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A fish tale

What I enjoy most about the summer time is spending that time with my family, my wife and kids. Especially outdoors. Hiking, fishing, boating, target shooting, camping, and cutting firewood with the promise of grilled meat and cold beer at the end is all part of the family experience here.

So here is a fish tale, or the tales of two fish, a punny phrase if ever one swam.

First one up is high school and college friend Jeff called out of the blue.

“Come down on Tuesday. Paul will be here with his son. It will be a fun reunion and we will all have our boys together, out on the boat, fishing.”

Jeff was a varsity wrestler from our arch-rival school, one weight class below me. In college we were separated by three weight classes. Now we are both fat and happy dads, coaching our boys through life the best way we know how – in the outdoors.

An invitation to salt water fish hardly ever goes neglected, especially with two other friends from high school and college, and within 24 hours my boy and I had rolled into town, found our hotel, gone to sleep at 4AM, and risen at 7:30AM ready to spend the day in the salt and sunshine with old friends. Paul and his son showed up from across the country, and we piled food, cold drinks, ice, and gear into the boat and headed out. Jeff is an old salt hand, and was a masterful captain. His friend Brian served as first mate and heartily complimented the wolfed-down sandwiches we brought, while Paul threw his overboard, complaining that they were soft. Some things just never change.

“You are a spoiled princess, you know that?” I scolded Paul. “We were up all night making these delicious sandwiches.” He asked for another sandwich; dry this time, he said.

Aside from catching up among the three of us, and introducing our boys to each other, we caught a pile of mackerel, some bluefish, and we lost one or two large cobia. Here is how the mackerel were prepared.

Captain Jeff, a friend since 1979

 

Happy and proud dad, tired and satisfied son

Fileting fresh mackerel

Brining filets and whole fish for smoking

Brined mackerel on smoking rack

Smoked mackerel…for dips, treats, scrambled eggs, yum

Fast forward a week later and the boy and I are fishing in Pine Creek, which is still running high, for two years now. This means that trout are not only holding over in great numbers, but are thriving in a big freestone stream that nonetheless usually hits 80 degrees and gets skinny by July, an environment where trout are normally picked off by eagles, mink, otters and herons this time of year.

I cast the Rebel Crawfish across a familiar riffle and hooked a large fish, which turned out to be a fat 16 inch rainbow trout. On a tiny ultralight spin rod with four pound test, it felt like the proverbial whale. He came to hand after a noble dispute.

“Do you want to keep him,” I asked my boy. “We haven’t kept a trout out of here in I forget how many years.”

“Yes,” he said, firmly and without hesitation.

This is a kid who really enjoys eating fresh fish, so setting aside my usual aversion to killing trout, I slid it into a small pool of cold spring water cascading down the bank, where the fish could breathe and stay fresh, and also remain within eyesight. That heron kept circling, and I wasn’t about to lose my prize to him.

The boy was admiring the beautiful trout, which had the healthy fins and magically vibrant colors of a native fish, or at least a hatchery fish that had spent an unusually long time in wild water. A fierce, or jealous, look came over the boy’s face and he asked which lure it had been caught on. Instead of tying one on to his rod, I just handed him my rod. One trout among the dozens splashing for emerging mayflies was enough for me, enough for the year. Watching my son catch fish is better than me catching them, and so I stood in the cool shallows with the current tugging at my Crocs, and supervised his casting. The late hot sun beat down harsh and merciless.

“Where did you catch him?” came the unexpected question.

Normally I advise where to cast, and since he was about nine, the boy will cast in the opposite direction of where I suggested. Even if it means getting tangled in a tree or snagged on the bottom. He has been improving on his independence for years now, if not improving his fishing skills. This time, however, he was on a mission. He cast a few times to where he was directed, gaining his bearings, and on the third or fourth splash the plug went exactly where it needed to go, over the fast current and just upstream enough to get a drag-free drift with some natural wobble. He immediately connected, and gently fought another perfect 13-inch rainbow into the shallows.

“Do you want to keep this one, too?” I asked.

“Yes. One fish for each of us. Or both for me – One for dinner and one for breakfast tomorrow,” he replied. Without a hint of irony.

Sound logic it was, and so we placed this trout next to its confined but quite alive mate in the little spring pool in a hollow of rock up on the bank.

