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One call I won’t take

Phony, fraudulent telemarketer calls are super annoying, and like you, I am fed up with them.

Another phony call just arrived, called “Call of the Wild,” a new movie loosely based on a Jack London book by the same name.

Jack London’s stories of tenuous life in the Yukon and Alaskan interiors are the stuff of pre-internet American boyhood. Just like coonskin Davey Crockett hats were all the rage among American boys in the 1950s and 1960s after Fess Parker starred in the same-named TV show, so too did London inspire many young men to get their forestry degree, build a canoe, cut down their grandmother’s favorite apple tree with a hatchet, or move to Alaska. His stories of nail-biting survival and creeping or sudden death in the boreal forests and frigid back country rang true, and a number of movies have been made about them. Some better than others, but all of them pretty good just because the story line is great.

London’s story about a young man caught at sundown in the winter time Alaskan bush, unprepared for the minus-forty-degree night, who gets down to his last match and finally succeeds at lighting a life-saving fire, only to have the snow from the branches above fall and smother the fire, is classic.

This latest iteration involves an unrealistic CGI human-like dog that giddy un-wilderness urbanites will fawn over. It also includes Harrison Ford, a man blessed with poor acting skills who nonetheless has landed a huge list of Hollywood roles and who made a huge pile of money. Play acting and playing dress-up; not exactly brain surgeon level or even bank teller level stuff.

And to be fair, Ford’s best movie roles are those that fit his kind of simple, bland, taciturn persona, like the Jack Ryan character, or Indiana Jones, or the emotion-less Blade Runner cyborg cop. Or those roles that are actually enhanced by his lack of acting skills, like Star Wars‘ Han Solo. Whenever Harrison Ford is tasked with actually acting, his lack of nuance or depth shines through bright and shiny. One suspects that this Call of the Wild will be one such role and performance. Or maybe not, because the 2020 movie poster for it shows Ford looking all serious and taciturn.

Now, because I am a wilderness hunter, fisherman, and trapper, any new movie like Call of the Wild immediately gets my attention. Bad acting or no, evil corrupt anti-America Hollywood or no, CGI human dogs or no, it is a movie I would naturally be inclined to go see. It is about nature and outdoor adventure, my favorite things. However, Harrison Ford finally performed honestly the other day and thereby blew up any chance of me seeing his film, and probably many other people feel the same way.

Last week, Ford appeared on not-funny Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show, and blasted Preident Trump, calling him “a son-of-a-bitch.”

Out of nowhere, and for no particular reason. Other than pandering to Hollywood.

What a shame, because at one time Ford was a spokesman for Conservation International, a worthy environment protection organization. His other opinions about so-called climate change and carbon reduction are the usual Hollywood hypocritical hilarity, because Ford is also the guy who flies his own plane on a 400-mile round trip to get a single hamburger to satisfy his craving for fast food. Talk about a carbon footprint, and yet his lecturing never ends.

Now, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and like Ford, I am entitled to mine, too. And my opinion is that I will not support with movie ticket purchases those celebrity Hollywood actors who insult me, my values, my lifestyle, or the people I vote for. So I will not be answering Harrison Ford’s Call of the Wild. Though I might play it on one of the many black market bootleg websites, just so I can take from Ford a tiny bit of what Ford took away from me: A good feeling.

Below is just one video of Harrison Ford actually whining about his wild success, as if it ruined him as some sort of serious artiste. Oh please. Ford is just another out of touch, spoiled rotten Hollywood jerk. Where is comedian Ricky Gervais when we need him most? Every Hollywood actor like Harrison Ford should have to spend a week with Gervais following him or her everywhere they go, commenting on their vapid lives and stupid statements.

It’s that time of year again, Pt. II

It is now “that time of year again,” but Part Two.

A month ago your firewood had better have been laid up and close to perfectly dry, or you were going to have an uncomfortably cold winter in rural America.

Now, a month later, a whole bunch of hunting seasons are upon us. Small game, trapping, deer archery, bear archery…and many people are afield a serious amount of time. Some people try to catch the deer rut in a couple different states with their bow. It can become a crazed time, where the humans are just as worn down and rutted up by the prospect of catching unawares a big old wary buck who, in his brief moment of annual craziness, lets down his guard.

