Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quiet Reed Fly Fishing - In Memorium

Orvis flies, a sample
A fellow I worked with in Corvallis would occasionally brought in a fly rod he was building. I always admired his work, and after reading Casting a Spell by George Black (a couple of years after moving to the East Coast), have a great appreciation for the talent it takes to make one, and the heritage skill followed. Don Chen and I could also talk baseball - he was raised in New York City's Chinatown, and cynically would comment about his latest disappointments with the Mets. The last time Don and I talked was when I visited my old unit two years ago during an official visit of USDA locations in the Pacific Northwest. We chatted briefly, and he mentioned that he had been dealing with cancer - a development that had occurred during the seven years since I moved onto my new assignment in Maryland. It may have been during that short visit that Don gave me a fly that he had tied - a simple gift. A couple of weeks ago I was doing my weekly scan of the obituaries in the Corvallis Gazette Times - a kind of morbid ritual that my father has been doing for decades with the print copy of the home town paper where I was raised, and now me via the Internet for back home in Oregon. It is with some regularity I see the name of an acquaintance made during the 17 years I lived in Corvallis. This time, Don's name appeared in the list from a week earlier - the cancer caught up with him. I will remember Don's small side business Quiet Reed Fly Fishing, and smile when I look at the small token of bent wire and thread-tied fly, and think about the split strips of bamboo glued together and whipping through the air over a still pool of water along a running river.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Birding on Steroids - The Big Year

National Agricultural Library prints
Christmas 2013 is about to have come and gone. We spend Christmas Eve with our Colorado son and his family in Fort Collins, and today in Oregon with our daughter, her family, and second son. Next week we will be California with our youngest son, and other members of both of your families - the marvels of air transportation. Jet-setting also makes it possible to chase records, such a the greatest number of bird species sighted in one calendar year - it's called a Big Year. I first read of such things in Birds of a Feather - a nice history of birding in America written by Scott Weidensaul. As it happened, my Colorado son and family gave me a DVD of The Big Year that stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, and depicts a group of fellow birders who are in pursuit of finding out who will see the most birds - kind of a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for bird watching on steroids. I looked at my email when I got to my Daughter's home this evening, and one of the messages was the December news letter from the American Birding Association, and below is an article about a fellow who should set a new ABA record for bird head counts. (be warned, success is not guaranteed: last year the The Atlantic magazine ran an article about another birder seeking the annual record - he wasn't successful.)

Neil Hayward Poised to Break ABA Big Year Record (1)
Post Script: Hayward beat the record.

Since 1998, Sandy Komito's ABA Big Year record 748 has stood alone as the biggest year in ABA history, but it looks like now he may need to share the title. Massachusetts birder and ABA member Neil Hayward is currently sitting at 745 species, plus 3 potential ABA firsts pending acceptance, precisely the same number that Komito ended up with 15 years ago.

The bird that put him even was a Rustic Bunting visiting a feeder in Homer, Alaska, and there are several options that might give him the record outright. Hook-billed Kite in Texas, Great Skua in Virginia or North Carolina, Ivory Gull in Newfoundland, or any other random vagrant that could turn up in any corner of the US or Canada. In fact, he may need a couple more birds to cover for records that may not pass muster. In any case, Hayward is in full chase mode in the last week of the year, and we're all rooting for him. Records are made to be broken, after all.

You can follow along with Neil's final push at his entertaining blog, The Accidental Big Year

(1) From: Flight Calls #98, American Birding Association

Sunday, December 15, 2013

John Feinstein, Does It Again

Feinstein book
John Feinstein wrote another excellent story about the essence of the Army-Navy football rivalry that appeared this morning in the Washington Post, as a link along side the report of Navy's win yesterday. He builds into the legend of the two service academies - catching the ethereal meaning of the annual game. I have been aware of his sports reporting since first hearing his commentaries on NPR - along with Frank Deford - as regulars on Morning Edition. When our son began at the Naval Academy, I read his 1996 book A Civil War: Army vs Navy A Year Insides College Football's Purest Rivalry. Even though we have become Navy fans, as far as it goes when it comes to this game, we still have a heightened sensitivity to wanting success for all the Service Academies - this game makes all that other loyalty go our the window.

