Tuesday, April 22, 2014

High Water, High Hopes

Had 90 minutes inbetween meetings on the road, so I decided to hit my local trout spot for the first time this year.  I kept my attitude and anxiety in check headed down the road, which I thought might guarantee success on a pretty fertile stretch of water.

So, speaking of water.  It was high.  Flow was quadruple the rate that I prefer to fish in that river.  I had chest waders, so I dealt with it, but it was impossible.   I left the fly rod in the truck and decided to chuck inline spinners at trout and smallmouth.   In that current, nothing was coming up, so I had to experiment with split shot to try to get low in the water column.  Our serious winter has seriously altered the stream channel and the layout of pools and runs, which meant a lot of lost tackle.  At least five spinners.   Every attempt to get lower and heavier was met with an impossible snag.  Every attempt to lighten the load saw my lure tumbling downstream uncontrollably near the surface.

I honestly don't remember if I caught a fish or not.  Seems like I did, but it wasn't a bass or trout, and if it were something interesting like a fallfish or sucker, I'd have remembered that as well.

Oh well.  Here's to waiting out lower water.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Letter to My 14-Year Old Self: Be Kind to Yourself

(Written for the Good Men Project).

Hey.   I'm sorry I didn't catch you sooner.  I'm sorry that nobody caught you sooner.   First things first:  most things are going to be okay because most things will change.  Life will turn all of this on its head, not once but many times.  Sometimes, you'll even be the winner.  But that's not what this is about.

You lack control and  you know it.  You feel like you are always pushing against a current that is larger than you, and too often that current becomes a spiral of destructive thoughts and actions.  I know that you wish that the men in your family, your Dad, Grandfather, and Godfather especially, could help you figure it out or at least speak some meaningful words that would help things fall into place, but they can't.  Those men are from a different place (all NYC born) and era (born 1917-1952).   You are in damn Tidewater Virginia in 1988.   You need - you've needed - an older brother, a mentor, someone to answer tough questions.  That person never appears, it seems.  I wish I could say that particular thing gets fixed.  I'm not so sure.

The older men care so much and try so hard to get through to you, saying things like "Toughen up!" and "Buckle down!" and "Don't go looking for trouble!"  What do those things even mean?  I think they're things that men learned from being a little older than you, since they don't have any great advice about being your age.  That should tell you something.  Their advice pertains to men who are, say, 18 to 24, and are putting up a valiant struggle.  Young men who can exert some basic control over the details of their life.  Over each day's accomplishments.  When you're 14 and living in the boondocks, what daily accomplishments can you have?

Here's what you need to know:   First, some things will get much worse.  At times, you will question at a serious level why you bother getting up each day.  You need to be conscious and keep a level head about you.  You'll encounter very few things that cannot be fixed.  In time.  Most of them will fix themselves. In time.  Adding your negativity to them, unfortunately, can make them far more broken.  Don't give in.

Here's the bright side:  most things will get better!   One day, you'll have so much control of your day to day life that it'll seem like everything's a matter of just getting it on a calendar and not double-booking fun stuff.
Eventually, most days you will not feel that current trying to drag you.  You are the current. You are the force.

The best advice I can give you, though, is to be a good friend to yourself.  You haven't been kind to yourself, and that's a pattern that will follow you - maybe forever.  No matter what friends or what money you make, at some point you will need to believe that you are worthwhile and worth the effort.  That you have value behind the small stack of dollars you bring home on fridays.  As you know, the tough times don't come at 2pm when folks are wanting to chat over the phone.  Tough times come at 3am.  At 5am.  You'll meet and marry a fantastic woman who might never ever understand you.......completely.  You need the inner strength to figure out when to examine your feelings late at night in the dark, and when to tell other people to shove off for not respecting you.

Being kind to yourself is not the same as giving yourself permission to do bad things, or to do wasteful things.  Smoking 10 cigarettes and drinking 10 beers in a night is in some ways a reward (you'll try), but it won't make you feel better about anything.  It won't help you do anything better.   When you're feeling stressed, you deserve a quiet night on a warm beach.  Not a bottle of liquor.  You deserve a drive through the mountains or desert, listening to whatever you want to hear on the stereo.  You deserve to own the freedom you'll earn through the years.