With a fine trout under his belt, now it was his turn to sit in the cool shallows and watch me, as I went back out to catch a few bass lurking in the deeper current below the ledgerock. A couple came to hand and were released, and a couple got away. The sun then set over the valley, illuminating the Camel’s Hump and Trout Run in a magical Summer glow. The kind of day’s end that is so beautiful and perfect that you are sure you will remember it clearly forever just as it is experienced in that moment. And we probably will remember it clearly, mostly because the next morning he ate that fish down to the bare bones and then went outside to shoot his flintlock with true professional calm, hitting the distant bulls eye over and over and over. He made his dad proud.

A brace of fresh trout

Perfectly pan fried trout with butter and herbs

Someone really likes fresh trout

Our family’s best and favorite summer vacation route

When our kids were younger, say from ages seven and up, we would take them on an annual vacation through Upstate New York. The trip was devoted mostly to Revolutionary War history, but also to American frontier history, American Indian history, and natural history. All kinds of historic forts dot  the Mohawk Valley, and in between these places are all kinds of incredible natural history places, like the Herkimer diamond mines in Middleville, Moss Island, and the Canajoharie River carved pool. Lots of places to fish at every stop and everywhere in between.

We always started at Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY, and working east we would end at Fort Ticonderoga on the New York/Vermont border. Since we started this trip the forts have all gotten better and better. Fort Ontario refurbished all of their cannons a few years ago. Fort Stanwix has been majorly upgraded and has regular re-enactments. And Fort Ticonderoga now has the biggest private cannon collection in America, so get your tickets to the night time cannon shoot.

The Mohawk River is now largely a canal, and from Oswego to Moss Island you can watch small pleasure boats that started in Florida being raised from lock to lock as they make their way to Lake Ontario, and then to the Ohio River and back down to New Orleans, where they will circle back through the Gulf of Mexico to Florida. Many of the boat owners will stand on the deck to make sure their boat does not bang into the walls of the locks, and they are happy to tell you all about their trip so far. A few years ago one guy told us how his wife had just left the boat and him, and had rented a car to drive home. By the time he expected to arrive back in Florida in the Fall, her things would be gone from their home and the divorce papers would be waiting for him on the dining room table. He actually seemed pretty cheerful about it and said he was still excited to complete the trip, even by himself. By the time he was done telling us this short story, his boat had gone from one end of the lock to the other and was about to start sailing up river.

Our kids had never heard such a thing in their lives, and it gave us plenty to talk about the rest of the trip.

So here is the Revolutionary War route that our family has taken many times over the years, often summer after summer. As our children gained age, they gained new abilities to comprehend and appreciate what they were seeing. Definitely start at Oswego, and do not miss Fort Stanwix. There are all kinds of places to stay each night as you make your way east. Most of them are inexpensive, and many are historic, the the old hotel in Rome, NY, which is actually pretty nice. We usually spend at least one night camping at the Herkimer KOA in Middleville, NY, where we will spend one day mining Herkimer diamonds and another day exploring Moss Island and the historic General Herkimer homestead, which has real cannons and lots of history.

The Oriskany Battlefield monument is one of those places you can’t believe no one talks about, and when you get there and learn and see what took place, you realize how the entire Revolutionary War’s outcome hinged on this one fierce battle between Mohawk Valley patriots and British Regulars, with Indians on both sides.

Moss Island is incredible; I won’t spill the beans and you have to go see for your self, but you absolutely have to go, wearing hiking boots or good trail sneakers. The little town there has a great ice cream store, and my kids always liked fishing under the bridge as well as at Moss Island.

The Canajoharie River has the carved rock pools you can wade in, which I do not identify on the map because I ran out of label room.

Saratoga Battlefield is where a certain famous and then infamous American general made his name. Fort Ticonderoga is AMAZING, and if you are able to get tickets to the night time cannon shoot from the ramparts, you will not be left unimpressed. Trip home to Central or eastern PA, or NYC/New Jersey, is via the NY Throughway south to any number of state routes and highways, depending on how much time you have. We usually do this trip in seven days, though it can be done in ten or even five. The Remington factory tour tickets should be secured beforehand. It is an incredible tour, or at least it was. I think we took it before OSHA stepped in and limited it. The museum there is excellent in and of itself.