Our son in the Army was with us on Induction Day when our youngest entered the Naval Academy. He was proud and supportive of his little brother's decision. However, when the families attended the orientation session (while the new Plebes were being sheared, poked, marched, and all other kinds of indoctrinations into military life), he was more than glad to respond to call of "Go Navy!", but the following cheer "Beat Army!", was going to far. Regardless, to show his support, he displayed a bumper sticker on his car with "Go Navy" - sans the "Beat Army" part. We heard there was a bit of controversy on post at Fort Myer, but he didn't care.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Visions of Fly Fishing Dance in His Head

I used to fly fish when taking pack trips back into the high country of the Sierra Nevada. I haven't backpacked since my early 20's, so haven't made any attempts at flexing my wrist or guiding a fly towards a pool in a mountain river in a long time. My fly fishing experience began when riding horses and leading pack mules for family excursions to high mountain lakes. Sometime I need to write down some of those stories from the 1970's, maybe in the style that Brooks Gist did in his 1950 book High Sierra Adventure that describes holidays in the back country.(1) When my folks packed up on the farm and moved to town, I acquired their copy. It sits on our book shelf with a few other family heirlooms.

Old fish creels
The only remnants of those summer fishing days is a rod in the garage, a saddle in the guest room for our grandsons, and three old creels that my dad gave me when he sold all of his pack gear a hand full of years before he and Mom moved because he wasn't able to physically tolerate the high altitudes of the back country in his later 70's. The closest I have been to a fly rod lately has been watching a friend do some casting in Montana 12 years ago, reading George Black's book Casting a Spell, walking through an Orvis store in the Park Meadows mall in Littleton a week ago, and looking at a copy of Trout of the World in a Cold Water Creek store while Jan bought some new clothes - is this a sign?

Live trout tank
My grandson Josiah was interested in the tank of swimming trout near the fishing section of new Cabela's store near the junction where E470 meets I-25 north of Denver. While driving back to Fort Collins this morning after seeing Jan off to her flight at Denver International Airport, I asked Josiah if it would be alright to stop by the  - I explained that there were stuffed animals there, hoping that would entice him more, even though he was willing to go in the first place. Jan had heard that a Cabela's store is supposed to be an experience - that the stores are full of wildlife displays.  I sent a text to his dad with the picture writing, "We may have to take a try at this next season." These were the only wildlife specimen in the store that were alive - at least that we saw.

Stuffed animals
From the time we walked into the store, and as we walked across the store, there were many kinds of animal displays. I noticed the fishing rod section across the store - the tips of long poles in rows were easy to spot. Once half way through the store, Josiah commented, "I thought you said there were stuffed animals in the store." "Josiah, those are the stuffed animals." "Oh." he replied. He was thinking of the cuddly kind of stuffed animals that he and his siblings have at home. The exchange was worth a small smile on my part - but not a hint of teasing in it.

Perhaps with the exposure to the Colorado outdoors since moving here will have an impact on my part-time interests. Given the great number of recent chance encounters with fish and fly fishing, perhaps I will need to pick up a fly rod and reel sometime soon, and see whether I have a little bit of my muscle memory for casting still in me, and can pass that on to Josiah.
(1) Brooks Gist's brother was one of my middle school teachers.

Cold Stone Collections

Not having been in Ireland before my trip earlier this year, whenever I saw anything made of stone - whatever it was - the constructed stone features stood out and caught my attention. An old church ruin on the grounds at Oak Park is where the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority Teagasc has its national administrative headquarters. A blending of new uses among the old.

