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Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day, the day we celebrate our dads, the people who helped us grow into young men and women. For thousands of years, fathers have been the protectors and providers for their families, and they have traditionally been the source of life-saving wisdom and decision making. The lessons and skills they teach their children, especially their sons, are essential for living life properly.

Thank you to my dad, for teaching me to use a chainsaw and an axe from a young age. For giving me the childhood chore of splitting and stacking firewood all summer long, so that our family would have heat and comfort all winter long. Other chores included weeding the garden and shooting pests like chipmunks, squirrels, and groundhogs, all of whom could easily do tremendous damage to the garden in just minutes. And while these chores trained me in self-reliance, hard work, and planning ahead, it was the one thing that dad would not let me do that probably shaped me the most.

Although my dad comes from a hunting family, he himself did not and still to this day does not hunt. Oh, he appreciates wild game and will eat it over everything else, given a choice. But when I started taking my BB gun on deer hunts with neighbors at age eight, my dad always told me I had to get close to the animal to shoot it. As I grew into a young Indian or frontiersman out there in the wilds of southern Centre County, I was prohibited by dad from topping my rifles with scopes. Only open sights were allowed. He said using only open sights taught me woodcraft, requiring me to get close to the wild animals I wanted to harvest, before taking their lives.

“It is only fair,” he said. “You can’t just assassinate unsuspecting wild animals from hundreds of yards away. If you hunt, you must be a real hunter. You must get close and take the animal with skill, on its own terms, where it can see, hear and smell you. That is fair.”

And so last deer season, on a steep hillside deep within the Northcentral PA state forest complex, all of those lessons and preparation came together in one quick, fleeting second. I did the Elmer Fudd thing all alone, quietly sidehilling into the wind, trying to live up to Dad’s dictum. One cautious, slow step at a time. Eyes scanning ahead, downhill, and especially uphill. Ears on high alert for any sound other than the wind in the leaves. Big bucks that are bedded down high above where the puny humans might slip, stumble, and walk, are most likely to flee to higher ground when one of us Pleistocene guys shows up too close for comfort. Deer might hear or smell us coming a long way off, or they might see us at the last second because we are being quiet and playing the wind right, but they know that within a hundred yards or so, we can kill them. So they flee uphill, and in stumbling up against gravity and slippery things underfoot they give us shot opportunities we would not otherwise have.

And so when the strange <snap> sounded out ahead of me, just over the slight rise that led into the large bowl filled with mature timber and rock outcroppings, and an odd looking animal bolted down hill almost bouncing like a fisher, I quickly backpedaled.

Anticipating where the deer would emerge about 130 yards below me, I quickly and also carefully walked straight backwards to where a natural slight funnel in the ground provided a clear enough shooting lane down through the forest to a small stream bed. Anything passing between me and the stream would be broadside at moments, providing a clear shot through heart and lungs if I took careful aim.

And sure enough, the big doe filled one of those spaces so briefly that I don’t even recall seeing her. All I do recall is how the rifle butt fit carefully into the space between the backpack strap over my shoulder and the thick wool coat sleeve, and how the open sights briefly aligned with her chest. The thumb safety had been snicked off already without thinking, and the gun cracked. I fired the gun instinctively.

Quickly raising the binoculars to my face, the doe was clearly visible way down below me, lying fully outstretched on the forest floor just above the stream bank, like in mid-leap with her front hooves and rear hooves completely extended ahead and behind, except she was not moving. She was laying still, her neck fully stretched out on her front legs like she was taking a nap. I watched her tail twitch a few times and then knew she was dead.

Sliding on my butt down to her was more challenging than climbing up to where I had been still hunting her. Northcentral PA mountainsides are the most difficult terrain for humans, in my experience. It is topped with a layer of slippery leaves, then wet twigs and branches waiting underneath to act like oil-slicked icicles, ready to throw a boot way ahead of one’s body. If the wet leaves and branches don’t make you fall down, then the rotten talus rock waiting underneath the leaves and twigs will slide, causing you to either do an extra-wide wildly gesticulating split, or fall on your butt, or fall on your back.

So I scooted downhill to the doe, tobogganning on my butt on the slick forest floor, cradling the rifle against my chest, keeping my feet out ahead of me to brake against getting too much speed and hurtling out of control.

