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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

Hunting licenses, 1976 and 2015

Since my first hunting license adorned my back way back in 1976-1977, a lot has changed in the Pennsylvania landscape.

For example, wild game then so abundant that you could go out and shoot a couple for dinner is now practically extirpated.

Why pheasants and quail disappeared from Pennsylvania is a big debate with no clear answers. Loss of farmland to sprawl, low density development is one. Changes in farming practices is another; fallow fields had the best habitat. A plethora of winged and four legged predators cannot be discounted. Successfully rebounding populations of raptors like hawks and owls for sure ate a lot of plump pheasants. But why a sudden and dramatic crash?

Conservation successes since 1976 are plentiful and say a lot about wildlife biology. Wild turkey populations, fishers, bobcats and other animals once thought completely gone are now firmly in our lives, whether we see them, or not.

An interesting dynamic is playing out at our hunting camp. This year we have a virtual carpet of oak and hickory seedlings unlike anything we saw over the past 15 years we’ve owned it. Why?

Conventional wisdom is the deer population is low, and it’s true that it’s lower than it has been in 15 years. That is, deer are known eaters of acorns and tree seedlings. Fewer deer means more of both.

However, another factor seems to be playing out with these newly abundant tree seedlings. Where we once had an incredible overload of tree rats, aka squirrels, the new fishers have eaten them all. Like all of them. Not one tree rat remains in our carefully cultivated forest of white oaks. We see fisher tracks. We neither see nor hear squirrels.

As squirrels are known eaters of acorns and hickories, it stands to reason that their absence means more acorns and hickories hatching into baby trees.

Add a long icy winter that appears to have crushed our local wild turkey populations, also known for eating nuts, and the right conditions emerge to help a forest rebound and grow some new stock, a huge challenge we aggressively tackle every year.

So, my son getting his first hunting license yesterday is now entering a landscape that in some ways is just as dynamic as the one I began hunting so long ago.  What a difference these landscapes were and are, and who would’ve guessed the fishers would be responsible for oak and hickory forests regenerating?

A lot has changed in our wildlife landscapes, and yet not much has changed in my lifetime. Different animals, same kind of population changes, variations, pressures. One thing I keep reminding myself: It’s all natural, these changes. And while some are painful to see, like the loss of pheasants, other opportunities open up. Never would I have imagined in 1976, nor would any PA Game Commission staff, that in 2015 my son would get a bobcat tag and a fisher tag with his license.

Totally different opportunity than chasing pheasants in corn fields, but still good.

PA Leadership Conference gets better and better every year

Thanks to the hard work of Lowman Henry, Dan Mosel and others, the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference was a resounding success.

Scott Davis did the straw poll (I have not been emailed the results; I voted for Cruz and Ben Carson), and despite running around on a million errands, he managed to keep a chipper air.

Chris Liliks was center stage Mister Organization, and USMC Col. Frank Ryan gave the most convincing Pledge of Allegiance ever.  Frank and I were opponents in the 2009-2010 four-way congressional race for the then-Tim Holden seat, now gerrymandered into something unrecognizable.  Frank is a great guy and it brought me a lot of pleasure to see him again and shake his hand.

Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste had endless patience discussing with me the dynamics and aggravations of the establishment versus the grass roots, and although he was dead wrong on every single thing, he still kindly sat with me and provided great company (as well as thereby serving as the genesis of some great political rumors…).

Business guru Fred Anton provided opening remarks that impressed everyone at our table, as he succinctly hit on every hot political and economic issue in a Spartan speech that artfully blended politics and economy without sounding so dullingly or partisanly political.  Vote for PA Supreme Court candidates who are going to fill out their full ten-year terms, Fred told us.  That’s not bad advice. But remember that the legislature is considering raising the mandatory retirement age for judges, so candidates who might only serve for two years now could get on the court and then serve seven years, which is plenty long enough.

