Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Are Here, and This is the Only Here You Will Ever Have

Earth (see arrow), as seen from the rings of Saturn. Taken last week by the Cassini spacecraft, from 900 million miles away. A bit humbling, no?

(stolen from I Fucking Love Science's Facebook feed...)

"Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. 

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."-

                                                                                Carl Sagan

There is no heaven. There is no hell. There is no Rapture coming to take you to a better place ruled by kindly, bearded Caucasian father figures or populated by horny virgins waiting to screw you silly. This little dot is currently, and for the foreseeable future, the only place you and I have. Screw it up, and we're screwed. Utterly screwed. Cosmically screwed, as it were. That doesn't seem to be stopping us, though, does it?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Drought, Rain, Birds, Story

The choking, wind-whipped dust gusted across the desiccated pasture at ground level. Impeded by nothing, it undulated in long, serpentine tendrils across a landscape devoid of vegetation or any discernable moisture or humidity. The earth had the texture of ancient porcelain, spiderwebbed with a lattice of interlocking cracks so wide and so deep that when the dogs  ran across the shattered clay hardpan they almost had to hop from one piece to the next like some crazy game of hopscotch. 

Last fall there had been a seasonal pond here, a playa, as they’re called on the southern plains, and I had shot ducks over it, watched as my old retriever swam across the same area where now my two setters sent up tiny plumes of talcum-fine silt with every tentative step. In a good year, when the rains came, the edges of the playa grew up in a thick, lush scrum of weedy forbs, and the dogs would slam into quivering, beautiful, motionlessness, the hot scent of quail filling their noses.

But there were no quail here now, nor ducks. Just the moaning of the wind under a white-hot orb of sky that burned from one horizon to the next, withering everything under its relentless, implacable gaze. I called up the dogs and we slowly trudged back to the truck, three tiny, defeated figures crawling across a vast whitewashed canvas shimmering with heat.

Drought had once again come to my part of the world. And once again, as we have always done, those of us locked in its grip could only look to the sky and wonder when - or if - the rains would return.

...From a feature story on drought I penned for the current issue of Living Ready. Please go buy it and tell them you want more from that Chad Love guy. I wrote that intro with the memory of the last two hellish years fresh on my mind. But although the worm hasn't exactly turned, it is wiggling just a little...

Actual rainfall in my part of the world, at a time of the year when we don't usually get much, and none at all the past few years. I'm becoming cautiously, yet slightly increasingly optimistic about quail season this fall. Rain in June and July means cover, bugs, and a respite from the August-September heat that's sure to come. We've had one or two weeks of extreme-ish (100-plus) heat already, but they've been interspersed with rain and cooler temperatures. Eighties in mid-July? I'll take 'em. All in all it hasn't been nearly as brutal a summer this year as it has the past two or three.

We still have the Sauron-like spectre of August ahead of us, and I doubt we'll get lucky and catch another of those weird, blue moonish east-to-west-moving lows that brought this last round of rain and cool, but at least the vegetation and birds aren't baking. And that's good news to me. It makes my hopes for fall seem a little less tenuous and a bit more attainable.

Because at one point, those hopes were looking rather grim. I'll admit, when I stopped writing for F&S, about the only thing I truly mourned was that damn handy "it's for work" excuse for hitting the road to go hunt other states, either on pressers or for stories. Why? Well, besides the obvious reasons (Free gear! Free booze!), it was because the hunting close to home has sucked so badly. I wanted birds for the dogs. There were no birds here. Ergo, if I wanted birds for the dogs I must travel far, far away and expense as much of it as I possibly could, you know, for work...

Those "work" hunts, some good, some bad, allowed me to supplement - if not outright replace - the truly execrable bird hunting in my home state with a modest number of escapist trips elsewhere, trips I wouldn't have had the opportunity to take if not for the cachet of having "Field & Stream writer" before my name.

Now, however, I'm back to being just another mook with a shotgun. Which is cool, truly. The occasional piece of free swag aside,  I much prefer being truly independent in what I write and how I write it rather than having a bunch of career magazine industry dandies who know fuckall about what they're supposed to be experts at telling me how and what to write while prancing around Manhattan whoring for circle-jerk publishing industry awards and play-acting at being total outdoorsmen while being wet-nursed on their own press hunts, by golly.