Arriving at her body, I marveled at how she resembled a mule. Her long horse face and her huge body were anything but deer-like. Her teeth were worn down, and she must have been at least five years old. The single fawn hanging around watching me indicated an older mother no longer able to bear twins or triplets. This old lady had done her job and had given us many new deer to hunt and watch over many deer years.

Normally, in such remote and rugged conditions I will quickly bone out the deer, removing all of the good meat and putting it in a large trash bag in my backpack, leaving the carcass ungutted and relatively intact for the forest scavengers. But this doe was so big that I just had to show her off to friends, and so after putting the 2G tag on her ear, I ran a pull rope around her neck and put a stick through her slit back legs, and began the long drag out.

This hunt has stayed with me almost every day since that day. I think about it all the time, because it was so rewarding in so many ways, and emblematic of being a good hunter. Not the least of which was the careful woodcraft that led up to the moment where the smart old doe was busted in her bed and then brought to hand with one careful shot as she loped away, far away. Just as easily I could have been a hunter clothed in bucksin, using a stick bow and arrow five thousand years ago.

Thanks, Dad, for all the good lessons, the chores, the hard work, the restrictions and requirements that made me the man I am today. Without your firmly guiding hand back then, I would not be the man I am today. And what kind of man am I? I am a fully developed hu-man; a competent hunter with the skill set only a dad can teach a son, even if it takes a lifetime.

[some will want to know: Rifle is a 1991 full-stock Ruger RSI Mannlicher in .308 Winchester with open sights. Bullets in the magazine were a motley assortment of Hornady, Winchester, and Federal 150-grain soft points, any one of which will kill a deer or a bear with one good shot. Binoculars are Leupold Pro Guide HD 8×32 on a Cabela’s cross-chest harness. Boots are Danner Canadians. Coat is a Filson buffalo check virgin wool cruiser. Pants are Filson wool. Backpack is a now discontinued LL Bean hunting pack, most closely resembling the current Ridge Runner pack. Knife is a custom SREK by John R. Johnson of Perry County]

Remembering US Army veteran Paul Marino

Today is Memorial Day, devoted to remembering the US military service personnel who devote their lives and safety so that the rest of us civilians can sit back and crack a cold beer and marvel at how life in America is oh, so good. So easy.

Out of the many hundreds of thousands of US military veterans who have contributed to my own daily sense of settled well-being, one recently caught my attention. Not because he was a super warrior who killed many enemies, nor because he was a battlefield hero who risked his own life to save many of our own wounded. What actually struck me was the clean, all-America way that Paul Marino lived his life, raised his wholesome family based on time-tested simple values, worked for a living, contributed to his community and neighbors.

Not that military veterans hold these kinds of qualities exclusively, but we all know many veterans, if not the vast majority, who are exemplary citizens and neighbors. Real stand-outs in terms of their public service, their charitable giving, their easy way with strangers and neighbors. US Army veteran Paul Marino exemplified all of this.

Here is the thing: I did not know or meet Paul Marino. He only came to my attention because he was recently executed with his wife, Lidia, while visiting the grave of their son Anthony in the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear, Delaware. For years they visited Anthony’s grave there almost daily.

Paul and Lidia were shot in their heads execution-style, from behind, by a 29-year-old man named Sheldon Francis. He used a handgun, up close and personal. By all appearances this was a classic hate crime, Paul and Lidia targeted because of their skin color by a hateful man amped up on a constant barrage of racial hate and jealousy messaging from American campuses, activist groups, American media people, and even from some religious institutions.

Some people have surmised that Paul and Lidia were murdered by Francis in retaliation for the racially motivated murder of Ahmad Aubrey in Georgia earlier this year. I suppose to some people this might make sense, or even be justified. It is not justified, and I have no question that Paul and Lidia would disagree, also, were they alive today to have an opinion on it. After all, they believed in hard work, simple family values, church attendance, community, home, and service. Blind retribution was not in their lexicon.

As a little girl, Lidia remembered the German soldiers marching through her town in Italy, and she also remembered the American GIs marching through from the other direction as the Germans skedaddled in retreat. Lidia knew the value of family, community, and practicing good deeds.

Whatever the reason for Francis gunning down two people in their eighties in a cemetery, the fact remains America is much the poorer for their loss. We lost a solid veteran and his life partner in an unexpected, avoidable, unnecessary, evil way. Paul and Lidia represented the very best of America. The murder represents a culture clash that must be resolved, peacefully and with love, and firmly.