Rick Santorum gave a heartfelt, moving, extemporaneous speech about Iran that brought inspired tears to the eyes of many audience members. It was a stellar performance that reminded everyone in the packed ballroom why Santorum is still in the political leadership mix – he operates from the heart and from principle, not from from some shallow, meaningless political calculation.  Iran’s danger to Western civilization was the topic of Santorum’s speech, where he pointed out that both Republicans and Democrats are failing to lead on this critical security issue.  He also hit the Republican Party hard for not incorporating working people into their mantra of money and prosperity, suggesting that if the R’s miss this much more, then maybe it is time for everyone to become Independent or some other third party.  Ouch! And he is 100% right, as can be seen from the machinations in the PA 15th Senate District, where yet another super-rich businessman with the articulate capabilities of a junk yard dog is the “chosen one.”  If you ask me, and who am I to criticize (;-D), this looks like another one-dimensional effort to lose the seat to the Dems once again.

Senator Pat Toomey gave one of his trademark understated policy speeches where you’re half-way into it and falling asleep before you realize “Oh My God this is serious stuff.” Although I do not agree with Toomey that the senate Democrats should have been allowed to exploit all of the procedural niceties they did not allow the Republicans for five years.  Recall that as US Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid conducted “the nuclear option” and dismantled 150 years of Senate procedural rules designed to let the minority have some say and have some votes.  Recall that for five years there were something like a total of 16 actual votes on the Senate floor, a historic embarrassment and indication that American democracy was held hostage by the Senate Democrats.  Despite suffering under Reid’s mismanagement, Toomey believes in being “nice” now with his Republican majority, somehow proving that the Republicans are nicer than the mean ol’ Democrats.  I think he is mistaken.  But I am not a US Senator, so I have little to say about it but what I write here.  Let us not take away here from Senator Toomey his outstanding and laser-like focus on Iran’s nuclear threat to America.

Everything went as smoothly as possible, with the only unusual thing the large walk-out by a significant portion of the audience when Grover Norquist took the stage.  A couple things struck me about Mister Jihadi Norquist.  One, he is remarkably small in stature and frame, almost child-size with a squeaky high voice, like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. This may explain his need for a larger-than-life personality and desire to dominate everyone.  The second unusual thing I noticed was how Norquist required all kinds of security guys, and a big limo, and superstar treatment, in contrast to Santorum, Toomey, and other well-known speakers who just walked right in to the Radisson with a “Hey How are Ya?” attitude and hallos and handshakes and other casual chit-chat on their way to the podium.

It seems that Mister Muslim Brotherhood Secret Operative Blow Up America From The Inside Grover Norquist requires lots of marching band accompaniment to look and feel good. I was happy when I looked around and saw the steady stream of audience members heading for the doors with me, while my colleague remained behind at our front-and-center table “so I can say I got to hear Grover lie in person to a whole room of people.”  In other words, it does not appear that Mister Ollie Snackbar Nukem Norquist enjoys much political cover any longer.  He was asked to suspend himself from the NRA board of directors four days ago, an indication that his weaseling ways and sneaky days are numbered.

So that is my brief round-up and I could write so much more, but why should I? Really, you should come to next year’s PLC and see how grand it is for yourself.

 

 

Everybody is Irish today

Americans celebrate a multitude of holidays.  Some are religiously based, some are ethnic, some are historic, and some are just fun.

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, a holiday we borrowed from Ireland and made even better.  In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has a load of religious meaning, which is fine, and yes, they have some festive public drinking to lend a celebratory air to it.

But here in America, we celebrate St. Patty’s Day as if every American is a little Irish, as indeed many, even most, are.

And that is important, because the Irish were among the very first slaves brought to America, and even as freed men they helped build this incredible nation, knowing that they had as much a share in it as anyone else.  Coming from a place – Ireland – where Catholic Irish had their lands stolen on a whim, and where Catholics could be shot on sight just for the fun of it, any place was better.

Irish pluck, Irish luck, Irish humor, Irish fierceness…all are key ingredients in America’s success today.  So here’s to the Irish today, and of yesterday, and to all of us Americans.  We owe ye much, lads!  Today we are all a little bit o’ Irish, just by being Americans.

Small success stories come in big, snoring packages

Sitting at lunch today with someone in his late 60s, we reminisced about how sparse bears and turkeys were 40 years ago in central Pennsylvania.

We also recalled how pheasants were in our back yards every morning, forty years ago, and how sad it is that they are now gone, victims of abundant raptors, foxes, coyotes, skunks, possums, raccoons, and loss of traditional farmland edge habitat.