Thus glory endeth,
and gold fadeth,
on noise and clamours
the night falleth.
Lift up your hearts,
lords and maidens,
for the song of sorrow
that was sung of old.
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun
J.R.R. Tolkein
Here is a collection of stones fit into walls at Oak Park - each has its own beauty, having been set together more than a couple of hundred years before.

If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe -no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside us as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that's just what we do find inside us.
The Case for Christianity
C.S. Lewis

Friday, December 13, 2013

Front Range of Lights

Town lights blanket the horizons
Stars stipple the sky
Snow on the fields
Cold Front Range night air
Lit by these

Argentine Assorted Meats and American BBQ

A carnivore's plumage
A carnivore /ˈkɑrnɪvɔər/ meaning 'meat eater' (Latin, caro meaning 'meat' or 'flesh' and vorare meaning 'to devour') is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging. Animals that depend solely on animal flesh for their nutrient requirements are considered obligate carnivores while those that also consume non-animal food are considered facultative carnivores. Omnivores also consume both animal and non-animal food, and apart from the more general definition, there is no clearly defined ratio of plant to animal material that would distinguish a facultative carnivore from an omnivore. A carnivore that sits at the top of the food chain is an apex predator. [from: Wikipedia]

Tucuman City meat market
You can't miss the Argentinian love for good tasting meat. My first meal in Buenos Aires back in 2010 was a Pampus-fed beef steak. I didn't see any butcher shops that first time, but during the second trip in 2011 when walking to a restaurant from our hotel in Tucuman City, we went by the one shown to the left. Many restaurants don't open until 7:00 PM, and the general nightlife on the streets picks up late into the evening.

North American preparations
When it came to meats, there is not a lot different for me considering my family's ranch operations in California. We always had a freezer-full of meat prepared by a butcher at a locker facility in our town: beef and pork. Funny thing was: I had no idea of where on the animal the meat in the white or brown-wrapped packages stacked in the freezer came from on the animal. It wasn't until I took an introductory zoology class and was dissecting some creature, that it all came together where the meat came from on the animal - pretty pathetic.

During the second trip to Uruguay and Argentina, I made a point to record the different preparations of meat I ordered at various restaurants.
A sampling of Argentina meat preparations
The commonality of BBQ's is obvious - one grill seems to be like any other grill, whether in the New World Southern or Northern Hemispheres. What distinguishes them, the source and the quality of the meat. Argentina is know for its grass-fed beef, produced from cattle roaming the pampas and herded by gauchos. Much the equivalent of pasture and rangeland grazing in the United States.

Buenos Aires restaurant grill
Patio grill in Fort Collins, Colorado
Brand Inspectors Ride California Range in Search for Stolen Cattle
March 01, 1987 | JAN HAAG | United Press International

SACRAMENTO — Sit for a spell and chat with Jay Phebus about brands. The former cowboy talks lovingly about brands a hundred years old that are still being burned into the flanks of cattle, about the days of cowboys and cattle ranches that spread herds over thousands of acres. He'll talk about nights spent under the open sky and a way of life that is slowly disappearing as ranches are eaten up by developments that spit out houses like old chewing tobacco. "They're ruinin' good cattle country," Phebus recalls one of his old ranch bosses telling him. "Too many cities springin' up. Not enough ranches."

As the number of ranches shrinks, so does the number of brands. In 1980, there were about 35,000 brands registered with the livestock identification unit of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Today, there are 28,000. But Phebus, the keeper of the brands in California, and dozens of state livestock inspectors do their part to keep a bit of the Old West alive. He presides over all the lazy J's, the rocking A's, the broken hearts, the spades, anchors and crescents that are branded into livestock all over the state. "Brands are the only protection the cattlemen have," Phebus says, sitting in his Sacramento office that has a wall lined with old branding irons. "All the brands are registered with us, so when a rancher loses cattle, we can help him trace them."

Those who think brands went out with cattle rustling have not met Phebus and his Sherlock Holmeses of the range--the brand inspectors. The inspectors, mostly retired cowboys like Phebus, check all cattle, horses, sheep, mules and burros whenever they're sold or moved. A big part of their duties involves finding lost or stolen cattle. Cattle rustling, it seems, did not die with the Old West.