Modern America was built by people like Paul and Lidia Marino. In fact, it is impossible to think of an America without them and their important small, humble, daily positive gifts and services back to all of us. The solid communities they built, the sense of reliable neighborliness they brought to any community they lived in. And the US Army that Paul Marino served in did not so much build Paul up, as people like Paul built up that institution and made it the effective fighting force and great equalizer for Americans of all skin colors and religions that it remains today.

Rest easy, Soldier, and thank you for your many different services you provided to all of us Americans.

A silver lining

It is easy to become angry as it becomes clearer every day that the coronavirus lockdown response has been a partisan media hype job without any basis, and we have all been deprived of our most essential civil rights by a bunch of power-mad politicians.

After all, as of today’s Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics, exactly 2/3 of the deaths here attributed to covid19 Wuhan Flu occurred in nursing homes and other elder care facilities, among vulnerable elderly people who already had serious health problems.

And we are also learning that a great many of the Wuhan Flu – related deaths are not actually related to the CCP Wuhan Flu. But they are chalked up to it to artificially inflate the numbers, to make it seem worse than it is.

And we are also learning that the death rate of the Wuhan CCP Flu is actually very low. Lower than ye olde regular annual flu! In other words, a lot lot lot of Americans contracted the CCP Flu, showed little or no signs of it, and did not die or become hospitalized.

So as a bunch of justifiably angry Michiganders storm their state house, and as sheriffs in barely-touched rural areas defy state governors’ over-reach, and as counties and townships begin to open up for business on their own terms (with people wearing masks and standing apart), it is easy to see that a public powder keg could go up in dramatic fashion. Why not? It is the American way. It is how we founded our great nation. Hang ’em high!

But there has been a silver lining to all of this stay-the-f*ck-at-home stuff, and that is the result that American families have spent more time together, as families, than since 1952 and the advent of the television. Families have been forced together. In our own home we have had regular family dinners, family conversations, some doozy family fights, and lots of really valuable, really enjoyable, really loving time together. This has been the upside of all the artificial insanity.

And that said, I will also say that I lost a lot of acquaintances and some friends in New York City. They were mostly much older, almost all with some existing health challenges. Some died alone in a hospital, their family members unable to be with them at their time of passing, as they choked to death alone in unfamiliar surroundings. Bad deaths, really hurt and very sad families. There is no question that New York City and its environs have been the hardest hit from the Wuhan Flu, and it is turning out that most of their deaths were also in nursing homes, where Governor Cuomo ordered sick people to go, even as the virus spread.

So yes, there are going to be some lessons learned here. Some painful ones and some good ones. The main good one being that American families are still intact, much more so than we might have thought just eight weeks ago. Let’s not forget this nor let it go. Spending family time together is one of the very best ways to spend time. Hopefully we don’t need a public health emergency to remind us in the future.

Holocaust Remembrance & Israel

Last week had Holocaust Memorial Day, dedicated to remembering the millions of innocent civilians axe murdered by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945. Jewish communities especially make a big deal about this, and all across America they read names of the victims for like 24 hours. A way of memorializing and not forgetting. Fine, easy to understand.

This week it is Israel’s Remembrance Day, to recall those who died fighting for Jewish autonomy and survival, from 1945 until today. In a tiny country that is smaller than New Jersey, this is a big deal. Every person who dies while fighting for survival is a big deal. Easy to understand.

Here is what is so hard to understand: All the (mostly liberal) Jews who spend all year long talking about the Holocaust as if it is a new religion, and who pour tremendous energy into Holocaust Remembrance Day like it is the holiest day of the year, are absolutely opposed to self defense, gun ownership, and self-reliance. It is as if they have no idea what is happening in Israel just a week later, because if they did understand it, they would have learned this simple lesson:

If you don’t like being a victim, and if you want to prevent things like cattle cars and Zyklon B gassing from happening to you or your descendants, then get a gun, get a pile of ammunition, and learn to use them together. Be self-reliant and coordinate your life with other Americans who feel the same way. 

You could call it a civilian militia of sorts, which is all-American. Or call it the modern version of the Hebrew Aid Society. Whatever you call it, it will provide a decent immediate defense in tough times, and a reasonably good way to beat a tactical retreat so that you, your family, your friends can get some place safer and more defensible. So that you can survive.

If survival is what you really want….

Passover & Easter Message to America: You Will Survive

This week and week-end are Passover and Easter.

