Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cop-out Thursday

I can't really think of anything to write today, so I'm dipping into the archive well, shallow though it may be...

I am, by both natural inclination and financial necessity a cheap and miserly bastard, although I prefer the condition’s less pejorative and currently trendy nom de plume of “frugal.”

That’s why I drive a truck that’s pushing 160,000 miles, that’s why the computer I’m typing these words on is so old it has a floppy drive (really, it does…), that’s why I hold my nose and haunt the local Wal-Mart after hunting season is over hoping to score a few marked-down boxes of AAs or steel waterfowl loads and that’s why my oldest son, who asked for an engineering set for Christmas, instead received a box full of twigs, toilet paper tubes, bits of copper wire and PVC pipe left over from the construction of our house and a big container of Elmer’s glue to “engineer” it all together.

There are, however, some things I have massive trouble resisting. Classic shotguns with two barrels and nice wood, gundog puppies that beseech you with those pleading blue eyes, high-end rods and reels, custom knives, custom bows, vintage maps and travel posters, German optics, scotch and above all, books.

I should probably be thankful for that, because as much as I like all that other stuff, I mostly can't afford it. Books, on the other hand, I can usually find the coin to buy. But not just any books. No Barnes & Noble-Borders-Hastings Pay-Full-Retail for me. Nope, I like used books. Old books. Done-been-read books. Out-of-print books. Obscure books.

I know that seems a little self-immolating, career-wise, for someone with aspirations of someday writing books he fervently hopes many, many people will pay full retail for, but I can't change who I am. When you grow up hardscrabble you have no choice but to go swimming for hung-up spinnerbaits, be picky with your shots come dove season and buy used books.

And although I do buy a fair number of new books at chain stores, it just seems such a soulless way of going about it, what with the clean, wide, well-lighted aisles, cheerful staff, the faux-coziness, the local beatnik tribute band setting up in the espresso bar, the college students earnestly (and inexplicably) reading the pixilated words on their laptops while ignoring the printed words that surround them. Give me dusty shelves, tattered pages and crazy old bastard bookshop owners any day.

The problem for me, however, is that I live in a town with exactly one real, in point-of-fact bookshop, and for the most part it's the kind of place patronized by housewives, hairdressers and grannies who come in once a month to exchange an old grocery bag full of tales of busty damsels and well-hung swashbucklers for a new grocery sack full of tales of busty damsels and well-hung swashbucklers.

So I have to get my used bookshop fix whenever I return to my hometown for a few days. And it was there in a used bookshop that the difference between independent bookshops and chain stores was once again driven home to me, but in a weird and unsettling way.

But first, a little backstory: The particular used bookshop is something of an institution in my hometown. I bought my first book there when I was eleven years old. When I was sixteen I tried applying for a job and the crazy old bastard (henceforth known as COB) who owned the shop informed me he only hired girls. I tried again when I was nineteen and the COB again informed me he only hired girls.

I figured that if a vagina was what it took to get the job I probably didn’t want to work there, anyway, so I stopped asking. But other than that the COB was a decent sort - if a little pervy - and he DID always seem to employ one of those quirky-hot 18th-Century French lit major-types sporting Lisa Loeb glasses and tight shirts, so I continued buying and selling books there until I married and moved to Purgatory some years later.

So I walked into this shop a few weeks ago and there's the COB, looking exactly the same as he did when I was eleven. I'm now 38. I know he's at least feeling older, however, because instead of Lisa Loeb he now employs Cloris Leachman, an unsmiling, marmish old lady just retired from a career spent performing penal institution body cavity searches.

Withering under her severe gaze, I retreated into the shelves, where to my delight I found a book, a nicely illustrated circa 1950 Random House collection of stories by the French short-story master Guy De Maupassant. The book contained a story that had been recommended to me by F&S writer Hal Herring on one of my Field Notes blogs a few months back. So I took the book up to the counter and the COB and I started talking books.

Somehow, though, the conversation turned to fishing and kayaks, and the COB says "Hey, I've got a good kayak story for you."