"You see more of that than ever before," Phebus figures. "It's just more modern--with trucks you can steal whole herds easily." But hiding stolen cattle is not so easy, especially when a cattleman's brand--the only permanent symbol of ownership--is stamped into a cow's hip, rib or shoulder.

"We find 'em," Phebus says proudly. In 1985, for example, of the 2,221 cattle reported lost or stolen, more than 1,000 were returned. He also notes that his agency is totally self-supporting. Funded by brand registration and inspection fees, it is financed by the cattlemen and livestock owners it protects.

The state took over responsibility for livestock identification in 1917. Phebus, who tells tales of brands blended with stories of the open range, has a copy of the first state brand registration book, printed in 1919. It's less than an inch thick. The latest brand book of 1983 is close to three inches thick.

The early registration books also have lots of duplicate brands. Duplicate brands are still allowed, but they have to be registered on different parts of an animal, Phebus says. There are six places on an animal where it can be branded--the left or right shoulder, hip or rib. "You can have three owners who each have a rocking J," Phebus says, drawing the letter over a half circle, "but they have to be say, on the right shoulder, the left hip and the right rib."

Brands are read from top to bottom, left to right, from the outside to inside. A "slash A" brand, for example, is just what it sounds like--a slash mark next to the letter "A." A half circle over a letter is called a crescent, a rainbow or an eyebrow. A letter on its side is always lazy. A letter that leans is described as tumbling, leaning or sleeping. "You used to tell a cowboy by his hat, boots, saddle and how he pronounced his brands," says Phebus, a former "buckaroo" from Nevada. "We don't care what a rancher wants to call it, just so we can easily describe it."

Brands sometimes are rejected by the agency for that very reason. "Some of the old Spanish brands are beautiful, but you can't describe them by phone if you're looking for a lost animal," Phebus explains.

He recalls the rancher who wanted an intricate design of grapes for his brand. "It would've just been a big blob," he says. "We turn those down. My job is to suggest a brand that will work--that can be easily branded into an animal and is big enough to see." A brand should be so obvious that "a fella from New York who's never seen a cow, let alone a brand, can tell what it is," Phebus says.

He admits that people who think branding is cruel have suggested alternatives, but none are permanent. Ear tags are easily removed and tattooing is hard to read from a distance. "I don't know if anyone can come up with a better idea," Phebus says. "I think that old brand on the hide is here to stay."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Good Story for Pearl Harbor Day

The story A Sailor's Dying Wish below was posted on the iDriveWarships blog, and picked up by the U.S. Navy blog. I had a hard time describing it to Jan, and when she read it while we were eating at a nearby restaurant, it choked her up as well. I didn't really have any emotional response several years back when I attended a meeting at a Navy facility at Pearl Harbor. I strained my neck to catch glances of the base when on the landing approach to Honolulu, and as we drove through the base to my meeting, but this personal account of a Pearl Harbor survivor was touching. The care today's Navy had for one of its own from decades past.
Bud CloudAfter signing my Pop, EM2 Bud Cloud (circa Pearl Harbor) up for hospice care, the consolation prize I’d given him (for agreeing it was OK to die) was a trip to “visit the Navy in San Diego.” I emailed my friend and former Marine sergeant, Mrs. Mandy McCammon, who’s currently serving as a Navy Public Affairs Officer, at midnight on 28 May. I asked Mandy if she had enough pull on any of the bases in San Diego to get me access for the day so I could give Bud, who served on USS Dewey (DD-349), a windshield tour.

The next day she sent me an email from the current USS Dewey (DDG 105)’s XO, CDR Mikael Rockstad, inviting us down to the ship two days later.

