Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Give ‘Em Leaves and Fishes

Getting a few hours on the stream is always a pleasure, even when the challenges make others think you’re nuts for going fishing. (Secret is, being a bit nuts helps.) Friday was crystal clear and so was the water in the Clearfork, a branch of the Mohican River known mostly to fly fishers and not many others. The wind was howling like it was Montana. The wind-chill made me think of Colorado.
I started at one of my favorite spots where I usually pick up a trout or three, then move on to someplace else. For whatever reason known only to the trouts, there always seems to be a brownie or a rainbow hanging around that particular stretch. And if I fished there all day I wouldn’t get more than two or three fish; a lesson I learned a few years back.
Since there were no fish rising and no bugs in the air, I defied the astronomical odds and tied on a size 16 Adams in hopes that some unsuspecting fish might be looking up. I know, a trout gets 80% or 90% of its diet from below the surface. There’s just something about catching a fish on a dry fly …
It took about 15 minutes for me to come to my senses and switch to pheasant tail nymph that would drift a few inches below the surface. After nearly an hour of casting and not catching (one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results), I began to wonder where my three fish had gone. I had been battling the wind, sort of letting it place my cast about every other toss. The result was hooking up with a leaf three out of four casts.
Further upstream is a gorgeous looking spot. Something you see in all the fly fishing magazines. The perfect bend. The perfect riffle leading to the perfect pool. In all my years of fishing this stretch of the river I’ve never caught a thing in that spot—yet I always give it a shot. It’s sort of like asking the prettiest girl in your high school class for a date. You know the answer before you ask, however, at least you’ve tried.
I studied the water as if I knew what I was looking for. The water was low, clear and choked with leaves. More leaves in the water than on the trees. I was about to head back to the car and another spot on the stream—but I just couldn’t. I bushwhacked my way up stream to get a half-decent angle on that good looking riffle that led to the perfect looking hole. On my third cast I hooked up with nice little brown trout. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or the fish.
(Well, I thought, maybe she would have said yes had I asked her one more time some 45-odd years ago …)
I spent the rest of the windy afternoon working the spot as I never had in the past. Lots of leaves, too many for most fishers I suppose. And there was the occasional fish. All brownies with the largest stretched out to about 12 inches. There were the day dreams too—maybe the principal attraction of fly fishing. It lets you enter other worlds if only for a windy, blindingly bright afternoon in October in Ohio that will etch itself on the inside of your skull to become the daydream 20 years from now.

Friday, October 06, 2006

How Do Some People Get Their Jobs

Aside from your co-workers, but including your boss, do you ever wonder how some people get their jobs? I was being stuffed into a van at Midway Airport in Chicago this week for a thankfully short trip to McCormick Convention Center. While they were jamming one more body into the vehicle, our driver was giving us a preview of what was to come, based on telemetry she had gathered over years on the job. She told us to the tenth of a mile how far it was, how many minutes it would take at this hour and how many hours those same nine-point-whatever miles would take on Friday.
She recommended that if we were going to try to get out of town after 2:30PM on Friday that we pack a lunch. We would be stuck in traffic so bad it will bring tears to your eyes, she said. At least she had a sense of humor.
We zipped onto the highway and she bobbed and weaved between cars, doing things with a van that I wouldn’t attempt in a VW bug. One of the sales-types up front decided to do the employment interview thing with her. He asked, “So, do they give you drivers a lot of training for this job?”
“Not me,” said the driver. “I ran the bumper-car concession at Six Flags for about three years and I watch a lot of NASCAR on TV, so I guess they figured I knew what I was doing.”

Global Warning

It was a no-win argument. Global warming. And it was generated by a newscast running on a television set designed to intrude into your pores while standing in line to get on an airplane—a time when you’re wishing for something more relaxing than the day’s news.
I only got into it because I didn’t like the guy’s smarmy attitude. He was wearing a big, shit-eating grin, shaking his head at the newscaster as if she could see—or care. I just kind of smiled. I don’t think I really said anything. He must have sensed, however, that I agreed with Dr. Whatshername; global warming is a reality.
He started with, “You Democrates …” And that’s what lit my candle. I was off to the ozone before I knew what happened.
No such thing as global warming, he said. “You Democrats and the liberal news media are making the whole thing up because you can’t accept the simple fact that President Bush’s administration has been right on all its other issues. No evidence.”
Right is right I muttered. I had at least two strikes against me with this fellow who was able to make such great leaps in judgment he could probably go over buildings in a single bound. Why I even responded when I should have been working on the life-plan for my dress-sock drawer at home, I don’t know. Maybe I was hoping to make that one small step for mankind thing.
My fear, suddenly, was that he might want to sit next to me on the plane. (Hmmm. Nice doggy, nice doggy. Now, where’s that stick?)
I focused on his “no evidence” idea. Since we were into name calling (“You Democrats”) I figured melting glaciers might be too large of a concept for his pea-size brain. “The evidence,” I calmly said with hardly any spittle at the corner of my mouth, “is the smoking gun in the hands of insensitive, greedy company owners that’s been pointing at the sky for decades.”
(Oooo, that felt good.) I noticed a slight tic begin at the corner of his left eye. His lips were locked but they moved a bit. I bet he had been preparing for the iceberg gambit. (Follow the money stupid. Nothing happens without money attached to it. And the more you make the less you are to blame, or so it seems.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A New Way of Seeing