Passover is not just the story of the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Nor is it about watching Charlton Heston play Moses for the hundredth time, though I will surely do that too, because Heston was religious and embraced that role with a fervor you can feel even now fifty years later.

Passover is really a story of long-term survival. The long, long life against all odds of an ancient people, guided by the simple truths of all humanity through faith in the guiding hand of God.

Easter may be on its surface about resurrection, more or less the same kind of afterlife-in-this life foretold in the same Hebrew Scriptures followed by people beginning Passover momentarily. But it is also about re-birth and hope.

And that is the message of this week for America: Hope and rebirth. We are not dead, not even close, but we will require a re-birth after this covid19 thing passes, like one of the Biblical plagues of ancient Egypt.

Whatever holiday you observe this week, Passover or Easter, take heart from either one, or both. Know that God stands with America, that He created this great nation and that He will not allow us to fail. We just must be true to Him, and to each other.

We will emerge from this virus challenge alive and strong.

My comments to the PA Game Commission

The Pennsylvania Game Commission board of commissioners will be meeting this weekend, to set next season’s dates and bag limits. Like many other people, I submitted comments by email last week. From past experiences with this, I know that the commissioners read comments and requests from the public. Some of my comments, and those of my son, have received direct feedback from various members of the board.

A key to getting the commissioners to read and truly consider your comments is to submit them with plenty of time for the recipients to read them. If you submit comments a day or two before the meeting, it’s a very low likelihood of anyone having time to read them. Also, try to keep comments short, to the point, and sweet. Comments with prolonged bitching, whining, and playing biologist when you have no training or education or even a novice’s interest in wildlife biology, are all ways to ensure that your audience at best glances at your comments.

“Dear Commissioners,
Hunting should be fun, and therefore our small game seasons should run unbroken from their Fall opening to their February close. Whatever long gone reason for the on again-off again pattern of small game seasons, Pennsylvania must create opportunities for everyone. No biological reason exists for hiccup-style seasons. Few if any other states have this odd pattern. Let’s just let our hunters have fun and hunt.

In that vein, please consider allowing bodygrip traps on running pole sets in our most rural WMUs. The idea that a loose domestic dog is going to get caught in a trap in the middle of a state forest wilderness is preposterous. Same is true on private land. Same goes for allowing snares. We need all the tools we can get to manage coyotes. With now three years of crazy freeze-thaw-rain winter weather cycles, it’s impossible to rely on footholds. Cable restraints should be allowed throughout the whole season, and snares should be allowed on private land and or on public land in the Big Woods WMUs.

Finally, please put one of our Sundays on the day after the Saturday bear rifle opener, and another Sunday on the day after the Saturday deer rifle opener. This will create the most energy and excitement for our hunters. Even better, make bear and deer rifle concurrent!

Thank you for considering my thoughts,

–Josh”

Deer season is mostly over…now what happened?

Everywhere I checked, deer season (rifle) was just…off… this year.

The deer were off their usual trails, off their usual habits, patterns, just not cooperating. People hunting up in the Big Woods and down in the farm country all said that opening day was the quietest they had ever heard.

“When I was a kid, opening day sounded like a war zone,” says Ed, a product of west-central PA and lifelong hunter.

“This year, I heard nine shots all day. What the hell is that about?” he says emphatically.

And how could I not agree? Heck, I recall 2005’s opener, because I warned a flatlander non-hunting new neighbor that it was going to sound like “Bosnia” around their newly acquired country retreat. And it did. And it was a rewarding feeling looking up into the snow-covered mountains and seeing blaze orange dots sprinkled all over the landscape.

This year, we heard four or five shots on opening Saturday and maybe two or three shots on Monday, up in the Big Woods. And yet plenty of deer were moving. Talk about strange! Totally uncharacteristic.

Might be that our hunters are aging out in larger numbers than we anticipated, or that too many are part of the “professional whiners club,” never satisfied with the deer we have, but rather longing for the bad old days of over-abundant deer that we used to have. And therefore not participating in deer hunting, as a form of protest.

I don’t mean to pick on people, but it is disheartening and frustrating to hear the unfair abuse some Pennsylvania hunters heap on the Pennsylvania Game Commission and on anyone else who supports the PGC’s science-based wildlife management. No question, there are fewer deer…and so what is wrong with that?