We linked up with Mandy outside Naval Base San Diego and carpooled to the pier where we were greeted by CMDCM Joe Grgetich and a squad-sized group of Sailors. Bud started to cry before the doors of the van opened. He’d been oohing and pointing at the cyclic rate as we approached the pier, but when we slowed down and Mandy said, “They’re all here for you, Bud,” he was overwhelmed.

After we were all out of the van directly in front of the Dewey, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, Petty Officer Simon introduced himself and said as the ship’s Sailor of the Year he had the honor of pushing Bud’s wheelchair for the day. Unbeknownst to us, they’d decided to host Bud aboard the Dewey, not at the Dewey. And so they carried him aboard. None of us expected him to go aboard the ship. I’d told him we were going down to the base and would have the chance to meet and greet a few of the Sailors from the new Dewey. He was ecstatic. The day before, he asked every few hours if we were “still going down to visit the boys from the Dewey,” and “do they know I was on the Dewey, too?”

Once aboard, we were greeted by the CO, CDR Jake Douglas, the XO and a reinforced platoon-sized group of Sailors. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. These men and women waited in line to introduce themselves to Bud. They shook his hand, asked for photos with him, and swapped stories. It was simply amazing.

They didn’t just talk to him, they listened.

Bud’s voice was little more than a weak whisper at this point and he’d tell a story and then GMC Eisman or GSCS Whynot would repeat it so all of the Sailors on deck could hear. In the midst of the conversations, Petty Officer Flores broke contact with the group. Bud was telling a story and CMDCM Grgetich was repeating the details when Flores walked back into view holding a huge photo of the original USS Dewey. That moment was priceless. Bud stopped mid-sentence and yelled, “There she is!” They patiently stood there holding the photo while he told them about her armament, described the way it listed after it was hit, and shared other details about the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Bud finally admitted how tired he was after more than an hour on deck. While they were finishing up goodbyes and taking last minute photographs, GMC Eisman asked if it’d be OK to bring Sailors up to visit Bud in a few months after a Chief’s board. I hadn’t said it yet because I didn’t want it to dampen the spirit of the day, but I quietly explained to GMC Eisman the reason we’d asked for the visit was simple: Bud was dying.

I told him they were welcome to come up any time they wanted, but I suspected Bud had about a month left to live. Almost without hesitation, he asked if the crew could provide the burial honors when the time came. I assured him that’d be an honor we’d welcome.

Leaving the ship was possibly more emotional than boarding.

They piped him ashore. CMDCM Grgetich leaned in and quietly told me how significant that honor was and who it’s usually reserved for as we headed towards the gangplank. Hearing “Electrician’s Mate Second Class William Bud Cloud, Pearl Harbor Survivor, departing” announced over the 1MC was surreal.

Later that night Bud sat in his recliner, hands full of ship’s coins and declared, “I don’t care what you do with my power tools; you better promise you’ll bury me with these.”

He died 13 days later. For 12 of those 13 days he talked about the Dewey, her Sailors and his visit to San Diego. Everyone who came to the house had to hear the story, see the photos, hold the coins, read the plaques.

True to his word, GMC Eisman arranged the details for a full honors burial. The ceremony was simple yet magnificent. And a perfect sendoff for an ornery old guy who never, ever stopped being proud to be a Sailor. After the funeral, the Sailors came back to the house for the reception and spent an hour with the family. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s another example of them going above and beyond the call of duty, and it meant more to the family than I can explain.

There are more photos, and I’m sure I missed a detail, or a name. What I didn’t miss and will never forget, is how unbelievable the men and women of the USS Dewey were. They opened their ship and their hearts and quite literally made a dream come true for a dying Sailor.

They provided the backdrop for “This is the best day of my life, daughter. I never in my whole life dreamed I’d step foot on the Dewey again or shake the hand of a real life Sailor.”

Without question, it’s the best example of Semper Fidelis I’ve ever seen.

