Thursday, July 14, 2011

Defining Patterns of Change

Like a blinding flash of the obvious, I figured out why our country is having its current budget crises. I know, you’re thinking that politics is a bit outside of where this blog usually takes you.
Well, not so. Explanations of the budget crises and lots of other things can be found out of doors. Here’s the secret: I have evidence of what makes politicians so whacky. It's a pending alien invasion. And I have proof.
We happened upon the first piece of evidence Tuesday. Fishing-buddy Tom, along with my everything-buddy Susan, and I were driving back from a special trout stream, arms tired from hauling in fish all day, energized by gorgeous weather, when we saw it; a landing strip being prepared by aliens.
It was all I could do to convince the others that we needed to stop and get some photos—just in case. Look at this photo and tell me it’s something other than preparations for alien landing craft.

What’s happening here?

Then today, Susan and I were doing some work on the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park when we spotted more evidence, only beneath the water this time. The place we were doing our census work was along a section of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Because of construction south of our location, water in the canal has been drawn down, enough so that we could clearly see tracks being made by alien submarines. Honest, I’m not making this stuff up. Here’s a photo for proof.

Obvious signals to alien landing craft

We even watched little creatures, neatly camouflaged as fresh-water muscles, as they created patterns, probably signals for their fellow creatures to home in on.
Okay, what’s the key here? How do these two observations correlate?
A century or two ago, British novelist-turned-politician Benjamin Disraeli noted, “We all live too much in circles.” Then, in the late 1960s, Joni Mitchell wrote a gripping song, “Circle Game,” about youth coming of age.
So, to bring this around to where I started, how do obvious preparations for an alien invasion impact politicians, isolated from the rest of us by the beltway?
It’s all about circles. The answer is simple as pie. First, pie are not square, pie are round. Next, politicians all talk too much, particularly around subjects that really matter. Next, they are always reaching out for the brass ring of their merry-go-round of lives.
PR flaks spin stories so fast, scenery changes before our very eyes. Aliens have convinced our elected officials, if they can keep us folks out here in the hinterlands spinning, we’ll forget the visions we all had when they were elected. Then they can easily change those visions to fit their current reality. Simple enough.
So, what are we to do? What’s the antidote? How do we hold off the aliens?
What if, just this once, the whole Washington crowd would stop talking in circles, stop spinning, stop heading out on some mission without a road map or even a star to guide them? What’s so tough about crafting a new vision that defies, not defines, political boundaries? What if?

I have to turn off the lights now. I used to right this stuff with crayon, but since I traded my crayons for this computer I get a lot more done. And I don’t have to ask the staff to mail the envelopes …

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pickin’ n Grinnin’

Making music with a little help from their friends

It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant setting, or better weather, for live music than the Hale Farm Homestead in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This weekend was the 36th Annual Music in the Valley event. All acoustic, all traditional.
At this venue there’s no central stage where big-name performers do their latest hit from their latest CD. No flashing lights. No microphones. These are real people playing and singing real music. They’re accurately called, “parking-lot pickers.”
To say the event is informal is a bit of an overstatement. Essentially, the performers get in free, find a shady spot, snap open their instrument cases and make music. Friends and family join in. Even the audience joins in, assuming they brought an instrument along. Whenever someone wants to join a group, the circle just expands a bit. And yes, the circle remains unbroken.
Throughout the grounds of this 19th Century homestead bagpipes competed with banjos for listeners’ attention. A standup bass player lugged his monster fiddle into place, probably wishing he’d learned to play the piccolo instead. Guitars, dulcimers and more gorgeous banjos than I could count came to life with seemingly no prodding by talented players. Musicians moved from group to group, playing with friends, or making new acquaintances. Music was the common denominator.

Summer in Northeast Ohio at its best

Musical selections ran from Woody Guthrie’s, “Do Re Mi,” to Ry Cooder’s “Footprints in the Snow,” to the unknown composer who never earned a penny from a song, yet everyone seemed to know the chords. Of course, if you wrote a tune with the words, “It’s hard to be sad when your momma doesn’t die,” you might rather not be recognized.
Sitting in the shade, feeling the summer breeze rustle my hair, listening to traditional music got me to thinking about how much better it is to celebrate America in this fashion, than to celebrate wars and glorify killing, which we seen to do, most often. How much better it is to honor freedom by getting out to hear live music, see live birds or chase after live fish—all with free air conditioning.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

I’m a Human, I’m Here to Help—Honest

Atlantic Puffin

I knew, if it came to hand-to-hand combat, I could probably take her. I outweighed her by probably 170 pounds, but her reach was better than mine. Standing beak-to-beak with a Great Black-backed Gull, her 65-inch wingspan and a beak that could crack open an oyster shell, is a daunting, humbling, if not a bit scary experience. It was all in a day’s work for Susan and I in June.
The first week in June we had the honor to work (as volunteers) on Project Puffin ( off the coast of Maine. The program we participated in was a joint effort by Road Scholar ( and the National Audubon Society ( There are books available discussing Project Puffin, however, in an egg shell, it’s an effort, started by Dr. Steve Kress, to reintroduce Atlantic Puffins to barren islands off the East Coast.

