Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Guilty Admission...

 I haven't updated the blog in the past month or so, not because I've been busy with life, or working on some forthcoming opus, or even because I've been too lazy to write anything. Nope, I haven't been updating the blog because, well, I've been messing around with Facebook. Yep, Facebook. Social media for old folks, my kid calls it. It's fairly embarrassing to admit, considering that I've long disdained the social media world, but several months ago, on a whim, I decided that I would deliberately start posting on Facebook, to see how I felt about the medium, to see how self-expression on Facebook compares to the relatively lonely process of self-expressing on a blog. Would I like it? Would I hate it? Would it give me an impetus to explore other forms of social media as writing platforms, or would I run screaming back to the relative peace and quiet of my own little world here?

I approached it as an experiment, sort of a baby step evolution (for me, anyway) into the world of social media, which, for better or worse, is what so many writers seem to be embracing these days.
So I held my nose, swallowed my pride, and started posting, and even sending friend requests to other people (something I'd never, ever done since my wife first convinced me to get a FB account years ago). 

The result? A resounding "meh"...

It's OK, I guess. It's a useful news feed, and a good way to meet fellow writers and other interesting, like-minded folk, and I've read some good posts and had some good and stimulating conversations. I see its worth to a writer, to be visible on Facebook and other social media, but it's certainly not going to replace the solitary joy of sitting down and writing something strictly for yourself, with no expectations of likes or shares or comments. And that's what I've found posting on FB; that I tend to write things not so much for myself, but for attention, with an eye toward others' reaction and comment, rather than writing something simply because I want to. It is, I must admit, something of an exercise in narcissism and self-absorption, thinly disguised as witty self-expression.  

So will I stick with it? Eh, probably. It's still kind of fun, even with the knowledge that it is - at its core - mostly superficial, all flailing arms and indignant shouting (Look at me, damn it! See how smart and funny I am!), and I may even start exploring some of that mysterious "other" (Twitter, maybe?) but I also won't be shutting down the blog any time soon. I like the way the crickets chirp in the quiet, and the way you can hear the echoes of your own words. Facebook's not a place for that.

And if you happen to be on Facebook, feel free to friend me. Why not? I don't actually know three-quarters of the people I'm friends with, anyway, so what the hell? Just send a message letting me know you're from the blog, so I don't mistake you for one of those random scam-vibe friend requests I seem to get a lot of. Who knew there were so many beautiful, sexy, scantily-clad young women interested in becoming my friend?    

Friday, September 4, 2015

Breaking the Silence

No, not the silence on this blog, but a different kind of silence. The silence you hear as you're sitting alone in the middle of the prairie on an early fall afternoon, measuring your insignificance against the passage of time and the whisper of the grass around you. That silence you don't want to break because it's telling you something. You're not sure what, you can't exactly put your finger on it, but whatever it is, it's important, fundamental, crucial. So you go on listening, even as a few dove start to fly overhead. That's what you're out here for, after all, but here you sit with a forgotten shotgun in your hand, lost in a language you can't speak but vaguely understand, and what it's saying is beautiful and ancient and right. So you let the dove land unscathed at the water's edge. You watch, you listen, and you find something of yourself in the silence.

The day before, you hunted this same windmill with your son (which, incidentally, is when this photo was taken). You didn't shoot near a limit then, and you're probably not going to shoot a limit now (especially if you keep contemplating your naval) so why, you ask yourself, end this beautiful silence and the story it's etching within you, so soon, and for so little in return? There's plenty of time before sunset.

A few more dove come in, scratch around the croton and ragweed, then pigeon-toe down to the water's edge, where they join a lone spotted sandpiper tail-bobbing its way around the cracked mud. You sit there for longer than you should, listening to the grass, to your thoughts, to the distant shots of other, more pragmatic and eager hunters.
It's a helluva thing, hunting the mid-life crisis, especially since you were once such an enthusiastic and dedicated killer. Some try to keep that passion going by pursuing bigger, fiercer, more exotic things by which to take the measure of themselves, but you're happy with the wind and the silence, and accepting of your slowly waning need to kill toward some arbitrary goal.