Of course, that all sounds defiantly well and good and "live free or die" and all, but for three things: One, when done right, some of those press hunts were pretty damn good affairs; two, with those pressers and work trips gone, the vast majority of my bird hunting this fall will, by necessity, be close to home here in Oklahoma and southern Kansas, and three; it does no good to be able to write in some wild, primal, uncaged Voice if the birds are simply not there and all you're going to be writing is multiple variations on "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. We saw nothing. I felt pensive and introspective, yet satisfied. We came home. The end."

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure I'll be writing a shitload of "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. We saw nothing. I felt pensive and introspective, yet satisfied. We came home. The end." stories. 

But thanks to this rain, maybe, just maybe, I might also be able to write a few "The dogs and I went out. We walked for miles. They went on point. I shot at a bird. I missed. I cursed. I felt angry, yet satisfied. We came home. The end" stories. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but in the meantime, here's my new favorite song...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Just a warning....

 ...that you may not be hearing from me for quite some time. Why? Because I just scored, in one fell, fortuitous swoop, and after a maddening three-month wait for the library to get them in, volumes three, four and five of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire."

That's right, close to three thousand pages of dense, violent, fantastical awesomeness just begging to be read in a single, hallucinatory, methamphetamine-and-coffee fueled sitting. OK, so I just made up that part. But I have shoved all my other reading to the side until I've finished them, and I'm not apologizing a bit for it, either. Sometimes you want to ruminate on Deep Thoughts, and sometimes you just want to gorge on popcorn. And these books are some damn fine popcorn.

Like most everyone else, I hadn't read the books until I got hooked earlier this year - quite by accident - on the HBO series "Game of Thrones" (which is based on the books) when we got one of those free, one-week premium channel previews on our television. I was bored one evening flipping channels, stumbled across an episode, started watching it, and freakin' loved it. I then promptly drove to the library, checked out the first two volumes of Martin's "Ice and Fire" saga, and finished them in a blur of several late-night readings.

I then went straightaway back to the library to check out the next three volumes, and was informed to my horror that some dirty, low-down, book-thieving, hyena-humping sonofabitch had stolen the last three volumes, and that I'd have to wait until the library could order replacements to finish my Ice and Fire infatuation.

Damn. Only my steely resolve (and insolvency) kept me from immediately going out and purchasing not only the entire (two more books are planned) five-book series, but the first two seasons of the show as well.

Now, I must admit that I'm not a serious fan of fantasy. In fact, I'm not even a semi-serious fan of fantasy. Casual, at best. I've read all of Tolkien, of course, and C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander's excellent "Chronicles of Prydain," and some other scattered classics and semi-classics of the genre, and I enjoy it to a point, but I don't wear a genuine reproduction One Ring, I've never used the word "verily" in conversation, I've never wielded a wooden sword to defended m'lady's honor at a Renaissance Fair, and I've never translated the collected writings of Uknor The Brave from the original High Elvish. Because all that shit is just a bit silly.

But I have to say that I am infatuated with Martin's highly imagined, violent, disturbing and disturbed world. If I had to characterize it, I'd say (and I apologize if this analogy has already been made somewhere, but it immediately popped into my head) "Ice and Fire" is what you'd end up with if you took Quentin Tarantino and the ghost of Sam Pekinpah, locked them in a room together, handed them a copy of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and said "here, re-write this damn thing."

Good stuff. Each volume is as long as Joyce's "Ulysses" and only slightly less confusing. And like most things that are bad for you, also highly addictive. If you haven't read them, give them a try. If nothing else, your arms will get a good workout holding them up.

So for now, Good Ser Chad is checking out. I've got foes to slay and wenches to bed before I do the dishes and feed the dogs.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Two-Weight Conundrum

Ever since I got my little St. Croix Imperial/Sage 3200 three-weight outfit a few years back, I've been smitten with ultralight flyfishing on small waters. In fact, if the fishing gods decreed that I could no longer fish with anything larger than a three-weight, ever, I'd probably just shrug my shoulders and go on fishing. It's just so much fun, and so much more in line with my personal flyfishing ideal  (no offense to all you 12-weight-slinging saltwater guys and gals...).