So I proceeded to learn - whether I wanted to or not - that the man who had repeatedly denied my adolescent dream of bookshop employment enlisted in the Army during WWII, but by the time his training was over so was the war. The COB therefore got stationed to a remote observation post somewhere along the coast of Greenland.

There apparently weren't many women on the coast of Greenland in 1946 so one day when a party of kayak-paddling Inuit seal hunters showed up the GIs asked them to please bring women. Any women would do. Bargaining ensued and the next day the Inuit hunters brought back several kayak loads of Inuit lasses. One thing led to another, and before long there was quite a party going on in the old igloo.

At this point all I wanted to do was grab my book and get the hell out of the store. My long-held suspicion that the COB was a dirty old man had just been bawdily confirmed. I wanted no more tales of Eskimo conquest but as I ran out the door the COB gave me one last charming anecdote...

"Those igloos can get pretty hot inside, and let me tell you, nothing kills the mood like a girl who smells of walrus."

Now that's the kind of personal service and attention you just can't get in the big-box stores any more…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Have you heard? This bird is a symbol of peace! (And quite dead, too...)


Here's one from the "Let's choose the most tired, over-used dove hunting cliché ever in the lead paragraph to this story on dove hunting because we can't write for shit" files...

From this story in the New York Times... the headline reads (I kid you not) "A Winged Symbol, but With More Than One Meaning."

Elsewhere, the mourning dove is a symbol of peace. But here in western Missouri, the sight of those familiar speckled wings against the September sky means something altogether different: hunting season has arrived. On a blustery afternoon last week filled with the promise of rain, three friends squatted patiently in a field of wilted sunflowers, each resting a camouflaged knee on the muddy earth. Jon Rogers, who had skipped work even though he already had a freezer full of dove meat, cupped his hands together to imitate the familiar call: coo-Hoo, coo-coo-Coo.

In Iowa, that is officially the call of a songbird, and the mourning dove is protected. In Michigan the hunting of mourning doves was banned, reinstated for a single season, then banned again after a statewide referendum. But hunters in 41 other states — including Wisconsin, where the bird is the officially designated symbol of peace — have made the mourning dove the most popular game bird in the United States.

Somewhere, high up on their craggy, increasingly lonely and forgotten mount, the gods of originality are weeping...

And in the New York Times, no less. How on earth did that lead make it past a copy editor? Or any editor not blind to breathless and overwrought prose? And what did the reporter think? That no one else in the history of the newspaper industry has ever had the brilliant stroke of genius to mention the dove as a "symbol of peace" in a newspaper story about dove hunting? You think we haven't seen that one before, over and over and over again? Damn, you'd think the reporter was, like, the publisher's son or something...

Wait, hold on a second...the reporter, A.G. Sulzberger, IS the publisher's son, and presumably the man who will someday inherit control of the New York Times.

With that lineage I'm assuming Mr. Sulzberger didn't get his job on merit alone, so here's a bit of unsolicited journalism advice from a dove hunter and former small-town newspaper reporter of absolutely no fame or consequence whatsoever: the juxtaposition of two diametrically-opposed ideals, symbols or images as a literary device generally only works (and here's the important part, the one your journalism profs obviously didn't test you on) IF IT HASN'T ALREADY BEEN DONE, ENDLESSLY.

And trust me, Mr. Sulzberger (jr.), that whole "dove as a symbol of peace AND a target for hunters" thing? We've seen it before. A lot. And like most literary chestnuts, it gets a little stale and tends to lose whatever questionable power it may have had after about version five thousand. So maybe you should think about trying something else next time.

I dunno, it's just a thought from an obscure nobody who will never have a byline in the NY Times so take it for what it's worth...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Copy editing is dead. Long live copy editing.

No one writes real good any more, says Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten...

Via the Washington Post

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The language's demise took few by surprise. Signs of its failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.

In the past year alone, as the language lay imperiled, the ironically clueless misspelling "pronounciation" has been seen in the Boston Globe, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Deseret Morning News, Washington Jewish Week and the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, where it appeared in a correction that apologized for a previous mispronunciation.

