Thursday, July 26, 2012

Signs Of The Times...

Tough times for the written word these days, at least the printed written word. First comes news that the cherished elementary school institution Weekly Reader is no more...

 From the New York Times... 

The current-events magazine Weekly Reader, a classroom fixture since 1928, will not be returning from summer vacation, its new owner, Scholastic, confirmed this week.
Instead, Scholastic will fold the publication into its own weekly magazine, Scholastic News; the first issues will be co-branded with both names, Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic, wrote in an e-mail...
...Weekly Reader for generations has been summarizing current events, tailored to the specific grade level of its student readers. Depending on how you view it, the effort could be seen as talking down to students, or as holding their hands as they are introduced to the complexities of the adult world they soon will be joining.
“It was Andy Griffith-ish — a safe thing, no advertising, no selling, just about teaching kids to read, teaching kids about the world,” said Mia Toschi, who was senior managing editor at Weekly Reader from 2003 to 2008. “A lot of teachers used it on Friday afternoon; just a wonderful end of the week.”
The magazine is perhaps best known for its presidential poll of students, which proved uncannily accurate — since it began with Dwight Eisenhower vs. Adlai Stevenson in 1956, it was wrong only once, in 1992, when it predicted that President George H.W. Bush would defeat Bill Clinton (the poll did not include Ross Perot). The 14th poll predicted a victory by Barack Obama.

I, like pretty much everyone else, grew up with Weekly Reader. My youngest son, apparently, will not. Interestingly enough, a few months ago, as I was rooting around in the depths of our piano, trying to find the source of an irritating vibration, I happened to discover two old Weekly Readers from the late 50s that had apparently slipped down there at some point in the distant past when my mother was taking childhood piano lessons.

Then, I saw today where another venerable literary institution - this one for grown-ups - is also going four legs to the sky.

From this story on

Milwaukee-based Kalmbach Publishing is looking for someone to buy The Writer magazine, which goes on hiatus after the October 2012 issue rolls off Kalmbach’s presses.
“Our hope is that The Writer will re-emerge under the careful stewardship of a new owner,” says a letter to contributors. 
The Writer was founded 125 years ago and, notes Media Industry Newsletter, has “hosted some of the most illustrious talents and bestselling authors in American letters: Somerset Maugham, Ray Bradbury, Sinclair Lewis, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, among them.”

I used to read The Writer religiously back when I was younger and, well, wanted to be a writer. Now that I am one, I blame The Writer for my more-or-less permanent state of poverty, angst, and career uncertainty. Still, I'm sad to see it go.

And finally, a prediction that yet another venerable (which these days is apparently code for "doomed") publication may cease print publication and go all digital...

From this story on

IAC/InterActiveCorp., which controls Newsweek, plans to announce a digital plan for the magazine this fall, though it’s unclear how that will affect the print publication.
Bloomberg reporter Edmund Lee, who listened to IAC/InterActiveCorp’s earning call, tweeted, “Barry Diller says there will be a plan in place later this year to take Newsweek digital only.” He tweeted later that he had confirmed this with a public relations representative.
All Things D’s Peter Kafka has a different take, saying his understanding is that Diller is “thinking about going Web-only with Newsweek, but hasn’t committed to it.” Kafka says he confirmed that understanding with a public relations rep.

Geez, Newsweek, too? I can't even begin to recall how many current-events assignments I plagiarized wrote back in junior high and high school from the pages of Newsweek. I guess today's kids can just cut-and-paste from their smartphones?

What's next? Going to the doctor's office and not finding a copy of Highlights For Children? Then I'll know the end is truly nigh...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cutthroat Slam Quest #2: Green With Envy

I have no idea why I want to catch all 14 subspecies of our native cutthroat trout. It's not like I'm a great flyfisherman. I'm not. I don't live in the heart of cutthroat country, I live in Oklahoma, where a cutthroat is what happens when you come between a redneck and his beer.

Hell, I don't even know my trout very well. Three years ago I (and I'm not making this up) probably couldn't have told you the difference between a cutthroat - any cutthroat -  and a brown. I knew what a rainbow looked like, and that was about it.  Again, please refer to my geographical location and distinctly warmwater redneck upbringing if you find that hard to believe.

But about three years ago, I started reading about our native cutthroat trout species, the tragic arc of their story, which is so goddamned familiar to anyone concerned with our fast-disappearing native species, and what can I say? The doomed little bastards drew me in. The cutthroat is, in so many ways, the lesser prairie chicken with gills, and with only slightly better long-term prospects.

So two years ago I decided that in order to raise public awareness of the cutthroat's plight I would buy myself a three-weight rod I couldn't cast for shit, a bunch of flies I couldn't identify, and boldly announce to the world that I was setting out on a quest to catch every subspecies of cutthroat trout in North America.

OK, so maybe it didn't go down quite like that. In truth, one day a couple years back, in response to a Field & Stream blog I had written, I got - out of the blue -  an invite to go fishing for Rio Grande cutthroats from a then-unknown-to-me Greg McReynolds, who worked (and still does) for Trout Unlimited.

