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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.

Chautauqua Institution’s Destruction

Chautauqua Institution was once a fine place to visit, many years ago.

It was safe, quiet, full of interesting people reading books or lecturing about the most recent book they had written. The on-site opera and orchestra provided just about everyone with any artistic taste with something.

Decades later, it has been completely taken over by the same people who have targeted every other American institution for capture and control, or destruction.

Chautauqua is now a summertime parade of communists, bigots, America haters, partisan political activists. Each speaker is treated to lavish welcome ceremonies as if they are the most gifted thinker on Planet Earth, when in fact they are the meanest, most close-minded political street brawlers in America.

The place reeks of radical, angry politics everywhere you turn. The air is poisonous with hate and tension, but always sold as love and open-mindedness.

I think the institution is still physically safe, for now, but my own kids have this sense that all is not well there. They have grown up going there every summer, and they report back feeling that same tension that anyone with different views feels there now. Unwelcome.

The last time I was there, or one of the last times, I sat at the Amp for a lecture by Donna Brazile. Of course she was presented as some kind of open-minded Deep Thinker, when in fact she is a narrowly partisan fighter and proven liar. Brazile helped fix Hillary’s illegal cheating “win” over Bernie Sanders in the Democrat primary.

When Brazile spoke that day, the entire Amp was a cheering section for the lady. There used to be rules against cheering or clapping for speakers, but the hyper partisan activists who now populate and run Chautauqua observe the same kind of rules on decorum as they do the laws they disdain for border security and illegal aliens living in “sanctuary” cities. That is, they make the rules as they go.

Having just received some emails from one of the Chautauqua administrators, I had to write this. The guy is either a huge liar, or a huge fool. To assert that Chautauqua Institution is anything but a far-left training camp and summertime re-education society is to deny the obvious reality as reflected in the speakers they invite, the speakers they DISINVITE, and all of the other far-Left programming there.

The CHQ administrators purposefully exclude alternative views they disagree with, even though CHQ is supposed to be all about alternative views. “Dissent” and “dialogue” is only acceptable from those who agree with the CHQ administrators and their partisan, liberal guest voices. This means that Chautauqua is an artificial, fabricated environment. Reality is concealed. Stealth is their way.

I understand the mindset of Liberals. I grew up with them. Liberals are very close-minded and very, very uncomfortable sharing any kind of space – physical, emotional, or intellectual – with anyone else. Let’s face it, Liberals are the very angry, hate-filled bigots they always said they were against. Chautauqua now perfectly represents that hateful culture, and the people now drawn to it and most happy there are like-minded tyrants and control freaks. Zero tolerance for opposing views.

And no, CHQ’s in-house “conservative” David Brooks is not a conservative. He is a RINO Republican, a moderate, which means he is pretty much a liberal. But he is there so the institution can falsely claim to cover all philosophical corners.

Please, spare us the visibly false claims and the pretensions to openness. Like the Boy Scouts of America, the education profession, academia, the media, Disney, and almost all other once-great institutions, Chautauqua Institution has been overthrown and captured by bigoted political partisans, who have now bent the place to their warped purposes.

Everyone have a nice summer. It won’t be at CHQ for me. The Chautauqua of my youth has been destroyed.

It is now ratatouille season, and for the rest of the summer

Summer time means gardens.

Summer gardens here in urban and suburban America mean tons, literally, of zucchini and tomatoes.

Some gardeners can their success. Using Mason jars, they boil, steam, stew, blanch and otherwise prepare their hard-won vegetables for the long pantry sleep or freezer burn.

Not I. Oh, I like to eat, especially fresh vegetables.

So my thing is to give away some extra garden produce and eat like a king every day, lunch and dinner.

Probably the easiest and most wholesome meal possible out of the basic garden is ratatouille. If this word has too many syllables for you, like it does for me, and it makes you think of fancy French men in white chef’s hats, take heart. It is this easy to make: some diced zucchini sauteed in olive oil. About 3/4 of the way to done, fresh tomatoes are thrown in the skillet and simmered down amidst the sautee action. Maybe an onion, if you like onions. More olive oil (we use California Olive Ranch) can only make things taste even better. Then some home-grown herbs (no, not that), like basil, rosemary, dill, garlic.

Keep simmering and sauteeing. Low flame.

When it is all becoming a big mush, sprinkle it with cheese. Don’t mix it in. A blend of grated hard cheese like wine goat or parmesan, with some decent Vermont cheddar, and let the skillet lid sit over a very low flame for about three to five minutes.

Turn off the heat, and let the skillet sit there on the burner for a couple minutes, with the skillet lid still on. Magic is happening in there. Don’t lift the lid to peek, or you will let the magic slip out and away.

Serve yourself first, because everyone else around you will dive in on the ratatouille and it’ll be gone in a minute.

The boys of summer

This past weekend a friend and I got our boys together, plus one of my son’s friends.