Doug remarked that pheasants are not a native species, and that as much as he enjoyed hunting these colorful, beautiful birds, if he had to make a trade-off, he is happy with the outcome of surplus bears and turkeys.

While I wish I could have it all ways – abundant wildlife of all types, I agree with Doug.

Just to drive home how successful Pennsylvania’s bear conservation program has been, a friend texted me yesterday to say that the bear I had found sleeping under a log on his farm on the southern Lower Paxton Township line three weeks ago is still snoring away there.  He has set up a couple trail cameras around it to monitor its movements.  Although we did not hear any squeals of little newborn bear cubs then or this week, and we do not know its sex, it may have since given birth.  That long stay in that one place could be pregnancy, and would account for how long the bear has remained in the scraped out den-nest it made for itself.

What is amazing is that this deeply snoring bear is literally on the edge of suburbia.  Well, it is actually deep into suburbia, in a relatively small island of open space.  Think about it this way:  Bears used to be a symbol of wild places.  Now, they are often suburban dumpster divers.  That speaks well to the large population of bears still inhabiting the truly wild areas away from suburbia.  That original population of deep forest and mountain dwellers is obviously in very good health.

And on that same farm there are now roving bands of wild turkeys, something not seen since the mid-1800s, when wild turkeys were literally all eaten up in this region.

Conservation success stories are abundant, and here we have two – bears and turkeys.  We cannot take these wins for granted, however; we must safeguard what has been accomplished.  I hope that the Wolf Administration soon appoints the new Sportsmen’s Advisor.  That is a unique leadership position Pennsylvania can not afford to leave vacant.

 

Weakness in the West has consequences

Adolf Hitler rose to power in a sea of pacifism and “peace-ism,” that euphoric act of sacrifice that kills all the innocent people and empowers the evil ones.

Hitler knew the West was weak, and therefore ripe for consumption.  Pacifism empowered Hitler.  Weakness invited his genocidal attacks.

In beating Nazi Germany and then confronting their sister, the Soviet Union, at huge costs, the West found again its spirit of liberty and survival instincts.  During that time the West experienced incredible material success and unimaginable increases in the quality of life.

But you know how over time material success breeds creature comforts and disinclinations to do anything that might upset the comfortable lifestyle emanating from material success.  So pacifism and peace-ism have risen again, among European countries and many Americans, even as war is carried to our doorsteps.

Andrew Tahmooressi is a Marine Corps sargeant who took a wrong turn in the wild, unmarked American desert with his legal guns, and has been imprisoned by Mexico for months ever since. America has done zero to get him back, but the Obama administration has done everything possible to open the border to terrorists, children, criminals, and assorted other illegal burdens on two legs.

In Israel, three teenaged boys were abducted three weeks ago by Muslim supremacists, and then found today, dead, killed soon after they were taken.  Half a dozen Israeli military and police officers have lost their jobs over the boys’ deaths, which were avoidable: One boy called the police and said they were being kidnapped.  The policewoman called it a prank and did not act on it.  Her Israeli military counterparts have been primed by overwhelming political correctness to look for Jewish kids with spray paint cans as their primary target, not murderous Arab terrorists, and they, too, ignored the phone call.

Europe is filled with Islamic institutions where hatred is preached and acted out every day, non-Muslims are gunned down in the streets, and the perpetrators and proponents are called “victims.”

The list goes on and on.  The West is awash in enemies and insecurity, anarchy, but nothing is done.

Weakness breeds contempt and increased attempts to dethrone the boss.  It is happening across Western Civilization: Our collective and individual weakness is being exploited by people who would take over our countries and change them into something else, something unrecognizable, something where liberty is unknown.

Will you choose to be weak?  Or will you take action to preserve American liberties?

It’s official: Sunday hunting in VA

Two weeks ago the Virginia state House passed a Sunday hunting bill out of a committee that had bottled up similar bills for decades before. It was a surprising statement that it actually got through committee.  Then it passed the full state House, which surprised even its most ardent sponsors.

Well, today the Virginia state Senate passed the companion bill.  It allows hunting on private land on Sunday, a private property rights win if there ever was one. If you pay property taxes, say on a remote mountainside property, and you are deprived of 14.2% of your full use of that property for some vague reason, you might get frustrated.  It is your property.  You can shoot 1,000 bullets at a target on Sunday, but you cannot shoot just one at a squirrel.  Laws like this are by their definition arbitrary, the bane of democracy.