Anyway, some time back, in pursuit of going ever lighter, I came into possession of a sweet little Redington Drift fly reel in size "Holy Shit That's One Tiny Sumbitch!" which, for non-Okies, roughly translates into a size 2/3. My idea was, and is, to pair it up with a short (seven-foot or under), cheap, moderate-action one or two-weight fly rod, and then give it a name like "The Bluegill Bomber" or maybe "The Panfish Prowler" or some other equally hoaky, alliteratively-strained nickname. Because I'm stupid that way.

The problem, however, is that I can't seem to find a rod for it. There are plenty of one and two-weights out there, but most of them are either too long (I really want one in the six-foot range), too expensive, (it's perch in a creek we're talking about here) or too long and expensive.

There are a number of very nice custom and semi-custom right-sized glass rods being made, but again, virtually all of them are beyond my means. Such is the life of the terminally broke.

Enter the Cabela's CGT fiberglass fly rods. Normally, at $150 they'd be out of my price range, too, but as it turns out they're on sale right now for $79. All of them. Even the 6'2", two-piece, two-weight model that would fill my bill perfectly.

But here's the catch: the CGT rods have gotten somewhat mixed reviews from the fiberglass fly rod crowd, with the main complaint being that, though nice, they fish a bit too much like a graphite rod. When Cabela's first introduced the original CGR fiberglass rods in 2011, they received almost universal praise, including a good review in Field & Stream from the late John Merwin. They were also only $99. I, of course, didn't buy one back then, and by the time Cabela's updated the line with the CGTs, the original rods were long-since sold out.

Also, I have to admit, I've never been a huge fan of house-brand rods and reels. Don't get me wrong: by and large I like Cabela's and own a lot of Cabela's-branded stuff. Much of it is great (for example, their waders) while some of it (for example, some of their bird-hunting gear) is sort of meh. Just like any other retailer. But when it comes to rods and reels I've always preferred companies that actually make rods and reels rather than retailers that re-brand or outsource their own lines. OK, I admit it, I'm a rod and reel snob.

But for 79 bucks, especially for a rod that will be plying the depths of the piscatorial low-rent district, perhaps I should tell my innate snobbishness to go get stuffed? On the other hand, I'll also be using the rod for fishing small trout waters (must keep up appearances, you know...), so maybe I should just keep using the three-weight for now, save up a few more pennies, and get a custom fiberglass rod built just for me?

Here's where my flyfishing noobishness comes in. Considering my casting skill (which I describe as "Flailing Stork") would I even be able to tell the difference between a $79 dollar Chinese-made rod and a (roughly) $300-400 custom job? Aesthetically, sure. Custom rods are prettier, and nicer. But what's also nice is actually being able to go fishing now rather than waiting while you sell 27 pints of plasma  to pay for a new custom or high-end rod.

Any suggestions or advice, oh flyfishing brethren?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Skinny Jeans, Chickens and Bloodsport

Alas, it looks as if the once red-hot backyard chicken fad is losing ground amongst the Michael Pollan-inspired urban pioneer set, because chickens are, well, a big pain in the ass.  And they don't accessorize well, either.

From this story on nbcnews.com 
Despite visions of quaint coops, happy birds and cheap eggs, the growing trend of raising backyard chickens in urban settings is backfiring, critics say, as disillusioned city dwellers dump unwanted fowl on animal shelters and sanctuaries. Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.

"...It’s the same scenario at the Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minn., where owner Mary Britton Clouse has tracked a steady climb in surrendered birds from fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012. She traces that rise to the so-called “locavore” movement, which spiked in popularity in 2008 as advocates urged people to eat more food grown and processed close to home.

“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.” People entranced by a “misplaced rural nostalgia” are buying chickens from the same hatcheries that supply the nation's largest poultry producers and rearing them without proper space, food or veterinary care, she said.

Because chickens are notoriously hard to sex, some backyard farmers wind up with roosters, which are often culled and killed because they can be noisy, aggressive and illegal, and, of course, they don’t lay eggs at all. In addition to the noise, many urban farmers are surprised that chickens attract pests like rats, and predators including foxes, raccoons, hawks, and even neighborhood dogs. When they get sick or hurt, they need care that can run into the hundreds of dollars, boosting the price of that home-grown egg far beyond even the most expensive grocery store brand.

