now may be a good time to go on that low-carb diet...except that when I was picking up dog food at the feed store last week the sweet, tough, leathery 'ol gal who runs the place told me that more and more ranchers were being forced to reduce or even sell out their herds for lack of grass and water. It's been that way for a while now, of course, but the pace is apparently picking up. The local livestock auction has been a busy place lately. So instead of low-carb, paleo, vegetarian, or whatever, now may actually be a good time to start transitioning yourself to the hottest new diet soon to be sweeping the world. It's called the climate-change diet. It's very simple: you starve until you achieve your desired weight, then you continue starving until you die, because there's nothing to eat. And when you do find temporary sources of food, you eat whatever the hell you can find, when you can find it, where you can find it, while you can find it. And the great thing is, all that binging is completely guilt-and-consequence free, because soon enough you'll start the starvation phase of the diet all over again. Cheery, huh?

And please, don't try giving that tired old "country boy can survive" bullshit trope (more on that in another blog) as proof that, just because you're a hunter, you're somehow better-prepared than everyone else and will simply head to the hills and live out your days in smug self-sufficiency while the rest of humanity kills each other for peanut butter and toilet paper. The truth is, being a successful, modern, 21st-century American hunter makes you (and I) qualified to survive exactly jack shit, because the successful, modern, 21st-century hunter is almost wholly and completely a product and beneficiary of the modern Agro-Industrial complex that is currently having its legs kicked out from under it. A nation of rugged, self-sufficient Daniel Boones we 'aint, folks. That stuff sells magazines and TV shows, and as the zeitgeist cranks up I've certainly seen a lot of such nonsense spewed in both hook-and-bullet mags and on the tube, and it's laughable. It's all just escapist fantasy, really. Regardless of where we live or what we do or how many tags we fill each year, we are all connected, and we are all equally screwed, unless of course we can miraculously put aside our differences and figure out a way to work together for the common good. In other words, we're all equally screwed...

But damn, I'm digressing here at a rate rivaling Antarctic ice melt rates. Back to quail and rain...    

While perusing the festivities at one of the recent PF/QF Pheasant Fests, I got to hear a number of interesting seminar talks about quail conservation, but two in particular that stick out for me were talks given by, respectively, a biologist from the state of Missouri and Dale Rollins at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch. The Missouri biologist talked about the detrimental effects of spring rains on quail populations, then Dr. Rollins talked (briefly, because his seminar was on another topic) about how in contrast to Missouri, there's just no such thing as too much rain in west Texas (and by extension, Western Oklahoma), for quail or people.

And thus is how the bobwhite quail (and us) rises and falls on the dusty, arid plains of Comancheria. Live by the raindrop, die by the raindrop. And there have been damn few raindrops falling on my head lately. The picture above is of the rain gauge in my back yard. That three-quarters of an inch of precious liquid represents the sum total of our May rainfall. We were supposed to get two to three inches this weekend. This is what we got instead. Thankfully for the folks directly south of here, they did get several inches, and if anything, they needed it more desperately than us. I spent last week driving the roads in and around Black Kettle National Grasslands (about an hour or so south of here) and much of that country looks like the surface of Mars, whereas in these parts we merely resemble the interior of Death Valley.

Moreover, last week the entire southern portion of my main quail hunting area burned in a massive wildfire. I drove by there not long after, and just about cried. I live in a sandy region. I know how incredibly fragile is that thin skim of crust atop the ancient dunes that cover this area. I know how easily and quickly that sand can start blowing away if it gets grubbed out by too many cattle, broken by plows, scraped clean for a well pad, or torn up by the wheels of the ATV crowd. But to see that sand exposed on such a massive scale is startling, to say the least. In the space of a single afternoon, thousands of acres of habitat that - despite the drought - was still going to be important nesting habitat this spring and summer, was incinerated and turned into a sea of dunes. So much burned so completely that the state transportation department had to place signs warning motorists of blowing dust conditions.