I think most teenage kids will enjoy researching each of these sites ahead of time, and you parents can research where you want to stay each night.

Asking PA Fish & Boat to protect our best trout waters

June 17, 2019

Mr. Tim Schaeffer, Executive Director
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission
1601 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg, PA 17110

Dear Tim,

This past weekend I listened to a presentation about making Pennsylvania’s best, most productive trout streams “all-tackle,” which includes bait fishing. While the presentation was primarily about the newly acquired stretch of Spruce Creek, a clear timetable was laid out for making all of our best trout waters all-tackle over the coming three years.

Traditionally, or at least for several decades in many cases, these few hundred miles out of 80,000 miles of Pennsylvania waterways, have been restricted to artificial lures and flies. Those limitations were installed to protect trout from being gut-hooked or gullet-hooked by swallowing bait left to sit on the bottom of the waterway. Once a fish is gullet- or gut-hooked, it is guaranteed to die. This is fine for a put-and-take waterway, or for panfish, or for private waters. But for expensive stocked trout paid for by the license-buying fisherman, or even worse, for native reproducing trout, using bait is almost always a death sentence that eliminates the re-use (through catch and release) of that limited and valuable resource.

The main representation of this all-tackle proposal is that using bait in moving waters does not result in nearly as much fish mortality as once believed. Several studies or carefully observed fishing situations over the late 1990s to 2017 were cited as evidence.

Not having had the time to review this evidence, or to compare it to other factors like increasingly improved water quality state-wide, which resulted in better stream conditions and more trout, my concern is this proposal is moving too fast and asking too much. We just do not really know all that is happening in our best streams. The consequences of being wrong about this could easily set Pennsylvania’s best trout waters back, and it would take years to rebuild them to their current productivity. Additionally, we must consider the long road we have walked to educate anglers that trout and other sport fish are worth much more being released alive than they are being hung on a stringer and then stuffed into a freezer for a year. The cultural progress we have all made on this point has strengthened the use of fishing methods that strongly enhance the success of catch-and-release waters. Would allowing bait on all our catch-and-release waterways be taking a step backwards, after slowly, painfully teaching fishermen that a dead trout is much less useful or fun than a trout slipped back into the water alive to be caught again?

I request that PFBC staff conduct and issue their own wide-ranging analysis of catch-and-release bait fishing in moving waters before adopting anything beyond the Spruce Creek all-tackle catch-and-release stretch. If PFBC staff are confident that, under the right conditions, bait fishing will not result in undue or excessive fish mortality and the degradation of our hard-won resource, then that will be enough for me to drop my opposition. So long as the proper monitoring is in place to ensure that the decision is correctable, should new information develop.

Separately, it made me happy to see you appear officially in public in casual clothes, including shorts. The stuffy formality that used to attach to these executive director positions was a barrier to effectively reaching and communicating with the user communities. Easy but professional informality speaks volumes that you are most focused on solving substantive policy issues, good government, and on effectively connecting with the public, not on self-aggrandizement. What a breath of fresh air, it is exactly what Pennsylvania needs, thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Josh First

Has anyone considered unplugging Spring and plugging it back in to see if it will work right?

Not my creative headline, unfortunately, but a good one nonetheless, and well put in terms of how odd this Spring has been.

Except that this Spring has not been odd, if my memory serves me right. Not in the context of Spring happening over millennia and even over decades. Spring used to be a lot like the on-again-off-again odd weather we have experienced the past month.

When I was a kid, lo these many decades ago, Spring was a process. It was not a moment in time.

Spring took time to become Spring. It was the spaced-out staging of leaves and buds emerging, green poking up through the soil a bit at a time.

“April showers bring May flowers” went the old adage. Meaning that as a precursor to the warm weather with flowers was a sustained period of rain and cool or cold weather. That was Spring, spanning cold, rain, cold rain, and the gradual emergence of green things and then the crowning sign – flowers!

Showers, heck, I recall a snow blizzard in early April as I was casting a small dry fly on the lower reaches of Big Fishing Creek in Clinton County, near the Lamar trout hatchery. In my early twenties, in fact I might have been just twenty years old, I was stubbornly casting to “rising” trout despite a white-out snow storm blanketing the air and the stream’s surface with big white snowflakes. That a trout could tell the difference between a huge plump snowflake and a measly morsel of a vague-looking aquatic insect landing briefly on the surface was a leap of faith I was fully committed to taking, and making with every cast.