Be kind to yourself.  You have survived a good bit, and you will survive more.   As you get older, you'll start feeling a drive to live, not just to be alive.  When you stick up for yourself, most will listen, because they'll see the fire in you.  Every day you continue - pushing, striving, churning, a wake is being pushed out behind you that extends your legacy across other people and deeper into the future. Some days you'll see your impact pass you, like a boat when it slows down.   Your reputation will travel faster than you ever can.  When it's good, it's called a "good reputation" because it's like having your own hype man to introduce you before you enter the room, all the time.   When it's bad, it's called "chasing ghosts," though, and chasing ghosts is impossible.  You cannot travel faster than the bad stories that are told about you.  Do good, be good, and speak well.

The point is this - the problems and endless cycles you feel like you deal with day after day - they're gonna go away.   They'll be replaced with new ones, but those too will go away in their own time.   Don't be hard on yourself for the things at which you're not succeeding.  Apply yourself toward meaningful things that have impact on something.   Those meaningful things may just find you.  The journey of life is figuring out how to get from point to point, so the beautiful, meaningful things can expose themselves to you.   So if you want to move to Richmond, do it.  San Diego? Do it.   Treat yourself to a life of your choosing by making good choices and by treating people well.

I know you are energetic and feeling out of place and are working around the clock to gain comprehension for why things are the way they are.   I know that that kid Bobby is giving you a hard time every day on the bus, for no real reason.  A year from now, you will have punched him in the face and the two of you will be friends again, like you were when you were young boys.  He'll need you just a few years from now, when his step-dad dies, and he feels like he has no one - you and two friends will be the only people under 40 who bother to attend the funeral.  You'll never forget how he hugs you in that moment and weeps on your shoulder.

You're going to help people in this life.  You're going to make an impact.  So stop worrying so much.  Get some sleep.  Make yourself a good breakfast in the morning.   There isn't a whole lot that isn't possible if you stop beating yourself up over small mistakes and instead focus on how to tune them out.

You'll make it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Sunday Hunting Victory in Virginia - Part I: Hounded Again

It's not news anymore, but it's still news to me.  I was once again part of an organized campaign to help lift or alleviate Virginia's last blue law - the Sunday Hunting Ban.  This year, we did it.  It wasn't without some bumps and scrapes, and I was disappointed to see where some alliances truly laid in the farm and hunting community.

In the legislature, we saw Delegate Lee Ware fail in his attempt to block this attempt for the 8th straight year in his House Subcommittee.  After a prior victory over hunters, Del. Ware had glibly told the bill's patron, "Boy, why'd you bring this bill to this committee!"" (Potomac News, 1/25/08).  Through hundreds of similar quotes and actions, Ware's intention to never allow any Sunday hunting bill, however narrowly written, to flow from the subcommittee to the House Agriculture Committee seemed pretty obvious.

In 2014, the Speaker of the House assigned the bill to the larger House Agriculture Committee, on which Del. Ware merely had one vote of 25 possible votes.   During Committee testimony, Ware tried to cover his tracks by thanking the bill's proponents for providing details on hunting safety, the popularity of Sunday hunting among hunters and non-hunters, and other information (all of which had been provided in prior years, interestingly).  He remarked that the "new" information painted a broader picture.  The "new" facts ultimately made no impact despite his public pleas, as he voted against the bill once more.  It passed the House Agriculture committee 12-10.   In the House, the bill passed easily with a nearly 2:1 margin, despite Delegate Matt Farriss decrying that Sunday hunting was a violation of scripture and specifically "The Twelve Commandments."  Yup.  Not a typo. Field and Stream ran the quote, too. 

Ware's financial sponsors, the Commonwealth Sportsmen's Alliance and its former legislative project (now independent) Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, were furious.  They took to the internet, as all brave warriors do, and claimed that the proponents of Sunday hunting were usurping democracy (trust me, though, they didn't use the word "usurping") and intentionally gaming democracy by having an obviously biased Subcommittee bypassed to get a vote on a bill that the majority of legislators in both parties approved.