On Aug. 6, the very first word of an article in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal was "Alot," which the newspaper employed to estimate the number of Winston-Salemites who would be vacationing that month.

The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of "spading and neutering." The Miami Herald reported on someone who "eeks out a living" -- alas, not by running an amusement-park haunted house. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star described professional football as a "doggy dog world." The Vallejo (Calif.) Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers, out of dozens, to report on the treatment of "prostrate cancer

Observers say, however, that no development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction "reach out to" as a synonym for "call on the phone," or "attempt to contact." A jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion -- once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars -- "reach out to" is now commonplace in newspapers. In the last half-year, the New York Times alone has used it more than 20 times in a number of contextually indefensible ways, including to report that the Blagojevich jury had asked the judge a question.

It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be mourned, or if it will be mourned at all. In the United States, English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government, and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles.

Many people interviewed for this obituary appeared unmoved by the news, including Anthony Incognito of Crystal City, a typical man in the street. "Between you and I," he said, "I could care less."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The not-yet-ready puppy blues...

Maybe it's reading all the posts on Upland Journal  about the various bird seasons kicking off in seemingly every state but mine. Maybe it's reading about Norcal Cazadora's and Chas Clifton's North Dakota sharptail hunt. Maybe it's reading about Scampwalker's awesome Kansas prairie chicken opener and upcoming two-week Montana bird odyssey.

Maybe it's the realization that as much fun as Jenny is and as much promise as the future holds, she's only five months old and I can't expect much from her this first year. Maybe it's because I'm missing Lewey, who, for all his goofy shenanigans, was a helluva good flushing dog who could run all day. Whatever the reason, I'm feeling kinda down because it seems everyone else is out on the road hunting. Everyone but me. And the reason I'm not out hunting is simple: I don't have a dog that's ready.

Oh, I suppose I could take some weekend, load up Tess and Jenny and hit the road. But Tess is a marginal flushing dog at best, ducks are her game, and Jenny was only recently introduced to gunfire and has yet to point her first wild bird. It'd be the height of folly to pin any hopes or expectations on such a trip.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have looked around for an older started dog to go along with Jenny. But unless someone knocks on my front door with a nice finished (and free) gundog in the next month, that particular ponder is a moot point.

So we'll wait for the Oklahoma quail opener and start the journey there, close to home. We'll even make a few trips right up the road to Kansas. We'll concentrate on enjoying this year for what it is and save those great expectations and road-trip dreams for the future. We'll get there. It may feel sometimes like we're driving a Yugo, but we'll get there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vance Bourjaily

I discovered today - quite by accident - while perusing Scott Bowen's excellent Beaufinn  that the ranks of men who write or have written beautifully, intelligently and honestly about hunting (a category that was never large to begin with and continues to get smaller and smaller with each passing year) was recently reduced by one.

From the obituary in the Washington Post....

 Vance Bourjaily, 87, a professor of writing and a prolific novelist who explored the complex lives of contemporary Americans in reticently unadorned prose, died Aug. 31 in Greenbrae, Calif. He died of complications from a fall, said his wife, Yasmin Mogul. An enduring presence in American literature, Mr. Bourjaily was considered one of the eminent young novelists of the World War II generation. Critics put him in the same rank as postwar writers Norman Mailer and James Jones.

Mr. Bourjaily's first novel, "The End Of My Life" (1947), was influenced by his unsettling experiences as a soldier and ambulance driver in World War II. Literary critic John W. Aldridge wrote that "no book since [F. Scott Fitzgerald's] 'This Side of Paradise' has caught so well the flavor of youth in wartime, and no book since [Ernest Hemingway's] 'A Farewell to Arms' has contained so complete a record of the loss of that youth in war." Of the 1958 novel "The Violated," a critic noted that Mr. Bourjaily is "one of that select band of writers equipped with antenna-like perception enabling them to project the heart and pulse of their generation."