Usually, I do not begin trapping in earnest until December, when all pelts are truly prime and when the bobcat and fisher seasons begin. Early on I set out cage traps to thin out the skunks and possums that will otherwise clog up my best sets later on. Never one to sell furs, trapping for me has always been about helping ground-nesting birds against an overabundance of nest-raiding mammals pulsing out from suburban sprawl habitats. With Russia and China in bad financial and economic situations the past five years, wild fur has not been in as big demand as the past. This lower demand has led many professional trappers to abandon their lines and wait for prices to come back up. In turn, that let-off in trapping pressure results in TONS of raccoons, possums, skunks etc running around. Over the past couple of weeks I have seen more road-kill raccoons than in many years past all together.

And this high population of raccoons means higher rates of rabies, trash-raiding, fights with pets, etc.

My favorite type of hunt is the solo wilderness excursion. Sleeping in a cold tent, bundled against the night time freeze, waking up to some snow on everything, enjoying a hot tea to start the day, and wandering into the wind, trying to find buck or bear tracks. Or in the case of a big male bear, making sure he isn’t on my track, like two years ago.

Is there danger in this? Sure. Then there is danger in being hit by a car, or falling and damaging a body part. There is danger in never experiencing life, and thinking that the modern risk-free cocoon most of us live in is either normal or healthy. It is neither.

And so it is that time of year again, when every fiber in my body says “Get outside, NOW!” It is a time of forgotten or deliberately misplaced professional obligations, phone calls returned on a Friday afternoon, instead of the prior Monday morning. I hope friends and colleagues will forgive me if I am a little late in getting back.

Nature is calling on the phone, it’s for me, and I gotta run.

I’ll be back. Promise.

The Importance of Wilderness

Wilderness rarely makes it into the news.

It usually gets mentioned when a US president designates a new wilderness area, or adds existing federal land to an existing wilderness area. The acreage involved in those events is so large, usually so vast, that it must be newsworthy. It just has to be news. It is impossible to ignore it.

This makes the “very good” news.

Another way to get wilderness into the news is to raise the subject of natural resource management in a remote area that is not declared or designated wilderness, but which has a wild and untouched character. These reports are usually cast as a loss of innocence, a loss of wildness, a loss of something special.

This makes the “very bad” news.

Wilderness as a news topic usually involves one extreme or the other: Very good, or very bad.

The truth is that wilderness, those huge untouched areas with nothing but healthy flowing watersheds, breathing forests, and nearly unlimited wildlife habitat, are of mere flesh and blood. Wilderness gets such short shrift and limited coverage in the news media, because so few people know what it is. It is mythologized for better and worse. That it is nearly 100% public land can complicate things, politically, but the fact is, you will not find wilderness in any other state of being in a developed nation.

Most Americans do not have any real exposure to actual wilderness. Their hands-on exposure to it is either zero or merely driving through or around some wilderness area or region (like northern Maine), and admiring it from a car or picnic area. Few immerse themselves in it.

For me and for many people like me, wilderness is like oxygen. We just have to have it. We must have it coursing through our bodies, supporting our feet as we stand or hike or explore. There is nothing mystical about this experience. No transformative or spiritual worshipfulness. No beams of sunlight directed downward by heavenly forces. It is a purely physical connection that in the context of modern sedentary lifestyles becomes such a stark contrast and unusual experience.

Oh sure, we see the hand of God in Nature. Goes without saying. How can you not see Him there? The genius of life on Planet Earth is beyond magical, beyond scientific.

That I get an endorphine rush from every moment I am out in wilderness is an indication of my own “nature deficit disorder,” a topic worthy of a full discussion some other time and something most assuredly suffered by the vast number of Americans.

Why people do drugs of any sort is beyond me, because I can get a safe and natural high from watching a tree sway in a breeze, or a snowy hilltop dressed in silent snow, or a tiny junco flitting among the snowy branches of a small spruce tree. So much of what we call wilderness is really just the same things going on in your own back yard, except that actual wilderness has much less of some of that animal activity, and a lot more silence and serenity. In designated or de facto wilderness, we do see the more rare and cool “charismatic” animals, like moose, panthers, fishers, bobcats, marten.

As an experience, for wilderness lovers like me, wilderness excursion or immersion is just like eating, or breathing. Its quiet is a quantifiable value, like a gallon of gasoline has a price we pay to keep our vehicles going. People like me simply gotta have that wilderness experience to keep running. In modern American terms, it is like having a really big house. We feel like we belong and must be there, comfy and snug.

One of the challenges with wilderness designation is that most of it happens out West, where there are already hundreds of millions of acres of nationally-managed public lands. Already out there are big wilderness areas that a person could spend an entire summer exploring just one location.