In previous years, the CSA and VAHDA and the indirectly associated  Virginia Farm Bureau (also inexplicably opposed to Sunday hunting - most state Farm Bureaus strongly support Sunday hunting) had relied upon groups of anti-hunters to join them in their testimony and effort to keep hunters out of the woods (you see, Virginia houndsmen spend Sundays retrieving loose dogs from properties that they might not have permission to hunt, so they directly benefit from the Sunday hunting ban).  Groups such as the Audubon Society, Humane Society of Virginia, and others were encouraged to come down and testify about their fear of raining bullets, head shots on kayakers, and a landscape littered with accidentally shot dogs and horses.  In 2012 (2/3/12; 3:58pm), the Farm Bureau's Wilmer Stoneman provided a description of the anti-Sunday hunting lobbying that the Virginia Farm Bureau was proud to sponsor, adding, "Please send this through to the folks with bicycle club connections."  Why would the Virginia Farm Bureau, the state's largest lobbyist for landowner rights be encouraging urban bicycle activists to lobby against rural landowner rights?  Answer that for yourself. It's a head scratcher.

With friends like these - VAHDA and
VFBF lobbied with HSUS in
past years against Sunday
hunting.  Surprise! The
anti-hunters actually want
to end YOUR hunting too!
During the 2012 effort, testimony by the VAHDA was so compelling to Ware's subcommittee, that when the anti-hunters were asked to follow the VAHDA testimony, they declined, ecstatic that the self-proclaimed leaders of Virginia houndsmen had made all of their anti-hunting arguments for them.   In 2014, this unlikely alliance became predictably (to anyone but VAHDA) caustic, as the Humane Society of the United States attacked houndsmen directly with two anti-hunting bills, one (creating a sunset date of 2054 for all fox pens in Virginia) of which became law.  As had been the case in past years on the Sunday hunting front, both the Hound Dog Alliance and the anti-hunters claimed victory.    Seems to me like a law ending one's sport in 40 years isn't much of a victory.  More on that - very avoidable - sad story is yet to come.

The rapid victory of Sunday Hunting in the House - previously an impossibility thanks to Delegate Lee Ware, likely unrelated to the continued campaign donations he receives from VAHDA, CSA, and VFBF (or some combination of the three)- left the leadership of the VAHDA, notably lobbyist Kirby Burch and president Jim Hackett, on their heels, no longer certain of victory over the majority of Virginia hunters who support Sunday hunting.   Suddenly, a race was on, as the decidely pro-Sunday hunting Senate got a crack at the bill.

VAHDA hit the public on two fronts that unfortunately for them, ended up colliding in embarrassment.  The first front was an assault on the media.   In previous years, poorly funded newspapers had happily run "articles" written, partially written, or heavily guided by VAHDA without a significant amount of editing, fact-checking or counter-statements.   In 2014, that changed, as a wide network of hunters united under the Facebook page "Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting for All," would scan the state's newspapers daily, and would write to editors demanding retractions and corrections.  Soon, the newspapers began including quotes on Sunday hunting from supporters, as well.   First, the Roanoke Times.  Then the Virginian Pilot.  Then the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Ultimately....the Washington Post.   Some pro-Sunday hunters wrote their own articles, which were published by newspapers around the state.  The media push was not working as well as VAHDA had hoped.  It was time to try the internet forums.  Unfortunately, most hunting forums are dominated by white collar hunters who work all week and who support Sunday hunting by an extremely large margin.  Again, Hackett and other VAHDA associates found little or no quarter in the corners of the world wide web.

On the VAHDA-friendly hound hunting website Speed Dogs, Hackett and others publicly decried the 2014 Sunday hunting push as underhanded and undemocratic," publishing missives to houndsmen that Sunday hunting advocates were anti-Christian and quite possibly anti-American.  In a secret letter (now public) to the Campbell County Board of Supervisors (1/24/14), Hackett alleged that the Sunday hunting bill had been somehow "fast tracked" "with hopes that it can be passed before County residents find out about it."  Hackett's bizarre letter further alleges that the supporters of Sunday hunting, "only have money making profits in mind."