In his long and varied career, Mr. Bourjaily was a playwright, a long-form journalist and a Broadway critic for the Village Voice. In the early 1950s, he was the co-editor of Discovery, a literary journal that a critic called one of the "liveliest and most buoyantly pugnacious of all the little magazines." After teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Mr. Bourjaily became the first director of Louisiana State University's post-graduate creative writing program in 1985. He retired in the late 1990s.

He was an avocational jazz trumpeter, fly fisherman and game hunter and was known to pluck details from his experiences that made their way into his writing. His book "of a Spent Youth" (1960) was an explicitly autobiographical account of his youthful sexual exploits and dabbling in excessive drinking and illicit drugs.

Another of his popular works, "The Man Who Knew Kennedy" (1967), takes place shortly after the president's assassination in Dallas in 1963 and focuses on the life of a man who had briefly met the future commander in chief while recuperating in a military hospital. Mr. Bourjaily's last novel, "Old Soldier" (1990), concerned an Army sergeant on a fishing trip with his homosexual brother who is dying of AIDS.

An entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography said Mr. Bourjaily's "reputation rests on his ability to tell wonderful stories with vivid surprising details. . . . [His] novels depict the common man struggling -- often heroically, often paradoxically -- to live with the contradictions that define society."

...From 1957 to 1980, Mr. Bourjaily taught at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop alongside his friends Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut, whom he called among "the half dozen people I like best in the world." In Iowa, Mr. Bourjaily rolled his own cigarettes and roamed his property in a pickup truck to check on his sheep, horses and cattle. Students such as John Irving and T.C. Boyle attended pig roasts at Mr. Bourjaily's farm 10 miles outside Iowa City.

He hunted pheasant and wild duck with "Invisible Man" author Ralph Ellison, who borrowed Mr. Bourjaily's camouflage for the outings. Mr. Bourjaily once gave another of his hunting partners, Vonnegut, this sage advice: "The bigger the game, the more corrupted the soul of the hunter."

Now that's a scene I would have loved to see: Vance Bourjaily with Kurt Vonnegut (one of my all-time favorite authors but a man who despised firearms) smoking his ever-present Pall Malls while sitting in a duck blind or roaming the Iowa fields in search of pheasants. I'd love to hear those conversations...

It's not surprising that Bourjaily - whose son Phil is the shotguns editors at Field & Stream and a damn good writer himself - is best known for his novels. He was a fairly major literary figure back in the day when that meant something more than a bunch of semi-clever assholes tweeting their way to pop-schlock book deals.

But he was also a wonderful writer on hunting - bird hunting, mostly - and I think it's a shame the obit didn't mention his book on the subject, The Unnatural Enemy: Essays On Hunting. It was first published in 1963 (I think) and re-published in 1984 with a new forward by Edward Abbey. Yep, that Edward Abbey. Apparently good writers gravitate toward each other. He also edited and penned the forward to a wonderful anthology of essays entitled Seasons of the Hunter.

I discovered The Unnatural Enemy in college, during a time when I was obsessively seeking out such writing, and I've been a fan ever since. Although most, if not all of his books are (I think) out of print, if you get a chance they're worth digging around for.

Monday, September 20, 2010

SpongeBob and Naivete...

In hindsight I guess it’s my own damn fault. If I’d just watch more television I guess by now I’d have built up some kind of tolerance for it, like the way the doomed, hopeless homeless drunks roaming the streets down in Oklahoma City have a tolerance for the three-dollar bottles of rotgut benzene-smelling whiskey they line up for every day, fidgeting in the parking lot and nervously folding and unfolding their plasma checks as they wait for the liquor store to open.

But I haven’t. I don’t watch much television, so I guess you could call me culturally immuno-deficient in that respect. To mix metaphors, when I turn on the tube I am the naive native wrapping myself in the smallpox-infected trade blanket. Bad shit just can’t help but happen.

Such was the case when I was flipping though the channels a few days ago, wondering why we pay seventy bucks a month for what basically amounts to a few educational shows for the kids, Top Gear, the occasional movie on IFC, the occasional OU football game, Sirius radio and SpongeBob. We wouldn’t even have it for the fact that because we live in a rural area we can’t pick up the free over-the-air networks, and my wife and I have been seriously considering dropping it anyway.