The four young teenagers ran themselves ragged, and it was a beautiful thing to see. Running up and down the river, floating downstream with the strong current, exiting downward of the rocks, sloshing back up and doing it all over again. And again.

Until one of them discovered some otter’s half-eaten breakfast of fish and crayfish, lying exposed in the strong sunshine on a rock with the water swirling around it. Inspecting that absorbed their attention, heads crowded around, someone poking about with a stick. And then >POW< they broke and ran back upstream as a splashing, sloshing pack, marking a distant boulder in the middle of the stream as their next object of focus.

This kind of outdoor joy went on all weekend.

Campfires, campfire cooking, campfires becoming scary bonfires, shooting guns, lighting fireworks, ear-ringing blackpowder cannon booming, combat SORRY! games, food crumbs everywhere, clothing smeared with mud and grass stains, pickup football games, woods walks. It was just one non-stop blur of motion.

At night we watched movies, shooshing one another when someone talked over the dialogue. Crumbs on the couches, popcorn on the floor.

It was a thing of joyous beauty to behold. Such unbridled happiness. Such carefree freedom.

Meanwhile the dads sat on the river bank, on the porch, on a log in the woods, in the living room, and compared childrearing tactics, kid behavior, learning and teaching successes and failures, hopes and fears for the kids’ futures, hopes and fears for our own parenting, for our own relationships.

Somewhere in all of this I was both a child again and a responsible adult. Watching these boys being boys as boys were meant to be was refreshing, and kind of a validation of my own untamed side.  That part of almost every guy that is a kind of mostly-hidden teenager who refuses to grow up and get with the adult program. Heck, being a boy is fun, even a fifty-year-old boy. You never really stop being a boy, you just get new toys. The consequences of screwing up are no longer skinning your knee, however; now, you can lose your home, your spouse, your health.

But we are boys inside, nonetheless.

Being a dad is difficult, and fun; hard and enlightening; frustrating and rewarding. Doing a bit of it with another dad over a weekend makes it easier. But most of all I enjoyed being a part of the boy herd, and reliving some of that unfettered joy of just being a boy free to roam and run in the summer sunshine.

A breezy summer day

One of my most enduring happy memories is actually not just one distinct moment, it is the aggregated beautiful summer days of my central Pennsylvania farm country youth.

As far as I can recall, Happy Valley did not get much sunshine throughout the year. Our glum, overcast days stretched from Fall through Spring. Instead, we saved up every drop of sun for June, July and August. These summers were sunny, usually gently breezy days, with mostly blue skies and flitting clouds, occasional sun showers, temperatures in the 70s and maybe 80s.

A trip to Whipple Dam State Park or a local swimming hole would cure the worst of the heat.

Perhaps youthful memories are clouded by adult cynicism, or more likely, by adult rose-tinted glasses. We prefer in our old age to recall only the good times and bury the rest. That is possible here when it comes to recalling the perfect summer weather of my youth.

However, it is also a scientific fact that Planet Earth is getting really close to having its polarities flip. Very close. As those polarities get close to switching (magnetically speaking, the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa), Planet Earth’s magnetic shield gets weak. So weak that a lot of ultraviolet rays get through to the surface, and our skin, thereby heating things up.

It is one of the reasons for sun burns worse than usual and for really hot, windy weather over the past twenty-five years. It is a fact that some plant and animal species have been moving northward, too, as northern climes warm up, even ever so slightly.

Earth’s magnetic field acts as a filter for harmful UV and other cosmic rays. Our magnetic field is one of the reasons Planet Earth has life on it. When it gets weak, our own experience outside changes.

After a very wet and rainy Spring, we are now experiencing some easy-sleeping cool evenings, and breezy, gently sunny days. The kind we have not seen in decades.

What a wonderful feeling.

If I go in the back yard and work in the garden, and close my eyes, I am transported back to the wondrous summer days of my childhood. They were colored by the ultra-green environment that surrounded me, too, I admit that.

It is doubtful these perfect days in the 70s, with a refreshingly gentle breeze, will last much longer. After all, the poles have not yet fully flipped and returned Earth to where its magnetic shield was much earlier in my life. But I am reminded of how it used to be, and how pleasant it was.

Aaaahhh…summer time, central PA style.

It’s berry season!

For about 150,000 years we humans have been hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle that follows the migrating animals and the growth of plants our bodies can eat.

Edible plants were a huge component of hunter-gatherer food, easily dried and carried, many of them lasting well into October and November after plants have gone dormant in most places. Unlike meat, dried edible plants do not easily rot, or attract nibbling animals.

Among edible plants, fruits and wild berries reign supreme.

That is because fruits and berries contain an unusual mix of carbohydrates, sugars, minerals, and vitamins, all of which are necessary for survival. Especially vitamin C, a crucial ingredient in a healthy human body (think scurvy).

The fact that wild berries taste especially sweet and supplement other foods with extra flavor is a big draw.

Sweet-tasting foods rarely occur in Nature.

Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, huckleberries, wineberries, and many others grow abundantly here in Pennsylvania and across the Eastern US.

Plains Indians like the Lakota, Pawnee, and Comanche made a mix of red meat and berries called pemmican. Ripe berries were turned into a big mush and then worked into meat strips. Usually the mixture was dried on wooden racks in the open air and sunlight, and the dried slabs and sticks were then put under the horse saddle to be worked and broken down into what we would call jerky today.

“Jerky” gets its name from the gentle jerking motion of the horse saddle, as horses step forward. The motion slowly breaks down the meat fibers, making them easily chewed and digested.

So here we are, a bunch of sedentary Americans, mostly eating out of cans and bagged frozen foods.

One antidote to this somewhat unhealthy arrangement is to go outside and do stuff.

Hike, walk, sit and read or sit and chat with someone face to face, fish, canoe, grill out, etc., so many easy outdoor activities.

A really easy outdoor activity is berry picking. Sure there are some thorns, but so what. The benefits are fresh, delicious, healthy berries that are not sprayed with chemicals, or bagged in plastic bags, or frozen. The whole family can do it. Go find a field edge, and bring some hard containers, and start picking.

Humans have been berry picking in that Summertime window of opportunity for a really long time. So long that it can be measured in ice ages come and gone, ice sheets advancing and retreating. That is a lot of years.

If we have been doing that activity for that long, you know it is good and natural. That the whole family can do it, and then make pies together afterwards, makes it all the better.

Just watch out for poison ivy!

 

 

Lazy summertime guidance here

It is a scientifically proven fact that humans can endlessly watch three things:

Fire. Not a building on fire, but a campfire or a bonfire can hold a gaze long into the night. The licking flames dance and mesmerize. So long as it is not a threat, fire is intriguing, even consoling. People sitting around a campfire can stargaze and stare silently into the coals for a very long time, no words necessary.

Running water. Tumbling streams, rivers broken by rocks indicating the flow, running water is equally as eye-gluing as fire, except that its sounds can tinkle and chime, often mimicking voices if you listen closely enough. A medium size free-stone stream is probably the most fascinating to watch of all water bodies, because it is a rich mix of intimate nooks and crannies, power, and music.

If you enjoy staring at mirror-still lakes, see a doctor.

Last but not least, people working. Yes, that is right, watching people work is one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable acts you can do. I do it all the time. Try it, you will definitely like it. It beats actually working, but oddly it makes you feel like you are achieving a lot. That right there is perfect summertime, my kind of summer time.

So, in terms of a lazy summer enjoyment, I am looking for a splashy back yard pool, with a dad barbecuing over a natural wood campfire grill nearby. If you are aware of of such a set-up, let me know.

I’ll be able to just sit there and quietly soak it up all day long. And yes, I will bring the beer.

Hope you are enjoying your summertime…

Garden as metaphor #8

As usual, I planted a garden this Spring.

Chicken wire and wire cloth mesh walls 24 inches high are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence that hurts.

I am not fancy, so it is the usual basics- cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, an assortment of herbs. Keeping it simple is usually a recipe for solid output. Again, it is usually nothing that will feed the family for the year, but enough to keep us eating variations of ratatouille for the summer. It is healthy and tasty.

However, this summer was tough.

A dry, record-heat summer resulted in a lot of poorly developed desirable plants. But the weeds flourished. Having weeded the garden in late July, we went away for ten days, and returned to a jungle inside the fence. But the good plants did not have enough water.

The potatoes were dying, if you can believe that. Usually they are the last to go.

The basil had hardly budged. Most of the tomato plants looked sickly. Even the zucchini, which started strong, dried up and died a hideous public death. Somehow ISIS infiltrated the garden of Eden.

As a metaphor, this garden demonstrates the need for constant vigilance. If you leave it to itself, the good plants quickly get crowded out by the professional space-hogs, the weeds. And you can successfully remove a crop of weeds, and then a week later turn around and see a whole new crop blasting to the surface.

Similarly, a Republic like America cannot be left to itself. Its citizens – you, me, US – must stay on top of our government at all times. Or else the professional politicians, the career politicians, will get wedged in their spots and turn the purpose of government from serving We the People, to them, the weeds.

Fellow Americans, enjoy your summer!

Dear fellow Americans, we got it good here. Summer time is for gardens, BBQ with friends, travel with the family, loafing by the pool, fishing, and so on.

Summertime in America is truly a serene time. We are blessed in this.

Don’t take it for granted.

The hoops and links and tethers that kept the world’s nations mostly stable over the past sixty years are broken. Entire arrangements of human life across enormous landscapes are changing. Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, all are in significant play. Iraq and Syria both have lost control of their borders.

Think this doesn’t effect you or your life?  You’re wrong. Energy, trade, security, violent jihad, and more are all in flux, and changes are rippling across the globe.

America is a strong nation. Be prepared to be challenged, because it’s going to take all we have to succeed.

On that happy note, enjoy the hot dogs and cold beer!