My youth’s crowning moment arrived when a much older man, probably someone my age now, stopped to watch me casting the dry fly amidst the snow storm.

“Pretty ambitious, dontcha think?,” he humorously called out from up above.

And right then a big fish whacked my drifting fly, and I hauled in one of the most colorful symbols of Spring, an iridescent rainbow trout. The guy looked at me slack-jawed, eyes wide in amazement, like I was some kind of fishing genius, and I looked up at the snowing heavens and mouthed a “Thank You.” One of the more memorable fish and fishing moments in a lifetime of fishing.

That day the air temperature was still spring-like, but the obvious above-ground temperatures were cold enough to generate snow. It was a  classic symbol of the kind of gradual and slowly shifting, two steps forward one step back warming change that Spring used to be.

But that was thirty, forty years ago. A different world, a different climate.

Apparently the earth’s switching magnetic polarity is now playing a big role in the Winter-to-Summer “Spring” times we have experienced for a long time now. This switch happens naturally every 200,000 to 300,000 years.

Because the earth’s polarity is switching, which means the North Pole becoming the South Pole and vice-versa (but what we arbitrarily call North and South remain the same) the earth’s magnetic field-cum-shield is at its weakest. Earth’s magnetic shield is at its weakest because the poles are swapping positions and the magnetic field strung up between the two poles is stretched to its thinnest. The earth’s magnetic field-cum-shield is one of the reasons our planet has so much life on it; a great deal of harmful cosmic rays and powerful solar ultraviolet (UV) light are caught in the magnetic “net” and they are blocked from reaching the earth’s surface.

Therefore, a lot more solar radiation has penetrated to the earth’s surface over the past few decades, with the kinds of unusual heat, warming, and strong winds that we have witnessed. As well as a lot more quick sunburns under what appear to be pretty normal sunny conditions. The sun is not necessarily stronger, but a lot more of its energy is reaching us. For now.

And that takes me back to that unplugging Spring. For about 35 years Spring has been kind of unplugged, in a way, and it will remain so for about another decade, until the polar switch is complete. And then these gradual Springtimes, like the one we just had, will become normal again.

I can’t wait for that to happen, because I enjoy a real Spring so very much, the change from one season to the next. Normally temperate climes like Pennsylvania appeal to me for that very reason.

Everything hinges on the nickel-iron core inside the earth. And we won’t be unplugging THAT any time soon.

Shoot straight, Downton Abbey!

Downton Abbey is my favorite TV show of all time.

Every in-season Sunday night at 9:00 we eagerly gather round the big screen, home made spiced popcorn by the bucketful for each family member, and we drink in the beautifully done details and attention to form and grace we might otherwise mock, but which suddenly doesn’t look so quaint nowadays.

Everything Downton Abbey is done just right: The clothes, the rooms, the landscapes, the attitudes, the horses’ braided manes and cropped tails, the food, the historic cars, the cobblestone walks, the Upstairs Downstairs separate lives of the nobles and their low-born helpers constantly saying “Yes, m’Lord,” and deferentially bowing.

That awesome acting!

For an award-winning PBS Masterpiece Theater show that has so carefully threaded the yarn of social commentary through the needle of the dramatically changing times of the early Nineteen-Hundreds and Twenties, it is bizarrely deficient on one count: The depiction or even the meaningful presence of field sports at Downton.

Field sports, like pick-up, informal, cross-country steeplechase horse races, formal horse-back fox hunts, weekly and near-daily hunts for driven pheasant, partridge, rabbits, stag, and red deer that for hundreds of years  made up the lives of real-life Downton Abbey residents and their peers until the 1970s, but still lingering on in remote places.

Not to mention salmon fishing with spey rods and picnic baskets filled with bottles of phenomenal Scotch!

Field sports were core to the luxurious but physically challenging lifestyle of the English landed gentry and nobility (and also to their Welsh, Scottish and Irish counterparts), and generated significant economic, technological, and cultural evolutions across the planet.

Downton Abbey’s second season delivered on the natural expectation among educated viewers that accurate depictions of field sports would be part of the rural landscapes designed around them.  And then, in one evening, Downtown Abbey did it right, to the hilt, as we expected.  As we had a right to expect.