Yes, fire is a natural and necessary (and too-little used) part of the prairie ecology, and we need much, much more of it, but the difference these days is we're just not getting the rainfall needed to regenerate any growth after those fires. Further complicating things, the composition of the prairie plant biome itself (what little of it remains) has changed drastically over the past hundred or so years. More invasives and weeds, fewer true native prairie grasses with those amazing root systems that anchor the soil. So the soil just sits there, untethered, barren, drying out, and blowing away.

And so, too, are my hopes for this coming fall. After last spring's timely and relatively abundant rains and the subsequent modest increase in quail numbers, I thought this year - weather permitting -  would be one for the books. But weather is damn sure not permitting. At least not yet. It's not too late, I suppose, to turn things around, but I think I can hear too late coming over the horizon if we don't get more rain.

So I dump out the rain gauge, sigh, and with the Reaperish specter of the coming summer hovering over my distant fall hopes, look to the skies and ask the winds for rain while muttering under my breath about ammo, toilet paper or possibly moving to a nice Scandinavian country like Norway...     

Friday, May 23, 2014

Buddhism Tells Us...

 ...that nothing is permanent, and to think otherwise is Ozymandias-level folly. I guess that also includes blog hiatuses. Yes, it really has been almost two months since I last posted, and if I'm honest I hadn't exactly been burning up the blog in the time leading up to the layoff. What can I say? Creativity, desire, discipline, interest, they all ebb and flow, wax and wane, come and go as they please, and there's not a goddamned thing you can do about it, at least until Big Pharma finally creates a boner pill for creativity. You wake up and you either want to write, or you don't. Lately, I've been in "don't" mode. Now I'm trying to ease the dial back over into "want" mode.

So what have I been up to during my literary hiatus? Let's see... I applied for a real job with a conservation non-profit, and was (quite wisely, I must admit) passed over without so much as an interview (perhaps they read the blog...). I also took on a really unique and interesting short-term contract non-writing job with the intention of turning said unique and interesting non-writing job into a unique and interesting feature story (neither the job nor the potential story are hook-n-bullet related, BTW. Pretty much done with that world, professionally speaking. And it's pretty much done with me).

Can't say much about it now, as I've signed an NDA for the job, but hopefully after the contract's up I can sell a spec piece on the experience. Think "Arrested Development" meets "The Worst Hard Time" and that's kinda what I'm shooting for. Yes, it's an odd combination, but it's an odd job.

What else? As part of the job I flew to San Francisco for a few days, then road tripped home, and in the process finally got to see a few things I've always wanted to see, as well as a few more I hadn't seen in way too long.

A few takeaways:

My first visit there, and California is easily the most diverse and complex state I've visited. Texas, in typical Texas fashion, likes to brag that it's a whole other country. It's not, except in the mind of Texans, but California really is. Fascinating state. Not sure I'd ever want to live there (the eternal bleating proclamation of the terminally meek and provincial!) but it's damn sure a place worth exploring and knowing about.

I didn't see much of San Francisco proper, but what I saw was very lovely, except for the traffic, which was very ugly, and curiously - at least to this truck-drivin' Okie, almost completely bereft of pick-ups. No, really. I hardly saw a pick-up at all, other than commercial trucks, in San Francisco. Doesn't anyone in the Bay area drive a damn truck? What's wrong with you people?

Silicon Valley is its own weird world with its own weird culture, utterly alien to a rube like myself. I didn't like it at all. Too... something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Smug, maybe? A bit like Boulder, Colorado, writ way large. However, in spending a couple days there I noticed some striking and hilarious similarities between the average Oklahoma oilfield worker and the average Silicon Valley tech worker, most of those similarities based on the insularity and cultishness of their respective worlds and the fact that they both make roughly the same outlandish amount of money. Of course they spend it in completely different ways, but they're walking, talking, cliches, both of them. And really, techies, you need to eat some protein or something, because you all resemble twigs. 