But you also love to eat dove, and the silence (as well as the shots of other hunters) is now telling you that you'd better get your ass to shooting some birds if you want something for the grill. So you pick up the shotgun and break the silence. You always break the silence, eventually. You must, because it's what you are. You may no longer kill toward arbitrary goals, but a good meal is a pretty damn clearly defined one.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer Hibernation

                                          Brown Trout, Rocky Mountain National Park

I've been on a bit of a summer hiatus the past two months, waiting out the heat that descends on the southern plains this time of year, the kind of heat that kills the desire to do anything outside and makes me think of permanent relocation to a place of cool waters and gorgeous fish. I haven't even been on the computer much, besides the normal work-related stuff. Haven't written anything, haven't read or commented on any of my regular blogs, haven't, in fact, done much of anything productive. Late-summer triple-digit temps just completely shut down my want-to gene. Want to write? Nope. Want to fish? Nope. Want to run the dogs? Nope. Want to cut firewood, mow the yard, work in the garden? Nope, nope, and nope. I loathe being indoors, but late summer in Oklahoma gives me the unwanted opportunity to feel like a fat, air-conditioned sausage.

But August is slowly creaking past the tipping point, and fall is coming. I can feel it, even in the heat. Can't get here soon enough. I'm ready for birds and ducks and dogs and shotguns. I'm ready for dead leaves rustling in the moonlight. I'm ready for that primeval stirring of restlessness and contemplation. I'm ready to once again stay up late in October reading Bradbury and sipping Scotch while the cold wind blows against the window. I'm ready for the twilight whispering and dark magic of old and forgotten gods who still have a faint,vestigial tug welling up from the lost DNA of deep past. Autumn is an ancient tide that carries us back to a place and time and memory we long ago abandoned. August is the beach on which we sit while waiting for it to carry us out to sea once again.

So here I sit, waiting, twiddling my thumbs, getting a sunburn and bitching about the heat. Hurry up, damn it.     

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Time Travel Tuesday

               Rockin' the short shorts and mullet, and almost certainly delinquent, somewhere in 1986

Because Throwback Thursday is just too routine...

An excerpt from a tongue-in-cheek, semi-autobiographical project I sometimes work on when the fancy strikes me. A little first-person memoir, a little travelogue, a little non-fiction socio-cultural observational reportage about a piscatorial subject near to my heart. Who knows, maybe someday I'll hammer it into a book proposal.

On the morning of April 21, 1986, a phone call was placed to the junior high school attendance office in Cretinous*, Oklahoma, a sleepy, forgettable little hamlet in which junked cars slowly rusting on cinder blocks were a much-admired measure of wealth; the kind of place where drinking beer from your front porch sofa while picking ticks off the dog and commenting on the olfactory and aural qualities of each others farts was the preferred means of entertainment on those evenings when professional wrestling wasn’t on the television.

But in addition to doing its part to produce America’s future Honey Boo Boo demographic, Cretinous, Oklahoma was also surrounded by innumerable ponds and small lakes teeming with a gluttonous, ill-tempered brute of a fish that, much like the anglers who pursued it, would eat absolutely anything it could fit into its maw. Said fish was the reason for the phone call to Cretinous Junior High that long-ago morning.

“Yes, hello, this is Chad Love’s father. I was just calling to let you know that Chad won’t be in school today. We’re attending his aunt’s funeral. Poor woman, she died in a tragic sheep-dipping accident. Chad’s quite distraught over it, she was his favorite aunt.”

A pause. Something being said on the other end of the line. “No, no, his grandmother was last week, God rest her soul, she never should have been allowed on the tractor. This week is his aunt. Yes, it has been a rough couple of weeks for all of us.  Yes, yes, thank you for the kind words, and Chad should be back to school tomorrow. Goodbye.”

My "father", who was two years my senior, and who had a preternaturally deep voice for a seventeen-year-old, hung up, turned to me and said, “OK, they bought it. Grab the rods and let’s get the hell outta here.”

Thus was the American educational system denied yet another day – in a long, long list of days - in the life of a lost and obsessed soul. I didn’t know it at the time, but that same basic pattern of subterfuge and avoidance of responsibility would be repeated endlessly throughout an adolescence and young adulthood spent almost entirely in the pursuit of scrounging gas money for whatever smoking wreck one of us happened to be driving at the time. We needed just enough to get us to the nearest body of water, and possibly back.

And while my lack of ambition, foresight, or concern for my future would, later in life, doom me to an existence of poverty and unrealized potential, I, of course, had no way of knowing that at the time, because I was young, stupid, and having too much fun. There were certainly worse ways to grow up.

*not its real name, but probably should be...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Yearly Rejection, 2015 Edition

                                                 I am not here. Nor will I be this fall...