Jennie Haskamp is a Marine Corps veteran who was fortunate to be adopted by a Pearl Harbor survivor after her first tour in the Corps. She’s an accidental tourist of sorts, keeping her friends entertained with anecdotes and photos, while she continues college and decides what she wants to be when she grows up. Follow Jennie’s personal blog here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Natural Beauty

California Oak Woodland Community
I remember my grandfather once commenting that a long time ago, there were so many ducks back on the ranch, that when they took flight, the sky was dark. Once on a field tour hosted by the Yolo County Resource Conservation District - Yolo RCD - plantings of native California grasses stood out on ditch banks and along the shoulders of country roads. When I was a laboratory assistant for a professor teaching range management, I looked for a few specimens of the perennials in the Sierra foothills in eastern Fresno County. The natives had been displaced centuries before by annual species that hitchhiked on the back of imported livestock or on bales of hay from the Mediterranean basin in the 1600's. Seeing large areas covered with the natives was an emotional moment - something in my mind's eye, but not realized for more than 20 years. Good Nature Publishing Company sells a poster of what the California Oak Woodland would look like, if it remained in 
A winding look of a place in the past
more than the few remnant areas the length of the Central Valley. I remember once ready that the last wolf seen in Sequoia National was in 1954 - at the beginning of my lifetime - the last of its kind that walked in the valley was in 1922. The wolves are making a comeback in other parts of the state, but it may be a long time until specimens walk about in the mountains, much less the valley floor as far south as Tulare County, if ever - displaced by people and towns and even memories. My dad once found a dismembered cow on the bank of the Saint Johns River where are cattle grazed in spring - he thought a cougar had killed it. As recently a black bear had traveled down a dry drainage that made its way from the foothills to the center of the valley. It was shot near a dairy that bordered some of the last pieces of grassland prairie in that part of the state - untouched then by earth-movers and land planes that leveled the gentle rolling hills into table-top flat fields where corn, alfalfa, winter grains, and cotton would grow when water was channeled down straight furrowed rows that converge in the distance.

The lyrics by Neil Young for Natural Beauty have always been in my head when I think about how landscapes used to look - untouched my hands and plows.

On the roller coaster ride
That my emotions have to take me on
I heard a newborn baby cry
Through the night.

I heard a perfect echo die
Into an anonymous wall
of digital sound
Somewhere deep inside
Of my soul.

A natural beauty should be preserved
like a monument to nature
Don't judge yourself too harsh,
my love
Or someday you might find
your soul endangered
A natural beauty should be preserved
like a monument to nature.

You had so much
and now so much is gone
What are you gonna do
With your life?

What a lucky man.
To see the earth
before it touched his hand
What an angry fool
To condemn.

One more night to go
One more sleep
upon your burning banks
A greedy man never knows
What he's done.

A natural beauty should be preserved
like a monument to nature
Don't start yourself too short,
my love
Or someday you might find
your soul endangered
A natural beauty should be preserved
like a monument to nature.

Went to the rodeo today
I saw the cowgirls
lined up on the fence
A brand new Chevrolet
A brand new pair of seamless pants.

We watched the moment of defeat
Played back over on the video screen
Somewhere deep inside
Of my soul.

A natural beauty should be preserved
like a monument to nature.

Neil Young, 1992
A review of Natural Beauty: Over the years, Neil Young has been known for either long, drawn out epic album closers (i.e.: Cowgirl In The Sand and Words) or short little ditties that discretely end the albums (�* la Cripple Creek Ferry). Natural Beauty is a long (clocking at over ten minutes long) acoustic eco-ballad seemingly recorded live. After some rowdy fan applause, the epic tale begins, with Neil proclaiming that “Natural Beauty should be preserved like a monument” and how the world is going to hell. Great harmonica and words and that still ring true today fill this song and even though it’s extended length can seem like a lot to fill in without numerous distorted guitar solos and thousands of verses, the song barely gets boring, and the album goes out like Rust Never Sleeps, fading out over the sound of the audience applauding, but this time cross-fading into the sound of a cricket chirping, on this Harvest Moon. 5/5