Friday, May 21, 2010

From the "You learn something new every day" department...

While perusing some pictures of old lures on the Fishing for History blog my eyes were drawn to this one...

Not so much for the lure itself (which I have no knowledge of whatsoever), but its name and the slogan on the box, which reads "The Chippewa Bait, Chief of River and Lake."

And the reason it caught my eye is because that is, in essence, the very name of one of the greatest field trial chesapeakes in history, FC-AFC-CFC-CFAC Chesdel Chippewa Chief *** (or so I've read, he was born the same year I was so we never actually met.)

Either he was a pretty virile dude or it's an indictment of how small the chessie gene pool is, but Chesdel Chippewa Chief can be found in the pedigrees of a great many modern chessies, including the three that I've owned.

(That's him above getting some pretty serious air. The picture was shamelessly stolen off the Chesapeakes Unlimited website, but I'm hoping Bill doesn't mind.)

So was one of the breed's greatest stars named after an obscure vintage fishing lure? You be the judge. And incidentally, if that lure strikes your fancy you better get out your pocketbook. The bidding is already up to $415. For that kind of money I think I'd rather have another chessie...

Further Explorations in Online Publishing...

Just noticed via the excellent  Fishing For History blog that a new online flyfishing literary journal is in the works.

Rise Forms  "publishes high-quality, literary work that conveys the passion and contemplative nature of fly fishing. Emphasis should not only be on what is said, but on how it is said, seeking to capture both the voice of the modern fly fisher, while also reflecting on the rich traditions of past angling authors"

Sounds good to me. I do wish it wasn't fly fishing only, as I believe the contemplative nature of angling isn't and never has been the exclusive purview of angling with the fly. I've had some pretty deep thoughts while flinging a hunk of chicken liver and drinking a beer...On the other hand, in today's post-literate world I welcome any publication of thoughtful sporting discourse, regardless of method.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grandmothers, bless their hearts...

"Chad, your mother told me about your blob and printed off some of the stories for me to read. I just wanted you to know I really enjoyed reading your blob."

Thanks, granny (yes, I'm 39 and still call my grandmother "granny"...), this blob's for you...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools...

A man walks into a liquor store, intent on purchasing a bottle of spirits to celebrate his 39th year on this mortal coil. For a moment he stares longingly at the 18-year Laphroaig, then with a sigh he turns, grabs a bottle of Famous Grouse and heads slowly for the cash register. Thus is described the arc of his life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Gun

It caught my eye, sitting there in the rack with the rest of the worn-out utility-grade junk that populates every pawn shop gun rack, each of them once a gleam in some long-gone owner’s eye but now just cast-aside testaments to desperation and loss. 

I asked to see it, but I knew it wasn’t going to be the one I was looking for. It never was. Probably never will be. But I keep looking. He handed it to me.  It wasn’t, of course, and the bored clerk put the old single-shot .410 back on the rack. For years I have done this, hoping to find something that, briefly, was the brightest gleam in a long-ago nine-year-old’s eye.

I'd like to say that it was a fine gun, but it wasn't. I'd like to say that by the time it reached me it had accumulated a long history of bird hunting memories, but it hadn't. There had never been a classic sporting bird-hunting tradition in my family. Just the dirt-poor migrant worker's tradition of potting whatever small-game they could in order to eat, and the gun reflected the harsh reality of that tradition beautifully.

It was a starkly plain break-barrel single-shot exposed-hammer .410 made by the Bridge Gun Company. No graceful lines, just purely functional American Gothic in firearms form. There wasn't even a real Bridge Gun Company. It was just one of the many cheaply-made "hardware store" brands produced and sold by Crescent Arms in the late 19th and on through the early years of the 20th centuries, and true-to-form this gun's countenance spoke not of gentrified easy living, but hardscrabble desperation; of spending precious pennies on a few loose shells so maybe -  if you were lucky -  you could eat rabbit one night instead of cornpone and beans.

My great-grandmother purchased the gun, almost certainly second-hand, in California's Imperial Valley sometime in the 1930s, soon after making the trek from Oklahoma, along with all those other okies, exodusters, tin-can tourists and Hooverville residents fleeing drought and depression. My people.

Years later, my great-grandmother told my father she bought the gun because on the way to California - on that endless, hot, dusty, heartbreak-littered 66 highway - she kept seeing jackrabbits off in the distance, just out of rock-chucking range, dancing away in the heat waves as the hunger knots in her stomach tightened. And she swore, standing lean and gaunt and bitter on the side of that road, that if they ever made it California she wasn't going hungry again.

She was a woman true to her word, and for the next 40 years or so that old .410 supplied various members of my clan with meat. I do not recall how or when it made its way to Oklahoma, but sometime in the late 1960s it was given to my father. And in 1980, my father pulled it out of the closet for me.

I remember thinking it was about the coolest damn thing I'd ever seen. Plain stock (probably birch, if I recall) with no checkering and the finish and blueing were long-gone, replaced by the patina of time and hard use. But it locked up tight and when you pulled the hammer back it clicked into position with a sound of finality.  I'd never shot a real gun before and I'd never been hunting with anything other than a BB gun. Then, as now, there's wasn't much leisure time for the lower working class, so when I roamed the woods it was usually alone while my dad was off under the hood of a truck or later, in the oilfield.

