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.   

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.        

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sailing the Sagebrush Sea



Wednesday, May 20, on your local PBS station. For more info on the film go here.

 It is easy, being trapped in a never-ending and rapidly escalating case of shifting baseline syndrome, to forget about how fundamentally altered the Great Plains region is from what it once was. When you see period photos of early settlers stoically looking out over a helluva lot of nothing, and then you look out your car window and see what, at first through tenth glances, seems to be pretty much the same damn thing, it tends to skew how you view the plains.

Such is their lot, with no pretty mountains, no anthropomorphized trees named Luna, no eco-tourism, no X-games venues, and no prairie hippies chaining themselves to the buffalo grass or sagebrush. The plains, our national cathedral of space, wind, and sky, suffer the myriad indignities and abuses of our industrialized world virtually without advocacy or protest or concern. Because, after all, there's just not a helluva lot out there.

Except of course, that there is a helluva lot out there, or used to be; a world now relegated to scattered little pockets here and there, especially on the southern plains, where sage grouse and sharptails did indeed once live, not that long ago. The southern plains, for all their romance and vistas and immense space and distance between points of habitation, are a broken and tamed land, utterly subjegated. For a variety of reason both cultural and political, they are parceled, fragmented, and industrialized beyond any form of landscape-level rehabilitation, or even protection of what little remains.  

But the northern plains are a different kettle of grouse. Thanks to the inherent evils of the Socialist idea of public land, millions of acres of native sagebrush prairie still remain, at least for the time being. For now, you own it. So do yourself a favor and take the time to learn a little about it. There's a helluva lot to see, out in there in the middle of nothing.           

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Goodbye, Blue Monday...


An incredible, blue-tinged Martian sunset snapped by NASA's ever-plucky Curiosity rover. You can learn about why Martian sunsets are blue here, but what's striking to me is the fact that if you converted that shot to B&W to eliminate the blue color, you would, in essence, be looking at a picture of a sunset here on Earth.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that, as a species, our long-term future lies elsewhere, somewhere Out There. While thoroughly heathen, I do lean heavily Buddhist in some of my worldviews, especially in regard to the idea of impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, not even the security of home.

A couple weeks ago, while cleaning out one of the raised beds in our garden, I discovered a hollowed-out depression containing five blind, nearly hairless baby cottontails. Apparently their teenage mother was young and small enough to slip through the wire of the fence, and had wisely made her nest in the enclosed, predator-free zone of our garden. Smart rabbit.

 It would take a flinty heart indeed - one far harder than what mine, with age, has become - to do the practical, pragmatic thing, so for the next 14 days, I, a confirmed lifelong hunter and consumer of big-eared rodents - especially garden-raiding rodents - found myself in the unusual position of playing Rabbit Daddy. I kept the dogs from running around loose in the late evenings when the mother would slip through the fence and tend to the babies. I kept the garden gate shut. I checked on them twice a day to make sure they were all still there, and that the thick mat of dead grass and fur she had made to cover them was arranged properly. Once, when we were having storms, I went out and put an upside-down bucket over their nest to keep the rain from soaking them. Real Disney movie crap, I know...

It was, I must say, a fascinating opportunity for our family to follow their day-to-day growth and development, from wiggling, helpless little things, to eyes-wide-open, fully-formed little rabbits who, when we peeled back the mat and peered into their hole, would simply look up at us from the comfort and safety of the only world they knew. My wife took daily progress pictures, and the damn rodents became something of a Facebook hit with her friends.

And then, yesterday morning, I went out to check on them and discovered that the mat of fur and grass was gone, as was the pile of sticks and leaves the mother would carefully push over the depression to hide it. Mama had deemed, apparently, that it was time to leave one world for another. Their genetic trigger for self-preservation had also finally been tripped, as all five bolted when I leaned down to look at them. They squeezed through the wire of the fence and were gone in a flash, out of the doomed familiar and into the unknown.

Someday, in the distant future, when this world is finally used up and exhausted and ruined, I suspect we'll be doing the same, in one fashion or another.
         

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Art and Wealth

I haven't done a helluva good job of keeping this thing up lately, have I? Not for any lack of things upon which to write, rant, reflect, or pontificate. Been a lot happening, actually, but I'll be damned if I've had time to sit down and write about it, or do any other writing, or even much blog reading. I've just been too damn busy with work. Who knew pushing someone else's words around all day would be so time-consuming? Self-reflection is nice and all, but self-reflection doesn't pay the bills. At least not in any form I've been able to capitalize on yet (but I'm working on that...)

Which brings up an interesting question I've been pondering. I'm reading a book right now, a good book full of lovely writing, and wry observations about many things having to do with fishing, nature, and life. The kind of book written by someone who has no expectation of it making any actual, you know, money to live on and such.

Of course, many such books (and other forms of art) are produced all the time, all for sheer love of self-expression, with no thought to profitability at all. But in this book's case, the author comes from Old Money, and is apparently quite loaded.

So here's my question: are there fundamental, existential differences between art made by the hardscrabble and art made by the wealthy?  Is art created wholly outside the crucible of suffering, hardship, denial, or sacrifice any less worthy, or legitimate, than art created by those who, through choice or circumstance, live closer to the subsistence or working-class end of the dial? Or is art made by the wealthy merely an indulgence, a pastime? Does it lack...something?

Now I'm generally not a class warrior when it comes to that: if I like it I like it, regardless whether it was created by a trust-funder or a prole. That both can and do produce art is not in question. But I have to admit that sometimes, when the wind is just right, I can catch a whiff of indolence rising from the pages of books written by people who inhabit worlds to which most of us will never have our visas stamped.