The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most fundamentally altered landscapes I believe I've ever driven through. At least now I know where my almonds come from, and the price this place and its workers (including some ancestors of mine) have payed to make it so. I stopped in Bakersfield for lunch, and considered trying to find Merle Haggard's childhood home, but was pressed for time and so I didn't. I consoled myself by blasting disc two of "Down Every Road" as I left Bakersfield and the endless monoculture stoop labor depression of the valley behind me, climbing up, up over Tehachapi pass and down into the shimmering heat of the Mojave with Merle's bourbony voice ringing in my ears...  

"My daddy plowed the ground and prayed that someday he could leave this run-down mortgaged Oklahoma farm, and then one night I heard my daddy sayin' to my momma that he'd finally saved enough to go, California was his dream, a paradise for he had seen, pictures in magazines that told him so.

California cotton fields, where labor camps were filled with worried men with broken dreams, California cotton fields, as close to wealth as daddy ever came."

The Mojave desert is as starkly and fearsomely beautiful as I have always imagined it to be. I fell instantly in love with it. If I were single, childless and responsibility-free, I'd quit my job, sell whatever possessions I couldn't fit in a jeep or a land cruiser, and literally lose myself in that region for a good long while, chasing feverish, shimmering desert rat dreams, perhaps never to return.

After coming down off the pass and its thousands of wind turbines, I briefly turned south and drove into the town of Mojave, just because I liked the name. Later, as I drove along Highway 58 across the northern edge of Edwards Air Force base, a B-2 flew directly overhead, then banked low and disappeared south toward some secret destination within that mysterious shaded area on the atlas. 

Somewhere near Barstow, where I spent the night, I drove a lonely, long-abandoned section of the Mother Road under a brilliant high desert night sky, just to say that I had, then turned onto a side road, killed the car and sat on the hood for a bit watching the stars, listening to the passing traffic on I-40 and contemplating things of importance only to me. At that very moment no one in the world - not even my wife - knew where I was. Sorry, aliens, You had your chance. I was ripe for the abducting, and you blew it. I took one last look around so as to always remember the sight of Joshua trees glowing in moonlight, then I got in my car, drove back to Barstow, ate one last In-N-Out burger (standard tourist menu, no secret menu knowledge here), drank a beer or three, and went to bed. It was a good night. I will go back there someday, before I die, and leave my footprints in lonely places.

A few more takeaways:

The drive from Barstow to Needles is long, lonely and gorgeous, if you're into lots of space and not a lot of people, towns or traffic. Check all three for me. That's my kind of interstate highway. 

The high prairie vista that assaults the eyes as you come back down onto the plains heading east out of Flagstaff, Arizona is one of the most beautiful I've seen, so much so that I had to pull over at a roadside rest stop, clamber onto the rock outcropping behind the rest stop (Caution! Animals found in this area can be venomous!) and sit on a wind-smoothed ochre boulder soaking in the immensity for a few minutes (schedule be damned!) as endless waves of fat, bored motorists trundled into the pissers below me, emptied their bladders, waited as their useless little yappy dogs emptied their bladders (where's a golden eagle when you need one?), then hurriedly got back in their cars without so much as a glance at the mind-blowing beauty stretching out in all directions before them. Their loss.

New Mexico, where I spent significant chunks of my childhood, remains - mile for mile - the most achingly gorgeous state in the union. I spent the night in Gallup, and after a good meal at a local place, I walked up and down the main drag past rows of pawn shops and panhandlers, just taking in the intoxicating differentness of culture and place, this one just a few hundred miles from my own, yet vibrating at such a divergent frequency. Later that evening, I sat at the big window in my third-floor hotel room at the very end of town on a thin strip of undeveloped land between I-40 and the main road. I watched travelers whizzing by on the highway to my right, while to my left three native boys, teenagers, by the looks of them, tried to thumb a ride on the state road leading out of town (to where, I wondered?) as evening's shadows deepened on the rocks. No one stopped to pick them up, and eventually their forms disappeared into horizon and night.