And in fact, due to the hunters opting out because they say there are not sufficient deer to hunt, the deer numbers everywhere sure appear robust to me. They aren’t getting hunted very hard, so they are naturally reproducing quite fine. But the harvest numbers are down everywhere I hunt, in both the Big Woods and the farm country. Maybe we will be seeing longer deer seasons as a result.

–Some Reflections–

Deer drives: Like bear drives that are so popular the week before deer rifle season, deer drives are a necessity if hunters are going to see deer. Deer are adapatable, intelligent animals, and after 20 years of concurrent doe-buck hunting, they have changed their behavior. Gone are the days when a hunter could sit at Pap’s stand and expect to fill a buck tag. Now, the deer are moving around old stand sites, or staying hunkered down altogether. It takes a boot in their behind to get them moving, and once they are moving, deer begin to make mistakes. If hunters are ready enough, they can exploit those mistakes and start filling tags.

But just sitting is a very tough way to kill a deer any longer, under most conditions. So try deer drives. Even a two-man “leap-frog” drive is very effective. One hunter posts up in a good ambush spot, while the other slowly and quietly stalks into the wind or on some other trajectory, say for 300-500 yards. Then the driver becomes the poster/stander, and the former stander becomes the driver, moving around and ahead of the other hunter. Pennsylvania whitetails usually loop around and backtrack, so it is common to bump deer that will try to get around behind you. If you have a buddy standing back there, the deer will often present  a great shot while making their “escape.”

Deer scents & lures: If every other hunter is spraying a gallon of doe pee all over the landscape every time he or she goes hunting, what kind of effect do we think this will have on the deer we are targeting? If you think it is very confusing to the deer to be bombarded from every side by olfactory lures, then you are correct. Americans like everything BIG – guns, cars, trucks, competitive sports, homes, etc., and deer scents are no different.

A lot of hunters approach deer estrous scents like “Heck, if a few drops on a tampon hung in a tree branch is good enough, then a whole 2-ounce bottle should really do the trick!”

This is wrong thinking, because it is a total overdose. More is not better. Deer cannot handle the overdose. Now I am encountering hunters using “Buck Bomb” cans that are the size of a bathroom fresh scent can; that is, enough snoot material to wipe out a city. Problem is, deer are just single animals, and like humans, when they are carpet-bombed by too much estrous scent everywhere all of the time, they become confused, even spooked, and the scents lose their effectiveness.

So use your estrous scents sparingly, only at specific times, when the rut is at its highest. Like October 25th through the end of archery season. And maybe a few drops during the late season, because some does do come back into heat. The less you use, the more effective it will be.

Quality hunts: For better or for worse, right or wrong, killing a buck is the goal of most deer hunters. A buck is the ultimate symbol of hunting prowess, or good fortune, and the bigger the rack, the bigger the bragging rights. So far I have not killed a buck this season, and I doubt I will. But I am cheerfully accepting my fate, because I did take a big old matriarch doe on state forest land that sees little hunting pressure.

Long hike in and up up up, then a J-hook turn into the wind and sidehilling very slowly, carefully, trying not to fall loudly or too often in the wet leaves and rotten rock, brought me to a big old doe in her bed. She jumped up at the sound of a twig snapping under my boot, and ran around trying to figure out what it was. Within moments she was loping downhill at an angle, and at a rather longer distance than I had anticipated, I put a .308 150-grain slug through her lungs. No sign of the buck I was sure was hiding way up in that remote and vast wash, but the old doe was a pretty tough quarry, too. And so I consider this a real quality hunt, fairly won with hard work, good woodcraft and good shooting in a beautiful environment (Nothing like solo hunting the big woods. My favorite thing). This for me makes my season a good one, buck or no buck.

The memory of this hunt, the beautiful setting, the clear stream at the bottom of the steep wash, the two old mines I found, the soothing solitude … it will all carry me all year long. Just closing my eyes will take me back there. And as usual, I used a JRJ knife and the Ruger M77 RSI International in .308. No better mountain rifle in bolt action exists. Yes, a quick-handling double rifle could be an even better gun, but they are not made for the constant abuse that guns receive in this place.
It was also a good season because as a driver, often the only driver, I pushed many other deer to standers on our drives, some of whom connected. Last Friday, I got to be a stander, and a buck and a doe ran straight to me on a drive in a regenerating clearcut in Clark’s Valley. I couldn’t get good shots in the thick stuff, so I waited. Usually I shoot at 10-20 yards in those bramble and sapling thickets, and they were almost to me. They had no idea I was there. Suddenly a loud crashing  and a noisy rush through the brush comes from behind and below the deer, and a bear runs between them, spooks them, splits them. Mister Buck goes to my left, Missus Doe to my right, and both gone out of sight. The bear continues straight past me, now just walking, maybe five yards away on the logging road I’m standing on, apprising me in some grouchy bemusement, and then up the mountain he goes.
It was a good way to end the rifle season, and I hope you had a good one, too.
Flintlock season, here I come, wide misses and all!