But I had a gun now, and with it the whispering promise of future days afield and who knows, maybe even a dog when I got a little older. I was voraciously consuming the big three hunting mags by this age and I dreamed more than anything of quail hunting behind dogs, a tradition of which my family was completely bereft.

But forces beyond my nine-year-old comprehension were at work, and as it turns out, I went hunting with that .410 exactly once, on a clear, cold December Saturday with my father as we stomped around the scrub oak along the back fence of our place, hoping to kick up the covey I knew hung out back there. I remember the rise, the whirring egg-beater sound of their wings. I remember lifting the gun to my shoulder, poking the barrel in the general vicinity of the covey and yanking back on the trigger, and then wondering why nothing was happening, why it wasn't shooting even as I heard my father's gun go off. I had, of course, forgotten to pull the hammer back. I wanted to cry, but didn't. There would be other times, other opportunities.

But, of course, there wouldn't be. As it turns out, it was the last time I would ever shoulder that gun. It would be my only contribution to its story. A few months later, my parents divorced and my father packed his things, fled to New Mexico. The gun went with him. It would, he said, be waiting for me when I was old enough to keep it on my own.

 He stored the gun at my grandparent's house in Albuquerque. Not long after, one of my cousins snuck into their house and stole it, pawned it for drug money. It was never recovered.

I have my own guns now, and with each year they're slowly etching their own stories so that hopefully when I give them to my sons I will be giving something of myself as well, but I often think about that gun, that first and only hunt with my father, the quail I missed. I think about all the people in my family who must have used that gun before me. And I think about a hungry woman on the side of a two-lane highway, staring at jackrabbits dancing in the heat.

I hope that someone like me wandered into whatever dirty little pawn shop my gun ended up in and saw it sitting in the rack. And I hope they recognized that it had a story, even if they couldn't possibly know what that story was.

I know I'll never find it. But I keep looking.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A series of lovely paintings...

"I felt strange and somewhat rude as I walked in behind the point and honor - I was a man walking into what was so much like a famous painting that I almost had to laugh. But, if you're lucky, that's what a lot of quail hunting is - a series of lovely paintings that we walk into and out of all day long."

                                                                           Gene Hill, from My Respects to Mr. Bob...

...Which is the second story in the book you see above, a mint, limited-edition, slipcased copy of Lamar Underwood's "The Bobwhite Quail Book." This particular edition was published in 1981 by the Amwell Press to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Grand National Quail Hunt in Enid, Oklahoma.

I found it while perusing a thrift store recently. I paid a dollar for it. Sometimes even I get lucky.

This particular copy is number 61 of 500 and signed by Underwood and several other grand poobahs of the Grand National, one of those celebrity-driven, self-aggrandizing events that, quite frankly, I've never much cared for (probably because I have never been neither well-heeled nor important enough to ever be a part of it...)

But the book itself is wonderful. Lamar Underwood was the longtime editor of Sports Afield and a die-hard bird hunter. And "The Bobwhite Quail Book", first published in 1980, is one of the best collections of quail hunting sporting literature ever put together. I think it's still in print today, but early editions are pretty damn rare.

And it's also something of an artifact in that it represents something that is -  for the most part -  long gone. You couldn't publish a new book like this today because A: no one would buy it because it has words, thoughful words, and everyone knows thoughtful words are so, like, 20th century, and B: it's a collection of bird-hunting stories drawn mainly from the pages of Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, back when such stories made up a good chunk of their feature wells. Have you noticed how many bird-hunting and gundog stories (and I mean real stories, not tweet-length blurbs with nonsensical stupid-ass graphics to go along with them) are being published in those magazines these days? That would be a mighty slim book...

So those of us enchanted with such things must seek our literary solace in the past and in what stories we can find among our online kindred. But reading through the book last night, that passage from Gene Hill's story struck me as a perfect description of what it is we seek in this obsession with gundogs: those moments of utter perfection and ethereal beauty that flash-burn themselves into our consciousness and leave softly ghosting images that stay with us long after the moment - and the dogs themselves - are gone.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Honestly, what is Twitter good for?

It's not a rhetorical question. I'm really trying to figure it out, because apparently I'm one of the few holdouts who has yet to embrace the notion of interacting with the world in 140-character messages. I'm trying to understand it, I really am. I've even tried reading a few on the Twitter website, and thus far any form of understanding of or appreciation for the format has escaped me.

Am I missing something? I realize I'm something of a misanthrope, but damn, I'm not a coot and I keep hearing about how social media is so good for networking and how it's an invaluable business tool.

So I tried Facebook, and all I ended up with was family and a bunch of people I assume I went to high school with. I say assume because I don't know who the hell most of them are, and now every time I log on I'm treated to a daily stream of the banal musings of total strangers. If I wanted that, I'd read blogs (cue punchline drumbeat...)

 I tried "friending" a few industry people, only ones I sort of knew, but it just feels so craven to have to ask to be someone's "friend." And then what does that mean? How does it help you? Who knows?

So then we come to Twitter. Like Facebook, everyone's doing it. But why? I'm considering giving it a try, but I have to admit that going in it seems like just another needless and ultimately pointless techno-distraction. And I've got enough of those already.

So if any reader(s) use Twitter, please, give me your thoughts...why should I (or why I shouldn't) tweet?