But when I saw that this month’s “free preview” channel was one of those “all hunting all fishing all the time” networks, well, my curiosity got the better of me and I started watching. I was genuinely curious to see what I had been missing.

A bit of background: I know nothing, absolutely nothing about hunting and fishing shows and/or personalities. No, screw that. That’s not strong enough. I actually know less than nothing about hunting and fishing shows. I see the ads featuring these people in the magazines and I have no idea who they are, why they’re famous, what they’re hawking and why I should give a shit. On one of the few (and in all likelihood, last) corporate-sponsored junket hunts I’ve ever been on, I basically just sat in a corner of the wall tent and listened to everyone else engage in industry shop talk. It was like they were speaking a different language. I didn’t have a friggin’ clue who or what they were talking about, so I just drank their beer and kept my mouth shut (and incidentally, that’s also a not-half-bad life philosophy…)

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against those shows, I’m just not into thirty minutes of low production values, bad soundtrack music, dumbshit hosts, slow-motion kill shots, inflated body counts, moronic fist-pumping, fake camaraderie, tired clichés and cornpone platitudes, that’s all.

As it turns out, by the time I finished my three-day experiment in purposely watching a cross-section of American hunting and fishing shows, I would have killed to find one professional and classy enough to have low production values, bad soundtrack music, dumbshit hosts, slow-motion kill shots, high body counts, moronic fist-pumping, fake camaraderie, tired clichés and cornpone platitudes. Because most of them were infinitely worse.

Call me stupid. Call me naïve. Call me out-of-touch. Call me Henry Rollins (again). But I had no idea, no idea at all, that television programming could be so willfully bad, could wallow in such unwitting, cringe-inducing self-parody. Obviously I am out of touch because there’s an audience out there – somewhere – that watches and approves of it. And obviously the corporate sponsors who bankroll these shows must watch and approve of them as well.

It’s not the corporate sponsorship that bothers me. That’s just the way the game is. Whether you like it or not, all media is basically an advertising vehicle and somebody’s gotta pay for its creation. What bothers me is how fundamentally bad most of it is, not only in the low production values, questionable footage and moronic commentary, but in warping - in the basest and sometimes gleefully crudest ways possible – the deeper, less easily understood and even less-easily articulated reasons for why we do what we do.

And I’m just wondering what that says about us. I have no idea because I don’t know what’s worse; cynically reveling in stupidity in a calculated effort to sell units or honestly reveling in stupidity because you’re, well, stupid.

So I guess I’ll just churlishly harrumph a bit more and then feel smug and superior when I call the satellite company this week and tell them to come get their ugly-ass dish off my roof.

But damn it, I’m gonna miss SpongeBob…

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Entirely Synthetic Life

                                                                  Prairie Mallard, 1995

I sit in the airport terminal watching the citizens of Zombie Nation quietly ignore one another as they text, surf, tweet or simply stare into space. Husbands ignore wives. Wives ignore kids. Kids ignore everything but what scrolls across the screens on whatever handheld devices they've demanded and received from their self-absorbed acquiescing parents.

Oh, I'm sure they all have lives, I guess. If that's what you want to call it. They probably think they're happy, content, satisfied. Entertained. Occupied. Thumbs become blurs over tiny keyboards. Eyes squint at tiny little messages written in the fragmentary patois of our time. Thumbs blur once again and tiny little responses are sent out into the endless gulf stream of digitally-truncated banality that's ever flowing right over our heads.

I feel superior, of course. I don't know anything about them, so it's easy to make snap judgements. Do I? Oh, hell yes.

Take that booth-tanned guy sitting across from me with the gravity-defying hair who reeks of ASS body spray. I'm sure he's quite happy, quite content to be defined by how he looks, regardless of how much I think he looks like a smug, spoiled dick in his Tapout shirt. And he might be the nicest, most interesting guy in the world for all I know. He may volunteer at a local soup kitchen, read Nabokov because he really digs it and have a kennel full of gundogs. But I doubt it.