Birding in winter months is either tough in the extremis, or boring to tears. Our part of the world here in northeast Ohio offers little middle ground. Watching House Finches at the feeder every day is not exactly challenging. Feeling tears freeze to your face while standing on the shores of Lake Erie looking for gulls is more challenge than many people want.
Well, here’s a dimension to birding I suspect you’ve not tried. It offers an opportunity to see things you’ve not seen before. Or, more accurately, to see them in a different light. I call it astrobirding. Here’s how it works.
It so happens that winter months offer excellent opportunities for astrobirding. On nights with a full moon, or near-full moon, haul your spotting scope out and focus on the nearest astronomical object we have. If you have an eyepiece that gives you 30X magnification you’ll see sights you might not expect. Although looking at the moon before and after the midpoint of its near-monthly trip through the sky yields more exciting moon views, it’s when the moon is full that you have the best chance of spotting birds.
Actually, the moon’s not really full. It’s a half moon since we can’t see the backside, but that’s another story.
This time of the year, with clear, stable air, is ideal for astrobirding. Birds in the night sky drift overhead. Our nearest celestial neighbor makes the perfect backdrop. The next couple months provide us with some great opportunities. You’ll have about seven hours of full-moon time to stare through your scope and watch owls, swans, cranes, flights of ducks and whatever else might be slashing through the late-fall night sky. Check an almanac or your local paper for moon rise and set times. The next three months will be great because the moon rises in the late afternoon or early evening, perfect timing.
Birds crossing the face of the moon move fast, or so it seems. They appear more as impressions than actual sightings. When you see something, back away from the eyepiece, reflect on what you saw—or thought you saw—and take an educated guess.
Silhouettes, fleeting as memories. Elusive as dreams.
Any night, two or three nights on either side of the full moon work for astrobirding. In October we hit the full moon on the 6th. Toward the end of the month, on Halloween night, we have an eight-day moon, perfect for watching for witches on broomsticks. November 5th we might see some early flights of Tundra Swans, though they usually fly over later in the month when we have another good opportunity on the 30th. December offers some great opportunities. Full moon is on the 4th and a nearly full moon on the 31st. Great way to end one year and start another.
I keep watching and hoping for a loon.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Time Waits, Writers Waste

We’re getting into that ideal time of the year here in northeast Ohio. It’s a small space, wedged between humidity of summer and chills of winter. Since someone else chose the name we’re stuck with calling this season fall. Seems like a negative term for such an uplifting interval in the passage of time. Must have been named for the direction leaves travel, not spirits.
Yesterday was one of those glorious days when all the things I’ve been meaning to do didn’t seem so critical as they had a few months ago. Some duties seem plenty happy to be left alone in the been-meaning-to-do-that stage. Sunday was a day meant for a walk in the woods. I found myself with time to burn and time to bend. And when you live a quarter mile from a trailhead into a national park it’s easy to find ways to bend time.
When I’m hiking in the park I prefer the beaten path; beaten by white-tail deer, foxes and coyotes. Paths beaten by humans are another story. Sometimes, however, those paths intersect and lead to interesting conclusions, if not destinations.
With 90 minutes of hiking stuck to the bottom of my boots, I began looking for a log to sit on. Finding the perfect log to fit your butt is one of the essentials of hiking most people are not aware of. Then they put in a few hundred miles on the Appalachian Trail. There, your day starts by thinking of how long before you’ll stop for the night, your next meal or finding the perfect sitting log, not necessarily in that order.
The log I found was good news and bad news. It fit my butt, however, it was within earshot (but not eyeshot) of the all-purpose trail. All-purpose trail—as long as your purpose is to ride a bike wearing headphones and talk with six other people of varying distances from you. The guy that came up with that name—all purpose—is the same dude what named turnpikes freeways. We should rename them "without-purpose" trails. They’re a hazard to health and sanity. Sunday’s crowd looked like a non-motorized version of a NASCAR event.
Trying to make the worse of a good situation, I listened to what folks were saying as they zipped past. I’m proud to say not once did I try to accost anyone and tell them to stop and listen to the birds instead of their own fatuous drivel. Sorry if that’s redundant.
For 15 minutes I listened. Here are the results of my unscientific research. Probably half the conversations involved computers or doing something on, to, or with a computer. What does that say about us? Go to a park and talk about computers. Beam me up Scotty!
And a lot of those "conversations" were rants by one person or another about someone in their office, boss or underling, who was "totally, I mean guys, like totally," illiterate.
Another big batch were couples engaged in various depths of dispute. When folks are just zipping by you have to fill in some blanks. It seems that a number of conversations involved the man telling the woman she needed this or that piece of equipment for her bicycle. Meanwhile, she’s pedaling faster to get out of the sound of his voice. You go, girl.
I looked over at the two chipmunks who reluctantly shared their log with me and asked, "Why don’t these people sit down and dream about missing the bus to work tomorrow?"