See you all at the Great American Outdoor Show in early February, where I will be volunteering with the PFSC (Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, formerly Clubs) a lot. Please come by and say hello.

Marc and Robb enjoy the fruit of a long day’s hunt in the Big Woods

Support the organizations who support you: FOAC

One of the few curses of serving boards of various non-profit organizations is watching financial support and personal affiliation drop over time, primarily among the younger generations. No matter how much good works these nonprofit groups do, it is a fact that public (private) support and participation is decreasing across America, especially among young people. Groups as diverse as churches, shooting clubs, non profit land trusts and related conservation groups, the Elks, the Shriners, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, etc. are all hurting for income that they used to take for granted from appreciative citizens.

So why does support for outstanding organizations who do so much for us and our own interests continue to drop?

Right now there are two primary reasons that are the same across America, regardless of the type of non profit organization. Everyone volunteering for or staffing non-profits are seeing the same thing. First, older people are are getting older, and with age comes restricted income. With restricted income comes less margin and fewer Dollars for donations, a pretty straight forward reason. Related to this is that as older people age, they eventually die off, and America is seeing the very end of The Greatest Generation that created the America we enjoy today, as well as their children, the heirs to their solid values and sense of community and patriotism.

Second, and the biggest reason, is the younger generations take everything for granted. Literally everything they enjoy – roads, schools, bridges, libraries, churches, shooting clubs, etc. seems to have dropped from the clear blue sky for their sole enjoyment. What they do not understand is how much hard work and sacrifice was done by generations before them, to get us to this rich present. If they have a cool beanie hat, an iPhone, and a ten dollar coffee, these younger Americans are perfectly happy to let the world keep turning and to let someone else make it turn for them.

Hard work does not run in their veins.

Apparently social media is the answer to everything with the younger crowd; despite their ethereal quality, those binary digital photons are just getting everything done right and left, like life is a big MineCraft game. Grown ups know this is not a fact.

Younger Americans are not donating to or volunteering for non-profit groups, no matter how important those groups and facilities are to their happiness. Simple and very sad fact. And at some point, after the various organizations go belly up and go out of business, the younger people will ask “Hey, do you remember that friends of Apple Pie Park group? You know, the people who put in the gravel walkway into the park? Where are they, because that park walkway is all mud now and someone needs to fix it.”

One group that means a lot to me as a gun owner, that gets a lot done for all gun owners, including YOU, is Firearm Owners Against Crime, FOAC, a perfectly named group out of western Pennsylvania run by tireless activist Kim Stolfer, in partnership with tireless attorney Josh Prince out of eastern Pennsylvania. Under Josh’s hard work, FOAC recently won a big precedent before the Commonwealth Court, where years of bizarre precedent had required citizens to go out and break the law before gaining legal standing to challenge that law. Until Josh Prince persuaded them otherwise, the court had actually been requiring people to become criminals to challenge unfair laws!

No longer.

This court decision is especially important to younger gun owners who seem to incorrectly believe that firearms ownership is out of reach of anti-gun prohibitionist crusaders. Like the local park friends group that paves the walkway so elderly visitors and parents pushing strollers can access that park, FOAC is out there battling for you, me, US, so that we can enjoy our Constitutional rights without infringement.

Like so many other non-profit organizations, FOAC deserves our support. They cannot work for us without our support of their work.

(and yes, I am the Harrisburg City plaintiff in FOAC’s lawsuit)

 

It’s that time of year again

Plenty of things have gone to hell in a hand basket over the course of the last four or five decades, and I would only be living up my highest and bestest reputation as a grouchy curmudgeon if I ticked them all off here as a laundry list of petty grievances. But other writers and commenters have already done all that, much better than I can, so I am going to mention just one frustration. And it must be credited to that mild mannered conservationist Aldo Leopold, who first put his finger on this, on the very beginning of what ails us Americans today.