So we met up in southern Colorado, spent a few days exploring and fishing, and Greg put me on my first-ever cutthroat. It was, I have to say, something of a Harry Middleton moment for me, holding that fish and everything it represents, in my hands.

That's when I decided that, as far as bucket lists go, that you could do a helluva lot worse than trying to catch all the various cutthroat subspecies before you die. At the very least it beats the living shit out of golf, baseball or any of those other stupid "Fifty Ego-Driven, Self-Indulgent Things For the One Percent To Wank Off To Before Passing Their Offshore Tax Shelters On To Their Children" books that are so depressingly prevalent these days.

So I decided that I would. Try, anyway. I have no specific timeline to this quest. I am, quite frankly, too poor to. I have neither the time nor the money to actively pursue each individual subspecies. Rather, I just have to sort of catch them as catch can, so to speak, which means I may very well kick off before actually holding this particular Grail in my hands. But that's OK. It's the journey, not the destination, right?

Which brings me to the fish in the picture. As luck would have it, my wife's family has a long-standing tradition of spending a week in Estes Park every summer. As luck would have it, I'm now a member of the family, which means that, for better or for worse, I spend a week in Estes Park each summer. As luck would have it, one of the rarest of the cutthroat subspecies, the greenback cutthroat, resides within the high-altitude confines of Rocky Mountain National Park, which, as luck would have it, sits right smack next to Estes Park.

But as my luck would have it, I have whiffed in spectacular fashion the past two years trying to catch one of the elusive little bastards. This is quite an accomplishment, because cutthroats are not (or at least so I've read) a particularly sophisticated fish to catch. Which makes sense, because I'm not a particularly sophisticated angler. Nevertheless, the last time we were up there I caught browns. I caught brook trout. I caught rainbows. Lots of them. But I caught no greenbacks.

So this summer I revamped my strategy, and decided that if I wanted a greenback I was going to have to earn it by leaving the easy fish far below and hiking up to where the greenbacks - and greenbacks only - reside.

And whaddya know, all it took was six miles of hiking in, a couple thousand feet of elevation, a dozen lost flies, an entire dictionary of new curse words and the humiliation of having an oxygen-bottle toting grandmother, a group of schoolchildren and some dude in jorts, high tops and an Iron Maiden concert t-shirt with the sleeves cut off pass my wheezing, flatland ass on the trail up the mountain.

But when it finally happened, when I finally slid that first jewel-like trout into the shallow water at my feet to take a quick photograph before release, it was all worth it. That wasn't just a fish lying there glinting in the sun, it was a little bit of American history, and a living, breathing cautionary tale about why we should never stop giving a shit about such fragile treasures. What a beautiful thing, huh? (The second pic is actually a different fish...)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Been A Little Slow Around Here...

                                       With apologies to Thomas McGuane. I suck at Photoshop...

Yeah, I took a month or so off from writing the blog. Just felt like I needed a little break. I chalk it up to not being much of a summer person. In fact, I think summer pretty much sucks, at least in Oklahoma, and I spend most every summer doing pretty much nothing while waiting around for fall to get here. That includes writing for pleasure. If you don't have anything to say, there's not much point in pressing the issue, right? Not like I have much to say in the first place, but the point holds...

At any rate, despite my dislike of summer, I have been busy with a number of activities during my literary absence, including a much-needed getaway to New Orleans with the wife, a much-needed week-long respite from the heat in Estes Park, Colorado, and some much-needed time sitting around drinking lots of much-needed beer.

I stripped and refinished our kitchen table, which looks pretty damn good, stripped and refinished a gunstock, which doesn't, and built a semi-permanent pigeon coop, which despite looking like it was constructed by a blind man, does manage to hold pigeons. That's all someone with my skills can ask for.

Thanks to the intense heat and drought we've been enduring, I have done very little in the way of dog training, which is good, because the dogs seem to want to do very little in the way of anything but lie listlessly in the shade and pant. Can't say as I blame them.

But September is creeping up on us, and though it can be (and most always is) every bit as brutal as August, that's when I finally shake off the summer blahs. September, despite what the thermometer often says, is fall. And I've got a surprisingly busy September planned. There is, of course, the Sept. 1 dove opener. I  recently learned that I got drawn out on an Oklahoma panhandle antelope hunt, so I'll be cluelessly traipsing about Cimarron County, Oklahoma the week of the 10th trying to shoot my first pronghornless pronghorn (doe permit). Then I'll be in Montana the last two weeks of the month on the one big bird-hunting trip I have planned this year. After that it's back to a more normal schedule for me, which is code for I can't afford to do anything else.

Until then, however, I've got another month (I'm hoping that's all) of heat-induced hopelessness to endure. And I'm not the only one. Seems to be a slow time for a lot of bloggers wilting under the heat. I have a feeling that catastrophic worldwide climate change is going to be a real bitch not just for birds, trout, global food supplies and the future of the human race, but self-indulgent creativity, too...