And the catatonic kid off to my left studiously ignoring his parents, lost in the depths of his own infinite playlist, his iPod-induced stupor is in turn studiously ignored by both parents who, hunched over their own devices, haven't spoken to the kid, or even acknowledged his existence - or each others' -  in the twenty minutes I've been sitting here. They might be the model nuclear family at home, discussing the day's events earnestly and interestingly over a pot roast. But I doubt it.

And the severe, pneumatic blonde in the black miniskirt and power heels tapping importantly on a netbook perched just-so on long, gym-toned legs while talking into her bluetooth headset to some equally urgent-acting business partner in some other airport terminal. Yeah, she's flying business class and yeah, she looks like she wouldn't hesitate to claw her way over a pile of screaming infants to board the plane first, but maybe beneath that weatherproof plasticized exterior she's really a sweetheart who likes baking cookies in her pajamas, collecting Strawberry Shortcake dolls and sending big chunks of her obviously-considerable disposable income to paraplegic Bulgarian orphans. But I doubt it.

And the tired-looking dads, the disaffected looking wives, the bimbo-looking girlfriends, the bored-looking boyfriends, the spoiled, petulant kids, the ironic hipsters, the crazy-haired spinsters, the emo-looking weird dudes with Romulan haircuts, the tweeners, the teeners, the guidos, the tools, the real fake housewives of wherever; it's like the extras from every lowest-common-denominator reality show on television are swirling around me in a sea of dull, pointless synthetic existence. Behind those slack jaws and vapid eyes they all might be interesting, self-actualized individuals. But I doubt it.

And as I look around I wonder if any of these people, these organic automatons, have ever known  or ever will know a single moment - just one brief shining moment out of the entirety of their dull, manufactured reality - of pure, crystalline rightness; some beautiful, momentary astringent that washes away the waxy build-up on whatever remains of their souls and forces them to feel alive. Not entertained. But alive.

Maybe. But I doubt it.

Prairie IMAX

Just east of my back porch, the tailing edge of a line of storms sweeping off to the northeast into Kansas. Grapefruit-sized hail and tornado warnings for them. A cold beer and a spectacular sunset light show for me.

We'll get ours, eventually, and when we do I'm sure some distant backyard observer on the safe side of the dryline will pop the top on a cold one, stretch out in his lawn chair and think to himself "sucks to be them" as he watches the sky boil up and violently erupt over my house. Turnabout. That's just early fall on the southern plains, a period of transition that's often every bit as violent as spring. New England this isn't.

But right now the sky over my house contains only hot, still air. Summer air. I watch the dragonflies weave and dance in the welding-arc glow of the distant lightning stitching its demented pattern across the sky. I watch the boys play with the dogs in the evening heat. Beads of condensation roll down the side of my beer bottle. I long for fall. Real fall. Hunting fall. Dogs-and-shotguns fall. Not sweat-your-ass-off-for-a-few-dove-and-teal-and-the-gawddamned-teal-aren't-even-here-yet-and-the-gawddamned-dove-are-already-gone fall.

 But that's still a long month away. So I sit back in my lawn chair, take a pull from the cold, wet beer, watch the sky and think to myself "sucks to be them."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Or not, as it turns out.

What happens when you do zero pre-season scouting? What happens when you blithely assume your favorite slough will have water, despite the area being in the midst of a drought? What happens when your dog receives a complimentary full-body skunk mist on the walk in to the slough which may or may not hold water and therefore may or may not hold any teal? Why am I showing a photograph of London's Parliament building rather than a photograph of a limit of teal? Or even a couple teal? Or even a single teal?

Do I even need to answer any of these questions? I think the photograph sums it up quite nicely...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Just add dog. And teal. Or not.

This is why I love early-season teal hunting. Everything I need is in that backpack. A dozen teal decoys, shells, call, e-collar for the dog, water bottle, blind-making tools and other various and sundry accessories I take on all my hunts. No waders to struggle into, no huge decoy bag to lug around. Beautiful. There's nothing like duck hunting in shorts and a t-shirt.