The sight of the Sandias looming over the desert is the best thing, in my mind, about Albuquerque. My brother and I used to spend part of our summers in Albuquerque, shuffling between there and Farmington - where my dad lived - depending on his work schedule. Sometimes on weekends we'd drive up to Sandia Peak and have a picnic. When we couldn't, I'd roam the desert wastelands near my grandparents' house looking for reptiles. It was, and is, a lovely area, but even then I remembered Albuquerque proper as a horrid city in a beautiful place (as most cities are) and some twenty-five years later, driving through at the peak of rush hour, I saw no reason, no reason at all, to modify that long-ago adolescent assessment. Windows up, seat belt on, and foot on the gas is the best way to experience Albuquerque. 

Crossing into the Texas panhandle I realized that virtually all the kitschy roadside shops and businesses I remember desperately wanting to stop at as a child are now gone. Hell, even Stuckey's is out of business. Of course, remembering their food I can see why. Most serial nostalgics pan the interstate highway system as cold and impersonal, and I guess it is. I'm way too young to remember Route 66, however, so for me I-40 has always been my ersatz version of the Mother Road. It was the route we always took to visit my dad's family in New Mexico, and later, after the divorce, my dad. I have many fond memories of I-40, but while I have visited New Mexico a number of times since then, I've not had occasion to drive I-40 from Amarillo west in some twenty-five years. So many things have changed, though thankfully not the landcape itself, mostly.

I turned north at Amarillo, back into my country, into the high, arid plains where interstates and their long, unbroken lines of motorized ants give way to two-lane blacktops, farm-to-market roads and obligatory steering-wheel waves to oncoming traffic. East of White Deer I stopped to check out a large playa lake that I always used to give a look to when we'd visit friends in Amarillo. On one such drive years before, I observed more pintails on and above that playa than I'd ever seen at one time in my life. Wave after glistening wave of ducks augered into the shallow water, while above them even more pintails circled and undulated in what the dumbshit stars and aficionados of avian snuff films like to call a "duck tornado" but what I (stealing from the Brits and their damn starlings) prefer to call a murmuration. 

There were no murmurations today. Just the keening wind and the roar of oilfield traffic. No ducks, no shorebirds, no water and no life, even though it was the middle of April, ostensibly the rainy season. The playa was dry, just a vast, dusty bowl of heat and nothing, which pretty much describes the whole region at the moment, and perhaps longer, probably much longer, if that vast, evil, world-wide conspiracy of climate scientists and their pesky, goddamned facts are to be believed.

I got back in my car and drove deeper into the empty plains, silently contemplating the inscrutable mysteries of climate doom, In-N-Out burgers and the death of roadside kitsch as I steering-wheel waved to friendly strangers the whole way home. It was a good trip.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Good Words, Good Weapons...

Those of you who know me, know that I've long had the dream to find some nice, mid-sized university town in a western state with lots of nearby public land for hunting, fishing, and roaming, and open up a used book and gun shop. I've even laid out my vision here

What I envision is a bookshop where you can browse the stacks for books, then walk over to the gun rack to check out the used shotguns or maybe take a look at the vintage Ambassadeurs in the reel case.
Yep, a combination used book, gun and tackle shop. The kind of place where you can walk out the door with an obscure first-printing, a box of AAs and a classic pre-owned baitcasting reel, all in the same bag. In essence a literary and sporting junk shop. I think it sounds cool, and it's the kind of quirky, off-beat place I've always been drawn to. Not too stuffy, tradition-bound or pretentious, but not too weird. Just a mellow, funky spot for freethinkers, hippies, gun nuts, literate rednecks, bookworms, fishing bums or anyone else who possesses an artistic bent and an appreciation for firepower and spinnerbaits.

Well, it looks like someone else is living my dream. or was, at one time. The date on the ad for the coin guidebook says 1969, so perhaps rather than being forward-thinking, I'm actually way behind the times. Either way, it's cool...

A picture that FB friend and blog reader Todd Shaffer posted on FB. Now this is my kind of book store...

The Moronification Marches Ever Onward...