If I read one more time the overused phrase “In a Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes…” I am going to scream. You are there and I am here on the other side of the screen, and we cannot actually hear one another, so it will sound like a silent scream, but rest assured, it drives me nuts and right now I am doing my best silent scream imitation about this. Sure, it is a testament to how inspiring Leopold was and still is that so (so) many people begin all kinds of talks and writings and poems with this opener, citing some comment or observation Leopold made back in the crusty 1940s Dark Ages that yet, surprisingly, has so much application and salience today, eighty years later. But it is so very much overused to the point where it is almost maudlin to hear it used yet one more time.

And then, when I think of those intervening eighty years, well, they have been both a blessing and a curse, haven’t they, and so I find myself in that recognizably similar frame of mind…

So what the hell.

In Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, he talks about cutting down a large oak tree with a crosscut saw, and how much history is gliding by as the saw blade traverses across the tree stem. For every few growth rings that are sawn, Leopold lists various wars and human milestones, scientific achievements as well as natural science moments, as the blade cuts deeper. Just that description alone is a pretty cool writing achievement by Leopold. It is a symbol and image that so many people have trouble forgetting.

But then at the end of the essay, just when the reader thinks “Yeah, I suppose cutting fire wood is more symbolic and meaningful than I thought it was, guess there’s a lotta history in those old oaks at Grandpa’s farm,” Leopold suddenly gets to the whole raison d’être of his history lesson (and I am closely paraphrasing here):

I knew Americans were eventually doomed to cultural rot and failure when we discovered that heat came from a small switch on the wall, and not from cutting our own firewood every year.”

Here in the middle of his gentle outdoor lullaby, Leopold lamented the ease of life that had arrived with then-modern conveniences and services. He saw them as a two-edged sword, cutting both ways, for and against, because working hard for something, especially for your own ambient heat in the dead of winter, is an important lesson about how all humans are in truth part of the natural cycles around us all the time. Participating in these cycles humbles us, brings us into the actual healthy swing of things around us, helps integrate us with the earth’s natural vibe, tune, and wavelength, each of which we ride every moment of every day, even if we are unaware of it. And thus, it helps us thereby appreciate the natural world that sustains us every day. Even if we are unaware of it.

Leopold was advocating for Americans living newly cushy lives devoid of physical challenges to get the hell off their asses and live in the real world, to take responsibility for their own needs and not outsource everything (like the Romans did at their end). Cut their own firewood, grow a garden, shoot a grouse for dinner or a catch a fish for lunch. The ability to be self-reliant is not only an American trait from our frontier days, it is innately tied to all successful human cultures at all times.

Mind if we switch here to someone on the other side of the spectrum from our mild naturalist and wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold, who nonetheless expresses much the same sentiment?

I hate luxury. I exercise moderation…it will be easy to forget your vision and purpose once you have fine clothes, fast horses, and beautiful women. [All of which will result in] you being no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.” — Genghis Khan (brutal conqueror of the entire known world in his time).

As that completely successful “mad butcher” said it, luxuries make humans soft and weak. Hard work makes us strong and successful. If there is a hallmark of modern America, it is that we are awash in luxuries and conveniences, to the point where the younger generations have no idea how we arrived here at this point, how much sacrifice was required to give them these fancy phones and coffees. Our younger people think that luxuries and easy comforts just fall like manna from Heaven.

So, to be the truest, best American you can be, why not cut some firewood?

Here in central Pennsylvania it is that time of year again, the time of year where if you have not yet stacked the last of your firewood in the woodshed, you damned well better get on with it. Ain’t no time to lose. Any week now Mother Nature can show up with a big old cold surprise, a major dose of early Winter, knock out the electricity to your town, and leave you at the mercy of serious cold temperatures. It’ll be nice if we have all of October to enjoy mild Fall weather, with no need to light the wood stove, but you never know what the future brings. Better to be prepared, right?

Funny how something so insignificant as cutting one’s own firewood can be synonymous with an entire culture’s success or failure.

Wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold smoked tobacco, owned guns, ate what he hunted, planted a garden every year, and cut his own firewood. If you have not read A Sand County Almanac, then get it, because a world of special delight awaits you there, and it will change your life.

This season’s supply of split firewood stashed in the old woodshed, which is due to be replaced in 2020

Public Lands: Public good, public love

Someone named this September “Public Lands Month,” and while I have no idea who did this, or why they did it, I’ll take it nonetheless. Because like the vast majority of Americans, I totally, completely, absolutely love public land. Our public parks, forests, monuments, recreation areas, and wildlife management areas are one of the greatest acts of government in the history of human governments.