Thank you for applying for the Controlled Hunts. Unfortunately, you have not been selected for a permit this year. If you feel you have reached this message in error, please return to the 'Search Page' and reenter your information.

NOTE: Information used on the 'Search Page' must match the data on the Controlled Hunts Application.

See you next year!

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation 

Well, shit. No Wichita Mountains wapiti for me this year. I was really hoping for some cheap elk meat. Or even expensive elk meat. Any elk meat, really. If I were a twit, I guess this is where I'd tack on some appropriate hashtag, like #oneunluckysumbitch, or maybe  #screwthisimmovingtomontana.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


I'm not much into Facebook/Instagram/Twitter memes, but I kinda liked this one. Happy 4th of July, fellow 'Mericans...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Carptastic Glass

Still digging the Cabela's CGR, and still digging glass in general, perhaps because the first fly rod I ever picked up and caught (totally accidentally) a fish on, was the very glass-like original Fenwick HMG graphite six-weight that is still my all-time favorite rod.

I know it's crass, poser flyfishing hipsterism to proclaim love for both fiberglass and carp in the same paragraph, but besides the obvious fact that I'm a large, fleshy, unrepentant Oklahoma Bubba (which automatically disqualifies me from hipster flyfishing membership, anyway) I'm also just about the most bumbling, clueless, incompetent, untrendy, uncool wannabe fly angler you'll ever meet (I don't own a single piece of Simms gear or Howler Brothers clothing, seriously).

Oh, I try. I really do. I read the Drake, but I don't understand half the shit those bearded hippie weirdos are talking about, not really. And whenever I find myself in trendy, photogenic mountain towns on summer vacation, I seek out fly shops in which to skulk (I prefer the term "hang out"), hoping to pick up on the mannerisms, the patois, and the style of the modish, surfer-like flyfishing bros who all look just like the lead singer of some hairy indie folk group. I try to watch a few of the approximately 1.5 million earnest, slo-mo-infused flyfishing lifestyle films on Vimeo, but frankly, many of them bore the shit out of me because they're so derivative. And because I'm jealous.

So I'm really not trying to be "that way." Nope, I do have good, honest redneck excuses for both the glass and the carp love. I like the glass not because I'm trying to be pretentious, but because  I - a totally self-"taught" flycaster - suck so badly at casting that the forgiving nature of the glass tends to mask my casting atrocities. And it's cheap. At least the CGR is. I got mine for about $75 on sale. The 7/8 weight CGR  is on sale right now for $65, and I'm having a really hard time not buying one.

As for the carp, I live on the southern plains. I don't fish for carp because it's fashionable to fish for carp. I fish for carp because they're just about the only damn fish available to me, especially on our local rivers and ponds in the dead of summer. And because carp are awesome, of course. I'd still fish for them even if I didn't have to. Carp are, to me, a lot like Sriracha sauce: Yes, they both may be insufferably trendy, but just because they're trendy doesn't mean they're not still great. 

* All pejorative references to the Drake are purely tongue-in-cheek. It's a pretty cool rag, and one of the few mags to which I still subscribe, even though I'm way too damn old to get much of it.  

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Short Conversation

The scene: an inner-city pawn shop, this past weekend. I am perusing the gun rack offerings, which go something like this: garbage, garbage, garbage, garbage, Winchester Model 21, garbage, garbage, wait, whaaaa? I put my eyes into reverse. Is it? Holy shit, it is. Seeing something like that in a dump like this is kind of like walking into a strip joint and seeing Meryl Streep in a thong and pasties, grinding out a lap dance. It's undignified, and it just 'aint right. 

Me: "Uh, can I see that Winchester 21 right there?"

The Clerk: "The whut?"

Me: "The Model 21, right there, next to the Mossberg with the camo plastic stock."

The Clerk: "You mean the double-barrel?"

Me: "Yeah, the double-barrel."

The clerk hands me the "double barrel", which is indeed a Winchester Model 21, standard grade, 12-gauge, 28-inch barrels, single trigger, beavertail forend, bright, shiny original-looking blueing, with just a bit of blue worn off the bottom of the action from being carried. It is tight, rust-free, with a serial number in the 29,000 range, which I believe makes it a late 50s vintage. It doesn't have the original pad, but other than that it's about as nice a 21 as you'll find anywhere, much less a place that advertises it cashes plasma checks. The price is high (by pawn shop standards), but well below what you'd expect of a Model 21. Well. Freaking. Below.