There are a number of reasons why I have (mostly) gotten out of the hook-and-bullet writing world/industry.
Some of those reasons are pragmatic (I wasn't making enough money for the time I was sinking into it and ultimately I believed I could make more money writing in other areas), some of them socio-cultural and/or political (I was never really comfortable in that world. For the most part it is an extremely homogeneous and doctrinaire bunch of folks and even the ones who try to pass themselves off as rebellious outliers really aren't), some of them are ethical and philosophical (I was developing issues with where the industry and culture are going, plus I was always very skeptical of many of the writers working for pay in this industry who call themselves journalists or reporters. They weren't, excluding guys like Bob Marshall, Hal Herring and Ted Williams. They were, and are, industry hacks, not journalists, and to pass themselves off as anything but is patently ludicrous. And for the record I include myself in that category as well. Honestly, for five years I was an industry hack posing as a journalist. Nothing wrong with that. That's just the way the game's played if you want the free hunts and the free gear. Just don't call it journalism.).

But what I detested most of all about the entire hook-and-bullet industry, what got deep down in my craw every day I woke up and had to be a part of it, was the overwhelming stupidity of it all, the seeming joy this industry takes in reveling in tackiness and willful, even gleeful, ignorance.

And it just keeps getting worse. To wit...this 

Outdoor TV reality host on Sportsman Channel, Benny Spies, joins former U.S. vice presidential candidate, governor, best-selling author and original "Mama Grizzly" Sarah Palin as a field host for her new show, Amazing America with Sarah Palin exclusively on Sportsman Channel. Spies is a field host for the weekly, original series that will highlight some of the most uncommon, interesting - and sometimes inspiring - people, places and pastimes connected to America's outdoors lifestyle. Amazing America with Sarah Palin premieres on Thursday, April 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT.

I didn't think it was physically or intellectually possible to make something, anything, involving Sarah Palin any more stupid than it already is, because, you know, it involves Sarah Palin. But I was wrong.Tragically wrong.

The hunting and fishing industry and corresponding media wasn't always this imbecilic, base, and vapid, was it? It hasn't always been this woeful and execrable, has it? Or has it always been - when you get right down to it - a basically dumbshit industry and I'm simply remembering "how it used to be" through the nostalgia-tinted glasses of youth and selective generational amnesia? Or perhaps I'm guilty (as I so often am) of stupidly trying to apply my admittedly narrow tastes and values upon an industry built to serve the interests of a completely different demographic, one that - judging by the shite the industry keeps pumping out - really seems to like garbage like this. And what the hell's wrong with that, right?    

Nothing, I guess. Who the hell knows? I just like to ramble. All I know is it's nice to be able to say whatever the hell I feel like saying about anything hunting or fishing-related without some editor telling me I that hell no I can't say that (something that occurred on a near-daily basis when I was working in the industry...).

And today I feel like airing my thoughts on "Amazin' 'Murca" with Sarah Palin and Benny Spies as a proxy for the decline of intellectual discourse in the American outdoor sporting scene, which means I'm sure it's gonna be a huge hit...    

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Movie About Wannabe Writers? Why Not?

I've never - aside from the thousands of fairly typical, late-night, beer-and/or coffee-fueled conversations with the like-minded friends of my high school, college and near post college years - been a part of a "writer's group" or anything similarly high-minded. Not that I'm opposed to the concept, but I started writing decidedly non-creative, non-artistic, workaday yeoman's copy for money while still in college and have been doing it pretty much non-stop since. As a result, the creative, nurturing, let's-talk-about-our feelings-and-such group setting of the typical writer's group is totally foreign to me.

Which is why I want to see this movie.

I know nothing of the movie itself, but anything starring Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) or Dennis Farina can't be all bad, right? What I'd really like to see is Christopher Guest do a movie about aspiring writers, but until that happens this is what we've got.

 Anyone ever been part of a writer's group? We've got a local writer's group in my town comprised almost wholly of sweet, blue-haired Republican grandmothers writing Christian romance, heartwarming Billie Letts-esque light fiction and books about quilting. I thought I might join and see if I could get some feedback on my Chuck Palahniuk-inspired experimental fiction...