Back East we have hardly anything resembling wilderness, and what we have is easily degraded. It is here in the East that the energy and money must be focused on setting aside wilderness while we still have some few opportunities remaining. Opportunities being those industrial lands no longer useful for commercial forestry or mining.

It is a lot more politically palatable to work on wilderness protections here, in the East, where the majority of the American population is concentrated. Many more people are excited about it here, and far fewer people feel like their livelihoods will be negatively impacted by public land and wilderness. Because we have so little of it.

Wilderness is important because it is in wilderness that our species evolved and lived happily for 99% of our time on Planet Earth.

Wilderness is our natural state of being, where we humans are most at home, most honestly, naturally ourselves. In modern times, it is where we are least distracted by “narischkeit,” meaningless chatter and buzz. In wilderness we can be honest, true, most mentally healthy, if only for a day or two.

This past Fall I killed the biggest bear I have ever seen in the woods, in a designated Adirondack wilderness area where I was on a solo hunt. It weighed close to 600 pounds, and its hide squared over six feet. Its hide is literally over twice the size of the 260-pound bear’s hide I sleep under in the winter. A true monster. The king of the mountain.

Know what’s neat about this hunting experience? This bear had probably never seen a human before, and he stalked and tried to eat me three times. The third and last time he tried was when I lost patience amidst growing fear that I was going to be eaten alive, and I shot him at thirty yards in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Just skinning him took almost two days, because his enormous carcass rolled under a log on a steep hillside.

It was predator versus predator, animal eating (or wearing) animal, the most basic natural law on Planet Earth.

Though I admit feeling remorse for having ended his kingly reign. I had been after a big buck, and only took my foe when he had willingly forfeited his nine lives over the course of two days with me on the mountain.

I have never felt so alive.

Wilderness, it’s in us. It is important to us, to be us.

To be human.

On Being a Dinosaur

I am a dinosaur.

In so many ways, my beliefs, ideals, values, education, outlook, hobbies, lifestyle, and behavior seem as outdated and as uncommon as the dinosaurs that died out long ago.

Put another way, I am one of the Last of the Mohicans, certainly not THE last, but one of a dwindling group that sees the world differently than the corrosive pop culture fed daily to Americans by Hollywood.

And I am proud to be this way, to be a patriot, to exalt individual citizen rights and liberties above government intervention, to take risks and make sacrifices in a free market capitalist society that rewards hard work and penalizes laziness.  American Sniper, Act of Valor, and Lone Survivor are the only movies that moved me in many years because I believe in military heroes, although the Lord of the Rings productions are highly entertaining.

Meanwhile, pop culture would have every American equally unhappy, equally deprived of their rights and liberties, equally planted on a couch eating junk food and watching mindless TV shows that are at war with the underpinnings of Western Civilization.

(A short, hard-hitting article about Hollywood’s destructiveness by one of its most famous writers is here.)

And I am also an old-fashioned “Hook-and-Bullet” conservationist, a hunter, life-long gun owner and fisherman, an NRA member and even more so, a FOAC member who means it when I say “You can have my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.”

But did I mention that conservation is a huge part of my identity? You know, farmland preservation, wildlife habitat protection, forest land acquisition for public ownership, and wilderness areas where I can hunt, fish, camp, and hike without seeing or hearing another human being for as long as I am out there.

And why is it so hard for so many traditionalists to see that traditional American values are directly tied to, and derive from, rural landscapes? And that our remaining rural landscapes are precious fragments of the great American frontier, on which our national identity and Constitution were forged?

So why wouldn’t a conservative want to conserve those rural landscapes that gave birth to his identity and values, that enshrine Constitutional rights and self-reliance?

For some strange reason, an increasing number of gun owners are not hunters, and do not really show that they care about wildlife populations or wildlife habitat, or about land and water conservation.  When I attend meetings at different sportsmen’s clubs, like Duncannon Sportsmen, and I hear the Conservationist’s Pledge, my heart wells up and I nearly get as teary-eyed as when I hear the national anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance.  It doesn’t help that most of us in the room are sporting lots of white in our beards and on our heads.  The next generation seems to have taken a lot for granted, because all of the battles we fought decades ago bore such abundant fruit.

All this makes me a dinosaur, and although I recognize it, I am not happy about it.  I feel like I am watching the greatest nation on Planet Earth disintegrate under my feet, and it scares me, makes me sad, and makes me want to do what I can to try to prevent it from happening.