This is where the second front of VAHDA's effort comes in - and their failure began.  Hackett's letter was more than a helpful update to local leaders.   No, VAHDA wanted the Campbell County Board of Supervisors to do something very specific - to pass a resolution opposing any new Sunday hunting.  The wording was important, because houndsmen already enjoy several types of Sunday hunting that conventional deer, duck, and turkey hunters do not.  Of course - the VAHDA wouldn't want to see a true Sunday hunting ban proposed by anybody - they already have Sunday hunting.  It became publicly clear that VAHDA, despite protestations over Christianity and "quiet rural Sundays," had already in years past received Sunday hunting for its supporters, and merely did not want to share the woods and fields with more hunters.  VAHDA's past legislative wrapup (2008) explains it best:  "there are no plans to seek any modifications to end any Sunday exemptions that currently exist."  Ain't that somethin'?

Burch's and Hackett's continued press assaults, as well as Hackett's letter, also presented a new issue:  continuing to tell a consistent story, or alternately, the truth.  Hackett's letter to Campbell County included a purported list of other counties that had "joined in" against (non-hound) Sunday hunting.  A major problem became that some of those counties, in fact, had not passed the resolution.   As "The List of 23 Counties" began circulating, hunters began contacting their county leadership to request public discussion on the matter.  In at least two counties, hunters found out that their local leaders were hours away from considering "The Resolution," and got involved.  Both of those counties (Gloucester and Powhatan) refused to adopt VAHDA's "Resolution" against Sunday hunting based on citizen input.  So where did citizen input occur for the 19? or 14? or 23? Counties who VAHDA claimed had signed "The Resolution?"  That process is best explained in a letter to Campbell County government from Derick Ratcliffe, who at various points directly and indirectly claims to be associated with VAHDA.  Recall also, VAHDA's complaints about the "transparency" and "undemocratic" nature of the Sunday hunting bill, being shouted loudly at about the same time Derick's letter went to Campbell County:

"Some counties found a way around the need to pass the resolution in time to have an immediate impact. They apparently called a 'Special Meeting' which then wasn't a Special Meeting because then re-opened the immediately previous monthly meeting, adopted the resolution, which was then on record as being passed at the immediately previous meeting." 

Now, I don't know about any of you reading this, but that sounds like a borderline illegal (and most certainly unethical and out-of-protocol) tactic.  That this tactic is being advocated by an organization whose leaders called a simple House Committee assignment "undemocratic" and whose supporters called Sunday hunting advocates un-American and anti-Christian is flatly hilarious.   This is literally gaming the legislative process - literally back-room, dark-room stuff.  Isn't it fascinating?  We sure thought so, and so we told everyone about it.

  VAHDA's local leverage against Sunday hunting got too public, too fast.  As Mr. Ratcliffe was kind enough to mention in his (now public) letter:  "Calling such meetings is almost unheard of and sends a message certain to generate attention in Richmond."  Hand it to the man - he was right - it generated attention - just not the attention that VAHDA had imagined.  As hunters tried to track down copies of this infamous "resolution," the call came in, "Someone in Gloucester County says that they are going to rubber stamp some resolution against Sunday hunting tonight."    12 hours later, Gloucester County said "no" to the anti-hunters and the Virginia Hound Dog Alliance.     Two months later, the resolution failed in Powhatan County - home of Kirby Burch (VAHDA) and Delegate Lee Ware (who is supported by VAHDA).  Yes, Mr. Ratcliffe, it certainly generated attention in Richmond.  A tip for the future for Mr. Ratcliffe:  if a parliamentary process is "almost unheard of," there's a good chance it could be illegal. 

As of April 2014, hunters across the Commonwealth of Virginia are petitioning their County Supervisors to determine what process was used to pass the anti-hunting Resolution in the name of their constituents.   When confronted by the media in my brother's home town, one of the local supervisors bravely told the reporter that signing the resolution was easy - because citizens should be in church on Sunday morning (pretty sure that's a violation of the 1st Amendment, the whole "establishing a religion" thingy....).    I suspect that Kirby Burch's "List of 23 Counties" will be roughly a "List of 11 Counties" by the time the 2015 Legislative Session begins.  Virginia has 95 Counties.