Unless, of course, it's duck hunting in shorts and a t-shirt on a morning that brings an empty, lifeless lake. Teal are the most binary of waterfowl. They seemingly exist in only two states of being. Either they're here, or they're not. I've tried, but I've never been able to accurately predict the vagaries of their early migration.

If they're here tomorrow, I might very well shoot a limit within a few minutes. If not, I guess it'll be a nice morning training session for Tess. Either way, at least it'll be an easy walk in and out. As I get older, that starts counting for something...

Only in America...

From this AP story

Mom pulls gun on middle school volleyball team: Texas woman allegedly confronts opposing team as they celebrate a lopsided victory over her daughter's squad
School officials say a woman believed to be the mother of a seventh-grade volleyball player pulled a gun on a rival team celebrating a lopsided win over her daughter's outmatched squad in suburban San Antonio. Judson school district spokesman James Keith says the girls on the Kirby Middle School volleyball team fled when the woman confronted them with a gun Thursday night in the school's parking lot and threatened to shoot.

Keith says no shots were fired and no one was injured. Authorities believe the woman is the mother of a player from Metzger Middle School, which had just been beaten soundly. No arrests had been made as of early Friday. Keith says school district officials believe they have identified the woman.

Guns don't kill people. Crazy-ass parents who try to live vicariously through their children because their own lives are so miserable and fucked up do.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cover Art Goodness

Since I live 90 miles away from the nearest newsstand that carries The Drake, I've been telling myself I need to just bite the bullet and get a subscription (that's what I eventually did with Gray's and what I still need to do with Flyfish Journal, too).

That way I won't take the chance of missing any issues, especially issues that might be sporting awesome cover art like this (via Buster Wants To Fish)

Now that one is a keeper. And if you're interested, here's the artist website.

And it brings up a question: Why the hell don't sporting mags put real art on their covers any more? Outside of Gray's and Sporting Classics I don't think any hook-and-bullet mags still routinely use original artwork.

Which is a shame, really. Honestly, do we really need an endless barrage of covers featuring underwear models, game-farm bucks, barnyard turkeys, trained megafauna and the latest in tactical cutlery? What's wrong with every now and then using a real artist? Maybe something created from an individual vision rather than a marketing decision.?

It's the damndest thing: the production values on modern magazine covers have never been higher. The photography has never been more technically perfect. The design and art direction has never been more slick and refined. And the end product we see on the newsstand has never been more soulless, antiseptic, inorganic and utterly forgettable.

I glance through a lot of magazines because most of them aren't worth reading (and oftentimes the cluttered, manic, counter-intuitive and generally goofy-ass design and layout actually inhibits reading them...), much less admiring as a piece of pop or commercial art. Happily, this issue of The Drake is both. Now I just need to go find a copy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How not to photograph your dog...

I had to run into town the other day so I took the pup with me to let her stretch her legs a bit at the local soccer fields. I took along a camera, but I don't know if she's too fast....

Or if I'm too slow...

I can get her in focus when she slows to a trot (which is rarely)...

Or when she stops to tip over a tasty-smelling trash can (which is often)...

But other than that I'm having an awfully hard time getting a really good running shot of Jenny. She's just a blur, a slobbering, tongue-lolling streak. Everything is always just a tiny bit out of focus. I think maybe I need a new camera body, one with a "setter-tracking" autofocus mode.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do Androids Dream of Electric Monks?**

"The Electric Monk was a labor-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe."

 from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, a book that was originally published my sophomore year in high school. It's now 2010. Why the hell can't we buy one yet? Screw flying cars. I want my Electric Monk.

**Forgive the literary mashup. I've been on a brilliant-but-dead sci-fi writer kick lately.

Redemption. Sort of.

Never worked so hard for a four-ounce bird in my life, but when this one finally dropped from the sky I was whooping like an idiot.