Virginia’s governor says he will sign the bill into law.

Welcome to the modern era, Virginia! We are envious of you.

Kudos to Kathy Davis of PA-based Hunters United for Sunday Hunting (www.huntsunday.org), who has devoted the past two years of her life to this issue, and who helped a great deal with getting the Virginia law passed and the lawsuit filed there.  The lawsuit compelled the state legislature to act, before a judge ruled against the state and the entire state was opened up.  While I would like to see public land open for Sunday hunting, I am satisfied with private land as a start to implementing it state-wide.  This really is an issue of the most basic American rights.

Good show! JRJ Knives sells out at Great American Outdoor Show

Want the sign of a good show?  Watch the vendors sell out of their items only a couple of days in.

JRJ knives of New Buffalo is my go-to source for top of the line custom knives. John uses ATS-34 steel and stock removal (with a little welding and hammering now and then) to make any knife you want or need. He and I have several knife projects under way, mostly using Alabama Damascus steel and hippo tooth, and although the wait can be longer than you’d like, the results are always better than you could have imagined. JRJ makes high quality knives.

Well, last Sunday I stopped in at the JRJ Knives booth at the Great American Outdoor Show, and John was nowhere to be seen. He was back at the shop, his wife Jodi said, because they had sold out of nearly all their knives.  That is, they had sold more knives in the first 24 hours of the show than they expected to sell during the entire week.

Today I was shopping around for old fashioned whet stones.  You know, the old fine-grained novaculite Arkansas sharpening stones that were once a staple in every American kitchen.  You’d expect to find lots of them for sale at the Great American Outdoors Show, especially given how many knife vendors there are.  Nary a one, oddly.  Either modern newfangled steels have become self-sharpening, or even rugged outdoorsmen no longer sharpen their own knives.  Something odd is afoot. One knife vendor said that he had sold out of all of his premium knives, and had to order more; he hoped they would arrive by tomorrow.

But back to the main point here: All this selling out of items in a day or two is a good show.  So far, it is a big success.  If you haven’t yet visited, you should.  It has a whole new look, feel, and energy.  And yes, there are AR15s on display everywhere.

Happy New Year!

Friends, here is to a happy next year, a new year, The New Year, 2014, for you, for all of us.
And thank you for being part of my past year, which was good in so many ways, thank God.
Make it count.
Josh

50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr march

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s nation-changing march, let us look closely into what has been achieved since that time, and what has failed.

On the list of achievements we have the definite growth in black voting and a far-reaching acceptance, even embrace of dark skin color among European-Americans. The Negro saga in America is both a painful story, and also a story of redemption, as blacks have found their way into any and all professions they desire, including baseball, football, tennis, track and field, medicine, technology, theology, law, academia, entertainment, and government.

That said, there is a key failure that King would have never imagined, and that is the self-segregation of much of the black community, and the seeming desire for perpetual victim status contrary to the facts and opportunities presented. Today, despite enormous advances on every front, black unemployment is three times higher than whites.

I say this in the wake of months of debate about Martin and Zimmerman, and newly surfaced and long-suppressed news items about black-on-black violence and nakedly racist black-on-white violence.

The failure of much of the black community is no secret, and people like me are not going to stand by idly and watch it happen, and we will not fear being called “racist” for identifying the problem and proposing solutions. Nor will I become a racist in reaction to someone else’s racism.

Racists believe in racial determinism. Racists believe that skin color is an indication of both physical and mental ability. Like the vast vast vast majority of European-Americans, I reject those goofball notions. I do embrace a color-blind America that rewards citizens for the quantity and quality of their work, and for the content of their character.

My commitment to the success of the black community is to say that good, well-meaning people like me are here to help, to lend a hand, to support you and your local institutions. I will say that the anti-white racism in the black community is both sad, and alarming. But I will not say that America is a racist nation. Racism is a corrosive, destructive, evil thing, and it eats the people who live it.

When I watch MLK’s speeches, I am overcome with feelings of inspiration and love. MLK saw an America that had potential, whose equal opportunity was the signature of a free society that the American dream promised. Call me naive, but I am sticking to my silly ideas of equality and brotherhood. MLK wanted it that way.