Indeed, upon his visit to Shrimpie’s Scottish family castle, properly stocked with historic arms and armor, the most pedestrian Matthew (now dead) successfully stalked Highland stag, using period-correct clothing, ponies, and best-quality rifles, complete with attentive Ghillies nattily attired in the Hebrides’ best men’s skirts.  And he enjoyed it.  A lot.  How true that would have been.  How accurate it was to portray Matthew that way.

How normal that experience was, in real life, at the time Downton Abbey is set in, not only among the Scottish castle dwellers, but among the Downton Abbey residents, as well.

So then, inexplicably, we must wait another year and a half before we see even a brief hunting scene.  Sure there is a steeplechase, and Mary’s galloping sidesaddle was impeccable.  Exciting to watch, and viewers around the globe worried that she might fall; I did.  Jumping sidesaddle is a rare skill, which a gentlelady like Mary would have time to perfect.  Seeing it was, in fact, perfect to my eyes.

Well done!

But the hunting scene this season is awful.  It is shamefully bad, I am sad to say.

This time Tom, Mary, and one of her suitors take a walk on the Downton grounds with best-grade shotguns to hunt up some hares for the house pot.  Incredibly, Tom hesitatingly walks out into the middle of an open field, where no self-respecting rabbit has ever lived or been shot with a gun or caught by a hawk, points his gun up at shoulder level, and pulls the trigger.

At which point we are supposed to believe, what, that a Monty Python-style King Arthur quest-rabbit-on-a-string slowly sailed up into the air and delivered itself to the careful arc of Tom’s staged, static, single shot?

Come on, Downton Abbey!  This is not right. Not only is it not technically right, it’s not naturally right, but most important, it’s not socially right.

Just think of the potential social commentary available to the writers about a radical Irish Socialist private limo driver who then becomes the family’s land manager.

From being against estates, he is now the arm of the Lord of the estate.  From opposing monarchy, he literally gets in bed with it and his (now dead) wife Sybil bears him a child born to wealth and noble high status.

Putting the equivalent of a $150,000 best-quality shotgun in Tom’s hands, and a $5,000 wool suit on his handsome frame, while he hunts on the estate with pure-bred gentry at his side, surely we could have been treated to some scenes of rabbits dying in the place of King Edward, in Tom’s mind’s eye, or some other subtle but visual tension as we have seen elsewhere in Downton, such as where Tom feels physically drawn to the material comforts of the life he once intellectually opposed.

One can only guess why this dearth of hands-on hunting, riding, and fishing is an elephant standing in the castle’s drawing room.

Is it that Julian Fellowes is like so many of England’s effete cultural elite, openly disdaining even rudimentary firearms like single-shot rifles and double-barrel shotguns, and so including them only of the barest necessity in Downton Abbey?  And what a shame this is, because even for liberals there is rich mining to be had, a wealth of opposites, a world of contrasts in the universe of noble field sports.

Reality is not scary, Julian, nor is it objectionable.  Reality is reality, and if you are going to be historically accurate for our viewing pleasure, reality must be shown and said.  And as your loyal fan, I am telling you that you can put rose tinted lenses on anything at Downton, and we will eat it up, including rabbit hunting and driven pheasant shoots.

I hope you do it right next time, and include more accurate field sports portrayals.  To be prosaic, make sure you serve the other course with our otherwise fulfilling meal, please.  It should be roast duck or pheasant, with a scattering of chilled lead six-shot picked out from the rear molar with a pinky nail or toothpick like any Lord or Lady would have happily done in 1927.

 

Great American Outdoor Show is in Harrisburg, and it is Fantastic

The Great American Outdoor Show, which used to be called the Eastern Outdoor Show until the former promoter turned anti-gun and tried to block vendors from showcasing their modern sporting rifles, is on and happening in Harrisburg through Sunday.

I have been volunteering a bit for the PA Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, not nearly as much as I have in the past, but still contributing and selling raffle tickets to friendly people who visit the booth.

Last year the Federation raffled off a Bushmaster AR-15, and this year we are just doing cash.  Right now the pot is a few thousand dollars, and by the time the raffle is drawn it’ll be much more.  Some of the proceeds go to support the Federation, so it’s a good cause.