I begin to sweat, and scheme. Wildly, desperately, recklessly.

Me: "You mind if I take off the forend?"

The Clerk: "What's a forend?"

Me: "The wood thingy at the front."

The Clerk: "You can do that?"

I break the gun down. It's choked full/mod, and the internals look just as pristine and nice as the externals. By this time I'm sweating so badly I look like Albert Brooks in that scene from Broadcast News, because I know that I am very close to doing something very stupid and very irresponsible. Something that will undoubtedly cause much financial stress and marital turmoil. Something that's going to get me in a lot of trouble. Doesn't matter. I can feel the dark cloud of foolishness enveloping me.

The Clerk: "We got layaway, you know. Hey man, you want a towel?"

From where it comes I do not know, but at that moment a single sunbeam of reason manages to break through the cloud and flash - like a lighthouse warning a ship away from the shoals -  a simple message that keeps repeating in my head: "If you do this, you are in deep shit. If you do this, you are in deep shit. If you do this, you are in deep shit."

Without a word, I put the barrels back on, snap the forend into place, hand the gun back to the clerk, mumble a thank you, and literally flee the store. A triumph of reason, or divine intervention, I cannot say. All I know is that I'm still alive, still married, and still (barely) financially solvent. And still really want that gun.

Is desire the root of all suffering? Yes, yes it is.      

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Moonlight Peregrinations

                                       Moonglow, storm, and windmill, Oklahoma panhandle

 I have always been a walker. When I was a child I would take long, rambling exploratory walks across the empty fields, open spaces, and forgotten little corners of patchwork wildness that has always defined that beautiful, enchanting and inevitably doomed transition zone between the developed and the soon-to-be. Even back then I found some vague, undefinable rightness in exploring lonely places, a palpable sense of detachment and distance from the rest of the world. I was a troubled kid, and rambling across the countryside offered me a form of solace that I didn't experience anywhere else, or by doing anything else.

Being where other people weren't was just my thing, my comfort zone, whether I was fishing, hunting, catching critters, or just seeing what was beyond. And many of those walks were taken at night. For whatever reason, I never developed an irrational fear of the dark, and in fact roaming the fields at night, under the stars and the faint bands of the Milky Way only heightened that comforting sense that I was here and everyone and everything else in the world was elsewhere, and that was as it should be, if only for the moment.

And I suppose that being where other people aren't is still very much my thing. I still take long, rambling walks whenever I get the chance, I still seek out lonely, forgotten places from which to ponder Life and Other Stuff, and I still regard humanity - despite all its seething, chaotic, amazing diversity and its endless wonder - as something to be taken in small, measured doses, lest it drive you batshit.

Apparently, however, long walks in the dark aren't solely my thing. While reading Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk, I was struck by this passage about how walking the countryside became popular in Great Britain between the wars.

Despite the eccentricity of a hawk on his fist, what White was doing was very much of his time. Long walks in the English countryside, often at night, were astonishingly popular in the 1930s. Rambling clubs published calendars of full moons, train companies laid on mystery destinations to rural destinations, and when in 1932 the Southern Railway offered an excursion to a moonlit walk along the South Downs, expecting to sell forty or so tickets, one and a half thousand people showed up. 

The people setting out on these walks weren't seeking to conquer peaks or test themselves against maps and miles. They were looking for a mystical communion with the land; they walked backwards in time to an imagined past suffused with magical, native glamour: to Merrie England, or to pre-historic England, pre-industrial visions that offered solace and safety to sorely troubled minds. 

For though railways and roads and a burgeoning market in countryside books had contributed to this movement, at heart it had grown out of the trauma of the Great War, and was flourishing in fear of the next. The critic Jed Esty has described this pastoral craze as one element in a wider movement of national cultural salvage in these years; it was a response to economic disaster, a contracting Empire and totalitarian threats from abroad. It was a movement that celebrated ancient sites and folk traditions. It delighted in Shakespeare and Chaucer, in Druids, in Arthurian legend. It believed that something essential about the nation had been lost, and could be returned, if only in the imagination.

 For some reason that strikes me as a particularly lovely but haunting image; an entire generation, restless and pensive, many of them soon to be dead, walking and searching for something felt but unknown out there in the misty English moonlight. And I cannot help but think that we could learn something from it; to unplug, get off our asses, and go take a long, lonely walk in the moonlight.