It almost didn't happen, though. A strong cold front came through on Thursday and pushed out a big chunk of our local birds. And what birds remained were skittish and erratic fliers that were by now quite used to dodging the laughingly ineffectual shot strings of the hopelessly slow and earthbound.

And just like opening day, the shooting didn't start out well. Most of it went something like this...

A classic example of the "poke it in the sky, pull the trigger and pray" school of shotgunning. The birds were just coming in too fast for him to swing on, and I was beginning to wonder if switching shotguns on him had been such a good idea.

See, earlier that day, deciding that maybe I should take to heart his advice that perhaps there was "something wrong with the gun" (at least, wrong for him trying to hit a fast-flying dove) I had switched him to a different gun. I decided to try a little less choke, a little less length-of-pull, an additional barrel and a little more barrel length.

Thusly set up, I picked up progeny #1 from school and we went straight to the shooting range where, after about five minutes with the new gun he began to break hand-thrown clays with a fair degree of regularity. Not too fast, but I was more interested in building confidence than presenting a challenge.

But sitting there in the field, watching the hulls pile up I started worrying that maybe I should have thrown him a few zingers.

And about that time when I really began to despair, everything - for one brief moment - went right. A flight of three birds came in right at us, and in one fluid (for a nine-year-old), practiced (well, semi-practiced) motion Brayden shouldered the shotgun, picked out the middle bird, swung through it (finally!) and dropped it stone dead. No one was more amazed than him. Except perhaps me.

And then, of course, he went right back to missing everything. But that was OK. That first giant, intimidating mountain had finally been summited.

Now maybe I can finally take a shot...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

No DNA Test Needed...

He opens the breech of the single-shot 20 gauge and the smoking hull traces a little yellow arc into a rapidly-expanding pile of its boxmates. He looks up at me.

"Yes, son?"
"Dove are a lot harder to hit than targets, aren't they?"
"Yes, son, they are. But you're doing fine. Don't worry about it. Remember how I told you that I didn't shoot a dove the first time I went dove hunting? Didn't even come close. All I did was burn up every one of my shells. And I was shooting a 12 gauge."

A few minutes later another bird comes in, fast and low on the strong southwest wind. A tought shot, for anyone. Today, for a nine-year-old, they're all tough shots. He raises the gun, tries to swing through the bird like I've tried to teach him, shoots. The dove flies on. Little shoulders slump, and another yellow hull is added to the pile.

"Yes, son?"
"How did you learn how to shoot dove?"
"Honestly? You really want to know?"
"By missing a whole lot of them first. And I still miss a lot of them, so I guess I'm still learning, too."

Minutes pass, and the maybes begin swirling in my head. I wonder if this is such a good idea. Maybe I should have spent more time on shooting lessons. Maybe I should have waited one more year. Maybe instead of bringing him out here on public land with a half-mile walk into the stock tank on a 98-degree day I should have looked around and tried to find a private spot to hunt, a place where we could drive right up and sit in camo lawn chairs under the shade of a tree with a cooler full of drinks next to us as we hunt over a just-cut field with so many dove flying into it we can pick and choose the easiest shots, the most confidence-building shots. A fun place. An easy place.

But I don't have any places like that. All I have is right here. No crop fields, no easy walk, no shade, no cooler, no clouds of birds. Nothing but heat, sky and the sting of sweat in your eyes, the taste of sweat in your mouth, the feel of sweat soaking the back of your shirt. A desiccated, hard-edged, sharp-pointed  place where nothing is given, and the price of earning is high. Not a place to bring a nine-year-old on his first hunt. I'm an idiot.

A thunderstorm is building just off to the northeast and the birds are riding the inflow winds. Another bird crosses in front of us, a blur, impossibly fast. He raises the gun, shoots way behind it. The smoking hull traces another yellow arc to the pile of empties.

"Yes, son?"
"Are you coming back out here Friday?"
"Yes. Do you want to come with me?"

Hesitation. But just a little.

"Yeah, you can pick me up from school again."
"All right."
"But dad?"
"Yes, son?"
"Can I use a different gun? I think there's something wrong with this one."

My god, he really is my son...