I stopped in to visit the Unified Sportsmen booth the other day, but the person I sought was not there and the volunteers were just leaving, but I am looking forward to hearing their perspective on sportsmen’s issues.

The River’s Edge canoe and kayak sales by Neill and Evelyn Andritz  sold me on a Hobie kayak.  But let me tell you, these kayaks today are not your Nanuk of the North kayaks of old.  My friends, these things might as well be on the space shuttle for when our guys find water on Mars, because they are nothing like the sloppy, floppy, tipsy, floating death traps we used to squeeze ourselves into.  Today’s Hobie kayak is a blended hybrid, using the best qualities of canoes, surf boards, and kayaks to bring small-craft fishing into the 22nd century.  The Mirage Pro Angler 14 and the Mirage Outback were the two I had to choose between in the end, but being a “Big Guy” means that the 600-pound capacity of the Mirage Pro Angler is a must-have.

And beyond the fat-guy-and-all-his-gear capacity, the technical bells and whistles are amazing.  Stand-up stabilizing bars, leg-driven flipper drives that look and power like an orca tail, bait coolers, adjustable seats that would be at home in a Maserati, sleek rudder controls you can use with your elbow, hand, or foot, storage lockers running the full length for stashing kit so big you can harpoon the shark of your dreams, rod holders everywhere, holes for masts, and so on.

And all this above is about just one vendor with two small self-powered boats I liked in the Farm Show complex that is loaded to the gills with gear, knives, guns, outfitters from around the world, specialty clothing and footwear, trophy services, archery gear so sophisticated I feel like I am Stone Age when I handle it, RVs, ATVs, camping gear, bug-out survival gear, and so on and on for much more.

The Great American Outdoor Show is worth visiting if for no other reason than to say you went and witnessed one of the wonders of the world.  It is the biggest show of its kind in the world, and even if our new governor, Tom Wolf, isn’t interested in attending (incredibly that is true), you definitely should.

Fifty years of designated wilderness

Two weeks ago marked the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act.

It applies to federal designation of remote areas, not to states. States can create their own wild areas, and some do. States closest to human populations and land development seem to also be most assertive about setting aside large areas for people and animals to enjoy.

I enjoy wilderness a lot. Hunting, camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring are all activities I do in designated wilderness.

Every year I hunt Upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, in a large designated wilderness area. Pitching a tent miles in from the trail head, the only person I see is a hunting partner. Serenity like that is tough to find unless you already live in northern Vermont, Maine, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming or Alaska. It’s a valuable thing, that tranquility.

This summer my young son sat in my lap late at night, watching shooting stars against an already unbelievably starry sky. Loons cried out all around us. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves on the birch trees above us and caused the lake to lap against our rocky shore.

Only by driving a long way north, and then canoeing on a designated wilderness lake, and camping on a designated wilderness island in that lake, were we able to find such peace and quiet. No one else was anywhere around us. We were totally alone, with our camp fires, firewood chores, fishing rods, and deep sleeps in the cold tent.

These are memories likely to make my son smile even as he ages and grapples with responsibilities and challenges of adulthood. We couldn’t do it without wilderness.

Wilderness is a touchstone for a frontier nation like America. Wilderness equals freedom of movement, freedom of action. The same sort of freedoms that instigated insurrection against the British monarchy. American frontiersmen became accustomed to individual liberty unlike anything seen in Western Civilization. They enshrined those liberties in our Constitution.

Sure, there are some frustrations associated with managing wilderness.

Out West, wilderness designation has become a politicized fight over access to valuable minerals under the ground. Access usually involves roads, and roads are the antithesis of a wild experience.

Given the large amount of publicly owned land in the West, I cannot help but wonder if there isn’t some bartering that could go on to resolve these fights. Take multiple use public land and designate it as wilderness, so other areas can responsibly yield their valuable minerals. Plenty of present day public land was once heavily logged, farmed, ranched, and mined, but those scars are long gone.

You can hike all day in a Gold Mine Creek basin and find one tiny miner’s shack from 1902. All other signs have washed away, been covered up by new layers of soil, etc. So there is precedent for taking once-used land and letting it heal to the point where we visitors would swear it is pristine.