In response, my lower-class populist hackles rise a bit, and I suddenly find myself reading through a filter, a class-based judgement system that is not at all fair to the material itself. That's silly, of course, and in the end it doesn't keep me from enjoying it, but the unavoidable markers of class, wealth and privilege inherent in such works do tend to remind me of my place in this world, which I'm sure is not at all what the author intended. Social and economic class informs our view of everything, I suppose, whether we want it to or not. Even art and literature.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

First Yak Bass...


...of the year. And a decent one at that. Not huge, but at 5.8 lbs. on my ancient-but-dead-on Rapala digital scale, not a bad way to break in the kayak this season. I would have preferred to have caught her on a fly, but when your gut (and the gusting wind) tells you to put down the rabbit strip leech and start throwing the red shad Tiki Stik, you put down the rabbit strip leech and start throwing the red shad Tiki Stik.

Truth be told, I probably should have gone turkey hunting. That was my plan. But when I got up early that morning, poured myself a cup of coffee and walked outside into the darkness, there wasn't a hint of wind, a rare thing on the prairie in springtime. So I started thinking about bass and kayaks, and how I'd experienced neither so far this year, separately or in conjunction.

I am, admittedly, a fairly casual turkey hunter, and a fairly obsessed angler, so bass and kayaks took the day. I ditched my turkey hunting plans, loaded up the yak and headed for a local lake. As it turned out, the wind was just politely waiting for me to get on the water before starting to howl. But I had a good hour to two before it blew me off the lake. The vagaries of plains weather giveth, then taketh away...

With fish pics I try as much as possible to follow the tenant of "keep 'em wet" (besides the ones I plan on eating), so I snapped a couple quick pics in the water, then off she went.


And wouldn't you know, I didn't catch a damn thing after that. So it goes...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oklahoma Chrome


No, it's not a steelhead, but out here on the arid plains, you take your piscatorial sport where and when you can find it, and when the white bass ("sandbass" in our regional slang) start running upstream to spawn, the banks of a slow, shallow, turbid prairie river is the closest this poor, water-challenged bastard is ever likely to get to chasing chrome.

But you know what? I don't mind, because the sandbass is a helluva fish in its own right, one of my favorites.They're not large ( most average one to two pounds), they're not found in postcard country, they're not revered and fetishized as totemic symbols of wildness and personal meaning, and they will never be trendy and cool and hip. They are, like the channel cat, a glamourless, working-class prole's fish, caught by people sitting in lawn chairs casting bubble-pack spincasters, then taken home and eaten. The carp, the goddamned common carp, has more cachet (at least with the flyfishing crowd) than the white bass ever will. And yes, I like carp, too. But I like white bass more. They're plentiful, pugnacious, unsophisticated, delicious, and strong fighters, especially on a fly rod. What's not to like about that? Not a damn thing. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Modest American Proposal...



When confronted by a false and deceitful political "movement" so outrageous, so dangerous, and so fundamentally un-American and antithetical to our core values that it seems like satire, sometimes the only sane response is to go full-on Swiftian.

A. Richard Hatcher of Lewistown, Montana, I salute you, and if I ever get back up to your fair country to hunt again (and the good {insert deity of choice here} willing, I shall), I will gladly seek you out, take you down to the Mint, and buy you a round or three of Pig's Ass Porter.

Hat tip goes to the most excellent Bull Moose Gazette Facebook page, which is where I first saw it posted. If you're on FB, do yourself a favor and follow him... 


BEST PUBLIC LANDS LETTER-TO-THE-EDITOR I'VE SEEN SO FAR
 

Published in the Lewistown (MT) News Argus, April 11, 2015

This is such a great idea I propose we take it even further and put Congress out of its misery by restoring the British monarchy to America. Half the country is ga-ga about royal gossip anyway.

LEWISTOWN NEWS-ARGUS
April 11, 2015


Look to European model for land ownership

Dear Editor,
 

I am extremely disappointed that more of Montana’s citizens are not enthusiastically supporting the efforts of the majority leadership in the Montana Legislature, recently joined by our junior U.S. senator, to divest the federal public lands and transfer them to the state. This transfer to the states should be but a brief prelude to their sale and privatization, so they can be put to proper use by America’s wealthy.

We should applaud the efforts of these representatives and their financial backers to return the public estate to private ownership. For over 200 years, the United States has increasingly strayed from its European roots and traditions of exclusive private land ownership by the wealthy and gentry.

The silliness of President Theodore Roosevelt’s National Forest, National Wildlife Refuges and other conservation innovations can be put aside in this great effort to revert to the European model of land ownership and resource management. 

As Montana’s population and its out-of-state ownership
grow, there simply won’t be enough high quality hunting and fishing for everyone. As these amenities become more coveted it makes sense that we cash them in for the enjoyment of the most deserving – those who can pay.


The European model of fish and wildlife ownership by the privileged and hunting and fishing for the wealthy and their friends is a good use of these commodities and maximizes their economic value.

Alas, there will always be public land. It is inevitable that some of the arid, ugly lands devoid of game and sport fish will not be sold. Here the public can cling to this ill-considered land use.
 

Ancillary benefits to privatization of the public lands include the jobs that are created in an increasingly difficult economy. The vast, private estates will require gillies and gamekeepers. Enormous numbers of employees will be required to fence and patrol these lands against trespass.
People will be needed to conduct the driven bird and game shoots. Privatization will eliminate all this fuss about public access. Seemingly, endless time is wasted on these access issues. Your newspaper alone will save barrels of ink.

We need to get behind this effort to privatize the public lands and get back to the model of European hunting and fishing.

A. Richard Hunter, Lewistown