An Atlantic Puffin fly by

The program is more than 30 years old and, after years of false starts, is proving that birds, with a lotta help from dedicated humans, the species that helped wipe them out, can make a comeback.
Working with Steve and a host of other noted ornithologists for a week was a thrill in itself. To be standing next to the largest gull species on the planet was equally thrilling. I was sure the ornithologists wouldn’t bite. The gulls had yet to prove themselves.
As with most pleasure-filled outings, our week seemed to be over before it began. Yet, unlike many experiences, because we did about three weeks worth of things in 6 days, it felt like so much longer. A typical day started with a bird walk at 5:45 a.m. and ended with a superb lecture on seabird conservation at 9:30 p.m. In between there was little time for rest, which suited most of us just fine.

Gulls nest among the collection of trash that washes ashore

One of our service projects on an uninhabited (by humans) island was to census the nesting gull populations and remove trash that accumulates. The primary nesting species were Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls, the largest of its kind. As our leaders told us, all we had to do was look into the nest, determine which species had laid the eggs, and call out the information to a fellow volunteer acting as the designated recorder. Sounds easy. Getting onto the island, however, from a rocking dory was just the first challenge. And since the Herring Gull and the Great Black-backed’s eggs look virtually identical. The only way to be sure which species, was to pick up the egg and measure its circumference with your fingers.

Great Black-backed Gull egg

Hmmm. This definitely fell into the easier-said-than-done bucket. And did I mention the hazardous, rocky shores these birds nest on? Or the cacophony of sound surrounding us? Or the drop-dead gorgeous scenery that pulled us away from our task?
Being a peace-loving, tree-hugging, left-leaning, non-aggressive individual, I thought I could talk my way past some of the bellicose birds. That’s when I remembered I are a righter and not a talker. I learned, after a few tension-filled moments, that the gulls were bluffing—most of the time. If we walked slow, said nice things about their parents and children, and how we were just trying to help them—not eat them, everyone seemed to play nice together.

Herring Gulls fight for space among abandoned lobster traps

The day we headed out to East Egg Rock, the major site of Project Puffin, the weather was not in our favor. Through the skillful handling of our boat by the captain, we got relatively close to the island and saw some puffins, most of which were currently attending nests in burrows in the rocks.
These days, when it seems any news about humans and animals is generally about destruction, I urge you to take a look at Project Puffin’s web site,, to see what one man’s faith in his beliefs can do to change the world.

Dr. Steve Kress (center) could easily give a field lecture on botony as well as birds

Friday, July 01, 2011

Well, If It Was Easy …

Tom pinpoints his cast between rock and tree

To paraphrase Yogi Berra (I think), I’ve been so busy of late I don’t have time to do anything—like post to my blog, for example.
One of the things that recently kept me away from the keyboard was a fishing trip to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s been my experience that most fly shops sort of live up to their names, at least geographically, if nothing else. Mountain Angler in Breckenridge, Colorado, or, Lakestream Fly Fishing Shop in Whitefish, Montana, as a couple of examples. I try to stay away from places with names like “BIG Fish,” etc., for the same reason you should not eat at a place called “Mom’s.” So when fishing-buddy Tom called and said I had to drop everything unessential in my life because he had an opening on a trip with fishing experts from the Trophy Water Guide Service in Boone, North Carolina, I was a bit dubious.
As luck would have it, we had a great time. Rhett Shroyer, along with his brother, Justin, run Trophy Water (, or maybe it’s more accurate to say they “float” trophy water, which in our case was the Watauga River.

This will catch what?

My first inkling of challenges to come was when Rhett showed me the fly we’d be using. I’ve always subscribed to the theory of “big fly, big fish.” I looked at this bug, which was nothing more than some tan thread, thin gold wire and a tiny bead on an obvious hook and figured it would take about 10 of these babies to cover my thumbnail. This was not going to be easy fishing. But then, if it was easy, the place would be crowded. I quickly learned that this kid has not been fishing these waters for eight years without learning a thing or two. We were still within sight of the boat trailer when Tom hauled in the first fish of the day.
The end of story is that we probably did not set any world records for numbers of fish caught or for size of fish caught. We did catch some super wild trout and plenty of them; a nice mix of rainbows and browns. As often happens on fishing trips, the largest fish were the ones that got off the hook, or, as in this case, never see the hook. We had just reeled in our lines so Rhett could safely navigate us through a dicey stretch of water, when a huge splash near the stern made all three of us turn to look. Beyond our wildest fish-dreams, a huge brown trout, doing a great imitation of Jaws, was chasing a small (maybe 10-inch) rainbow. The rainbow was in such a panic it nearly beached itself getting away. We three humans could only offer deep, philosophical utterings, like “Wow!” or, “Holy Shit! Did ya see that?”
After the fact we tried to guess the size of the brownie, and like witnesses to a crime, we all have different stories. I’m sure the fish was at least as large as one of my grandkids. Tom and Rhett have their own size guesstimates and they’re stickin’ to them.

Size doesn't matter if you're wild

We spent the next couple days floundering around small, off-the-map mountain streams, picking up a few fish here and there, seeing some of the most beautiful backwoods scenery in the country. (I saw a bumper sticker that sort of defines it: Paddle faster. I hear banjo music!) When I commented to Tom on how drop-dead gorgeous this place was, he said, “Lad, I keep tellin’ ya, trout don’t live in ugly places.”