Out East, where we have large hardwood forests, occasionally, huge valuable timber falls over in wilderness areas, and the financially hard-pressed locals could surely use the income from retrieving, milling, and selling lumber from those trees. But wilderness rules usually require such behemoths to stay where they lay, symbols of an old forest rarely seen anywhere today. They can be seen as profligate waste, I understand that. I also understand that some now-rare salamanders might only make their homes under these rotting giant logs, and nowhere else.

Seeing the yellow-on-black body of the salamander makes me think of the starry night sky filled with shooting stars. A rare thing of beauty in a world full of bustle, noise, voices, and concrete. For me, I’ll take the salamander.

Take a kid fishing

Tomorrow marks the beginning of trout season in Pennsylvania. It’s a big deal. Half the population is associated with it, either fishing, eating the fish, or cheering on the mighty hunters who bring home the bacon.

Our next generation needs a helping hand. Too many gadgets, electronics, virtual nothingness and digital pretend friends are separating kids from the beautiful reality surrounding them. They might grow up to think that water comes from the tap, heat from the wall thingy, and food from the grocery store. Fishing teaches crucial lessons about being a real human being, not the least of which is self reliance, a trait once quintessentially American and now considered quaint.

Fishing also teaches the importance of conserving natural resources for the future kids.

So take a kid fishing. You’ll be doing everyone a big favor, now and later.

 

Last day of Great American Outdoor Show

If you have not yet gone to the new Great American Outdoor Show, today’s the day.

Even if you’re not a hunter, there’s still much to see and do. The Farm Show complex is enormous and every hall is packed. RVs, campers, boats, fishing everything, mapping, GPS technology, clothing. Etc.

One thing I noticed last week was a booth full of furs also selling turtle shells. Whether or not these shells are from wild native turtles, illegal, or from some farmed non-native species, it disturbed me to see them. Turtles take a good ten years to reach maturity, when they can begin breeding. Their nests are subject to raids by raccoons, skunks, snakes, possums, and bears. ATVs and dirt bikes often are ridden over the soft soils turtles choose to lay their eggs.  Collectors grab them for illegal sales, dads take them home for their kids to see, etc.

You get the picture. Turtles don’t have it easy.

If there’s one thing missing from the GAOS, it’s an emphasis on land, water, and wildlife conservation. Plenty of emphasis on the taking part, not much on the conserving part. Maybe that’ll change at next year’s show.

Who is a “sportsman”?

Sportsmen were the nation’s first conservationists, advocating in the 1890s for sustainable harvests of previously unregulated birds, fish and animals like deer and bear. Acting against their own individual self-interests, they banded together to place limits on wildlife and habitat so that future generations would have opportunities to fish, hunt, camp, skinny dip, sight-see, wildlife watch, and help wildlife recover from 300 years of unregulated market hunting and industrial exploitation.

By the 1920s, a culture of stewardship and natural resource conservation was cemented into the sporting ranks by leaders like Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold. Hunting clubs across rural America incorporated stocking programs, tree planting, and facilitating public land purchases to improve and increase wildlife habitat.

Fast forward to today, where wildlife populations are largely stable, wildlife habitat is not in crisis mode, and hunters and anglers are experiencing the best opportunities to harvest trophy fish and game in many decades. We are living in a golden age of the outdoor lifestyle.

Riding on the successes of past generations, today there are some grumbling guys with guns, crabbing that they don’t have anything to hunt. The real shameful behavior is the recent abandonment by some of these men of the sportsman’s stewardship ethic and the conservation pledge that made the hunting community highly respected among the larger society. A group of disaffected users, takers, and malcontents calling themselves “sportsmen” recently endorsed HB 1576, a proposed Pennsylvania bill which would gut the very state agencies charged with protecting Pennsylvania’s natural resources, and remove from state protection those plants and animals necessary for healthy hunting habitat.

The question on the table is, Are these men sportsmen? Are they sportsmen like Aldo Leopold was a sportsman?

While I wait to hear back from others, my answer is No, these men are not sportsmen. They are simply men with guns, freeloaders, spoiled children living off the hard work of both past and present generations, while complaining it isn’t enough and they want more, now, dammit. Their behavior is short-sighted and embarrassing, nothing like the visionary selfless sacrifice of their forebears. They should be publicly shamed and drummed out of the ranks of sportsmen.

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“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
― Aldo Leopold