I do not want traditional American values to go extinct, like the dinosaurs, because although those values may not be in vogue right now, America was founded on them and the nation cannot successfully continue on without them.

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.

Your dog sniffed my crotch

It was bound to happen. Two lovely days on a wilderness trail with my young son ended as we rounded the trailhead and aimed for our truck 100 yards ahead.

Two recently arrived hikers were actively calling for a dog, and they asked us if we had seen it.

“No,” I said, and I quickly added that I’d appreciate the dog being leashed when it finally arrived.

As usual, the dog’s owner went into a description of his dog’s fine qualities, its gentle disposition, etc. and then out of nowhere, she appeared. And she made a beeline for me, barking aggressively right up to my knees.

Having been attacked by dogs, my reaction was not “Oh, your dog is so cuddly poofy sweetums wonderful.” Rather, I prepared to give the vicious beast a face full of heavy hiking boot. Thankfully, the owner intervened, but in a minute, the dog was off and running around, again. My small and vulnerable son was not yet into the truck, because I was still trying to get the keys out of the extra large pack.

And it all followed an online debate pitting clueless dog owners against dog lovers who prefer not to have their crotches sniffed by unleashed dogs on wilderness trails, far from help.

No surprise that I described my concerns to the owner, a nice young guy named Garrett, and followed it up with an email to the district ranger, asking that the state either require dogs to be leashed in that region, or banned altogether.

Folks, your dog may walk on water. He may fetch your slippers, keep you warm, and make you feel loved. That’s great. But he doesn’t have the right to run up to me and smell my crotch, any more than someone could do that to you. It’s so undignified, threatening, and uncomfortable. What’s truly sad is that it’s not the dog at fault, but its owner, who has put it in a no-win situation. A leash is just a few bucks, and can turn a potentially disastrous day into a happy day for everyone.

The tonic of wilderness

Reading just about any wilderness outdoors report by hikers or wilderness advocates, you’ll have a tough time not meeting up with the well-worn phrase “the tonic of wilderness.”

All my life I’ve been a wilderness hound, and I don’t know what that phrase means. Whether day hiking, fishing, or camping with a rifle next to me many miles from the nearest road, my feelings about wilderness have zero association with the word tonic.

Euphoria, and drug-induced narcotic stupor are more accurate for my take-aways. That Cloud Nine feeling can stay with me for weeks after returning to human settlement. Getting older only makes it better, because so many layers are filtering the experience now. Water, stands of old conifers, some far off hill that sees one or two people a year, or a decade, these now are the templates upon which each new excursion is planned. Studying a topographic map now yields concrete images of what to expect in my mind, accurate or not.

Since last year I’ve taken to marching about with a heavy pack loaded with 50-65 pounds of steel as a means of getting back into some sort of decent condition. Sometimes I am fortunate enough to hike a local park for 30-60 minutes. Usually, it’s just my neighborhood that I’m tromping through in my rugged hunting boots. Concrete isn’t pretty to see, and my mind once again helps out. As the minutes tick by, a quiet euphoria overtakes the senses, and my eyes see trees, distant horizons, and unbroken scenery. My hand instinctively grips an imaginary rifle, and oblivious to cars whipping past, I wander unnamed marshes somewhere else.

If someone wants to call this the tonic of wilderness, OK. It makes no sense. But if that’s now the by-word, I’ll accept it. Just so long as I can get more, soon

Hunting season is here, and I’m not

Hunting season, around these parts, is an all-consuming month of shooting star-like proportions and beauty. All year we wait to hunt bear and deer, with our packs on our backs and our rifles in hand. Wild areas that haven’t seen a human in a year suddenly welcome one, two, maybe three long striders. And that’s where I’ve been the past month, living in tents in wilderness areas, climbing up cliffs, playing cat and mouse with deer that either walk in front of your car or fall to my bullet, and which provide clean, healthy, sustainable nourishment nonetheless.

With old friends and new, I’ve had some exciting adventures, learned some new things, and had opportunities to reflect on life and career topics. Hunters Sharing the Harvest received one of my deer, with a $15 donation for the processing, and two friends are splitting another deer I took. A third deer I harvested I’m splitting with a friend. Over the coming month, I’ll dole out venison treats to friends and colleagues, sharing nature’s bounty. Along the way, thirty pounds of flubber have disappeared from my torso, and my kids tell me I look like their dad again. Friends tell me I look ten years younger. That feels good.

More to come after this frenetic month ends next weekend. Until then, keep yer powder dry.