Enthusiasts who start out with good intentions frequently wind up posting messages like this one delivered to Britton-Clouse last month: “One of our hens grew up into a rooster and our neighbors are starting to complain. Do you know someone who might take him?” “People don’t know what they’re doing,” Britton Clouse said. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”

But Ludlow, the backyard chicken enthusiast, said that “it’s very rare” that people make such mistakes or underestimate how difficult it is to raise chickens. “While we definitely want to see more education around the lifespan and laying lifespan of chickens, we find that most people become so attached to their hens as pets, that even though they planned to eat or cull their hens at the end of their laying life, they decide to keep their girls around even without laying eggs,” he said. Coston, the Farm Sanctuary shelter director, said she wished that were true. Most people don’t realize that chickens are funny, with quirky habits and affectionate personalities as distinct as any other pet’s. 

A few thoughts...

It may be easy for the more smug among us to scoff and sneer at those naive, sensitive fools who become attached to the livestock, as it were. I'm not one of them. You're currently reading a dude who has three pigeons in his coop right now, pigeons that were among a large lot purchased for the sole purpose of dog training, but for a variety of reasons (daddy, I like the white one!) have become de facto pets. They eat my feed, crap, mess their water, take up space and basically serve as living, breathing mockeries of why I built the damn coop in the first place, which was to serve as a holding pen for the feral barn pigeons I trap for training the dogs. Others have come and gone, but those three sit there like Macbeth's witches, cooing and laughing at me.

The truth is, it's natural to grow attached to the animals you raise. In fact, the only two animals I can recall feeling not the least bit of remorse for as they were led to the freezer was a pair of monstrous pigs that haunted my childhood like a pair of porcine Freddy Kruegers. I'm quite convinced those two were waiting for the right time to eat me as I fed them, and the day they were loaded up and sent to the butcher I made it a point to tell them I couldn't wait for them to get back home, all wrapped up nicely. Yeah, fuck you, Wilbur.

Having said that, however, if you're going to raise chickens (or anything) for food, you've got to be pragmatic about such things. Chickens only go so far as a cool example of your hip, idiosyncratic personality or as an environmental or socio-cultural statement. Beyond that, they become simply eggs and meat. And responsibility.  

And that's the basic problem I have with much of the locavore/slow food/urban self-reliance movement. Not the movement itself, which I admire and support, but rather many of the stupid fuckwits who comprise it. I'm all for knowing where your food comes from, and in playing a larger, better-informed individual part in obtaining said food. The less power and influence wielded by the Monsantos and Cargills and ADMs of the world the better. 

The problem, it seems, comes when people realize that actually doing so takes some effort, and forces you to make the kind of honest and sometimes painful decisions you never have to make in a supermarket, at least in regard to animals.

This applies, I believe, even more so to hunting, which has enjoyed something of a foodie-related rise in popularity these past few years. Which I think is great. I really do. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that, to me, anyway, more than a bit of the current urban hipster foodie interest in hunting/gathering (and much of what's been written on the subject) has the definite chicken-like whiff of faddishnes and zeitgeist-hopping swirling about it. 

Not for everyone, of course. I'm sure, and thankful for the fact that there are many out there for whom an introduction to hunting has been a fundamentally transformative experience, one they'll continue for the rest of their lives. And I for one would love to see more weird, eccentric, laid-back, gun-toting hippies in the woods to help balance out the inordinate number of rednecks (and I say that with one foot firmly planted in each camp...) tearing about on those goddamned four-wheelers, invoking Jesus and tossing beer cans.

But I simply don't buy into the argument, espoused (fervently) by many in the industry, that hunting's recent popularity is sustainable and/or permanent. Everything, but especially Groupthink, is cyclical, and fickle. This isn't a movement. Hunting is not the next big thing, it's simply a modestly popular now thing, and for many, many people currently intrigued by and/or flirting with bloodsport, it'll eventually be a discarded and forgotten thing. Like a bunch of unwanted chickens. 

And I'm cool with that, too. Doesn't bother me in the least. The (probably) relatively few people who are meant to find hunting will find it. The people who aren't will move on to the next Search For Deep Meaning and I'll start scoring some A. solitude in the woods (and hopefully water. Damn duck commanders...) and B. some sweet, barely-used gear in the thrift shops. And that is a win-win...