As a wilderness hunter, trapper, and fisherman, I truly love the idea of public land, and I love the land itself. No other place provides the lonesome opportunities to solo hunt for a huge bear or buck, either of which may have never seen a man before, or to take a fisher and a pine marten in a bodygripper or on a crossing log drowning rig, than public land.

If you want a representation of what is best and most symbolic of America, look to our public lands. They best capture the grandeur of America’s open frontier, the anvil upon which our tough national character was hammered and wrought. It was on the American frontier that Yankee ingenuity, self-reliance, and an indomitable hunger for individual freedom and liberty was born. And yes, while it was the Indian who reluctantly released his land to us, it was also the Indian who taught us the land’s value, so that we might not squander it, using it cheaply, profligately, and indiscriminately. Public lands are the antidote to our natural inclination to use land the same way we use everything else within our reach.

Some armchair conservatives argue that our public land is a waste of resources. That it is a bottled-up missed opportunity to make even more-more money, and if only we would just blow it all up, pave it all, dam it all, cut it all right now, etc, then someone somewhere would have even more millions of dollars in his pocket, and daggone it, he really wants those extra millions on top of the millions he already has in his pocket. When all our farmland is paved, that same armchair conservative will have nowhere to grow food to feed us, and apparently he will learn to eat dollar bills (he already thinks Dollars are what we survive on, anyhow, so it’ll be an interesting test of reality meeting theory).

But the truth is it’s mentally sick to talk about how much money you can get for selling your mother, or for selling your soul, which is what our land is, take your pick. Hunger for more money than a man knows what to do with, notwithstanding. But some things are just not worth valuing with money, and no number of payments of thirty pieces of silver will ever, ever amount to anything in comparison to what is actually in hand, our public land.

Others complain that public land is communism, but what do they say about the old English and New England commons, where villagers pastured their collected cows? Were our forebears who fought at Bunker Hill fighting for communism? You know they weren’t. Sometimes sharing isn’t a bad thing, and sharing some land is probably one of the best things. If Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks were privately owned, no one from the public would be there, right?

Americans are fortunate to have in their hand millions of acres of public land that they can access, from Maine to Alaska to Hawaii and everywhere in between. Little township and county squirrel parks, big state forests and parks, and vast national parks like the Appalachian Trail and Acadia are all magical experiences available only because they are public.

It is true that LaVoy Finicum was murdered in cold blood by out of control public employees over a legitimate debate with tyrannical, unaccountable public land managers in Oregon. But that is not the fault of the public grazing land there, any more than a murder can be blamed on the gun and not the man who pulled its trigger. We need to hold accountable those who screwed over Finicum and those who murdered him, not blame the land on which it all happened. Despite some failings by public land managers, of which Finicum’s murder is a great and sad example, public land remains one of the very few things that government actually does well and right almost all of the time. Corrective action is just one new administration away, as selected by the voters.

If you want to see untrammeled natural beauty for campers and hikers, or if you want to experience bountiful hunting lands for an afternoon or a week, then look to the public lands near you or far away from you. Everything else – nearly 100% of private lands –  is either dead, dying, or slated for eventual execution at the hands of development.

We need a lot more public land in America. We need more to love in life, and nothing compares to loving a whole mountain range, a river, a field or a forest. It will love you back with nurture and sustenance, too.

Hang glider leaps off of Hyner View State Park, surrounded by a couple million acres of Pennsylvania state forest and state parks

 

Down below Hyner View State Park is the Renova (Renovo) municipal park, with some historical artifacts from past freedom-ensuring conflicts, reminding the next generations of the sacrifices made so they can enjoy iPhones and Starbucks

 

Yours truly standing high up in the Flatirons above super-liberal Boulder, Colorado, in the background, demonstrating “Trump Over Boulder” in case any hikers had missed the shirt. None had missed its presence there, by the way. Lots of public land here, enough for everyone to share, even Donald Trump! (and yes, there are a lot of boulders here in the photo).

The author malingering around the Boulder, Colorado Chautauqua kiosk, silently taunting the invasive liberals gathered and passing through there. And in fact, the Trump shirt earned many double and triple-takes from fellow hikers, unused to experiencing diversity of thought. I did not bite those people, though I was tempted. Great public lands experience!