I suppose it's a natural reaction to the chaos and uncertainty of especially troubling times; to find comfort in the pastoral, the reflection of solitude, and to yearn for the simplicity of an earlier time. To reject - or at least try to reject - the dehumanizing social, political, and cultural institutions that suck us all in, divest us from the best parts of ourselves, and then blow out what remains like so much wheat chaff.

Of course, the inherent danger of the allure of the simple is that in reality, things aren't, and never were. The truth of all human history is that everything has always sucked, more or less,and simpler times were often the most awful times, especially for simple people. But that fact hasn't stopped demagogues throughout history (and today) from taking these collective yearnings for a simpler, better, and more wholesome past, and twisting them into all kinds of awfulness and shit-assery.

Still, on a personal or micro level, I can certainly identify with the sentiment. There are some obvious parallels - at least in spirit if not practice - between Britain's walking craze and the American back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, and perhaps to a much lesser extent the current (but perhaps fading) hipster locavore/tiny house movement. When things are seemingly going to hell all around you, you try like hell to latch on to the real, or at least what you perceive to be the real. In the 1930s they walked in the moonlight and conjured Druids, in the 1970s they homesteaded, and now they're planting community gardens, raising backyard chickens, and living in 200 square feet.

I'd say those are worthy and admirable responses to the mental illness of modern life, all of them.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Environmental Journalists In The Sooner State

                                    Abandoned Frey Bros. General Store, Amorita, Oklahoma
"Oklahoma is tallgrass prairie and everlasting mountains. It is secret patches of ancient earth tromped smooth and hard by generations of dancing feet. It is the cycle of song and heroic deed. It is calloused hands. It is the aroma of rich crude oil fused with the scent of sweat and sacred smoke. It is the progeny of an oilfield whore wed to a deacon; the sire of a cowpony bred with a racehorse. It is a stampede, a pie supper, a revival. It is a wildcat gusher coming in. It is a million-dollar deal sealed with a handshake.
Oklahoma is dark rivers snaking through red, furrowed soil; lakes rimmed with stone bluffs. It is the ghosts of proud Native Americans, crusading Socialists, ambitious cattle kings, extravagant oil tycoons, wily bandits. It is impetuous and it is wise. A land of opportunists, resilient pioneers, and vanquished souls, the state is a crazy quilt of contradictions and controversies, travails and triumphs. It has been exploited and abused, cherished and fought over. It is a puzzling place."

                                              Michael Wallis, Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation

Michael Wallis is a helluva writer, but he forgot tornadoes, sandburs, and peckerwoods. We're made of those things, too. Tornadoes grow down from the sky, and they are ephemeral. Sandburs grow up from the ground, and they are annuals. And peckerwoods? They grow out from the state capitol, profusely, and those hardy bastards are perennials...

Oklahoma is a damn vexing place, always has been. I don't know of another state with a history as rich and weird and violent and vibrant and sad and tragic and interesting, but less known, less explored, less understood, and as poorly or falsely chronicled in history and literature as Oklahoma. Hell, most of us who were born and raised here don't even know our own history; environmental, cultural, or social.

So it was with great interest that I noticed, as I was recently poking around on the website of the Society of Environmental Journalists,  that the 2015 SEJ conference will be held in Norman, Oklahoma, my hometown.

It will be interesting indeed to see how the out-of-state environmental press corps views its Oklahoma brethren, a lot whose tenacity, aggressiveness, and independence in honestly covering state and regional environmental issues brings to mind (with a few exceptions) the image of a sweet, toothless Pomeranian sitting quietly in the lap of industry and power, fetching whatever slippers it's told to fetch.

Back when I was writing more than I am now, I didn't consider myself an environmental writer, even though much of what I wrote had a regional environmental slant to it. Of course, I never considered myself a hook-and-bullet writer, either, although much of what I've written the past six years or so has been exactly that. Like most freelancers, I was - and remain - just a writer, taking gigs where and when I can. As such, I never joined any of the professional organizations like SEJ or OWAA.

Still, I've always admired those groups, and I'm excited that the diversity and complexity of my home state will be the focus of the conference attendees' attention. The agenda and session lineup looks pretty solid, and if I were still writing as much as I should, I'd join SEJ and attend the conference, if for nothing else than to get a fresh perspective on a state and region I sometimes think - as I look longingly toward the distant other - that I've grown a bit too familiar and bored with. It'd be nice, and novel, to spend time with people from elsewhere, who will come here and view this place through fresh, curious eyes.