With only mild histrionics in the Virginia Senate in March 2014, including Republican Senator Stuart attempting to explain how he might (inexplicably) mistake a kayak for a duck, and with Republican Senator Obenshain (who lost his bid for Attorney General by 907 votes - the pro-Sunday hunting Facebook page has 5,400 members who voted against him) trading silly punches in the Senate hall with Kirby Burch,  the Sunday hunting bill passed with generous bipartisan support - a rare thing these days.    Even more rare, Virginia's new Democratic governor signed the Republican-sponsored version of the bill into law.  When does that ever happen anymore?

The Virginia Hound Dog Alliance has vowed to fight in 2015 to keep hunters off of their own properties on Sundays, in order to preserve the Sunday hunting and casual hound retrieval that the houndsmen currently enjoy to themselves (on others' property, sometimes without any permission at all).   They keep talking about these illicit County "resolutions" as a viable proposal to weaken Sunday hunting in Virginia.   I don't know about any of you, but I can't stand by and watch a group of supposed "property rights conservatives" (I'm sure they'd describe themselves that way) try to line up with anti-hunters once again to tell us that a legal activity should not be legal one day a week - a day of their choosing, not chosen by landowners.   I can't imagine their approach will stick, as the state game department (VDGIF) has openly stated its support for Sunday hunting since 2011.    I'll be honest, I can't wait to stop hearing the names Kirby Burch, Wilbur Stoneman, and Jim Hackett.  The names of men who might actually think that on Sundays, your land belongs to them.  I'd bet that each is a registered Republican.  So much for "property rights."  I'll let them explain their position at the next local GOP fundraiser.  "

It's April 2014.  After dozens of writing assignments, hundreds of phone calls, and thousands of emails, Virginia Sunday hunting is legal for anybody who can get on the water or get onto private property with permission.   Those who oppose Sunday hunting will never see the difference.   Those who support it will see the cash flow out of their wallets, and into the cash registers of local businesses, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels.  




Toddler Fishing 5.1 "Stay Where I Can See You"

Picked the little guy up from preschool and asked him my favorite of warm-weather questions, "Hey, what do you wanna do now?"  He said, "The farm with the log playground I can climb on!!!"  He was referring to our local Irvine Nature Center's "Natural Play Space," which is an awesome place indeed.  I knew it'd be a 20+ minute drive there in rush hour traffic, so we stopped and got a few snacks and drinks.

Unfortunately, we pulled into the spot around 5:45pm and there was a chain across the driveway "Open 9 to 5."  Hank asked, "Just drive the truck around it."  Good boy!  No, we didn't do that.

He was in the beginning stages of a toddler meltdown when we pulled away, so I really had to scramble.  Out there in Baltimore's ex-urbs, there's not much public land at all.  All the playgrounds are "community only," which is kind of funny, because kids never play on them.   Possibly because they expect to see the same eight kids there every day.  Anyway, we were running low on daylight (about 90 minutes remaining) and it occurred to me that we were fairly close to our most local state WMA, Gwynnbrook.  It's kind of a crap property, covered in invasive plants, resident geese and throngs of deer, but it does have a pond that is well mowed.  The pond also contains residual fish from stocking efforts, since Gwynnbrook serves as the regional office for many of the state's wildlife and fish technicians assigned to the area.   Somebody, somehow, introduced the Chinese mystery snail to the pond, which is kind of disturbing as well....

But, it was there.  Time to be set free....



Hank was disappointed in the lack of elaborate created log structures but made do with some trees that the technicians hadn't cut out of the path yet (really? that's a thing in park management?).

I didn't  honestly think I'd get any real fishing done, but I grabbed my rod out of the truck, with the single lure (2" chartreuse powerbait grub) still rigged up from the previous weekend.  Ehhh.  Why not.

As Hank outpaced me, sprinting around the pond, I had to keep hollering at him to stay close enough so I could see him (again, this is maybe a one acre oval pond, so he wasn't going anywhere).  But he also did something new, as I tried to keep popping into shoreline spots to cast...."Daddy! I see a bunch of fish here!  Catch these fish!"   He was scouting for me! HA!  At one point, he ran over the berm, onto the lower side of the valley where I couldn't see him.  He didn't go far - in fact he stopped as soon as he realized he had gone too far....and this is what he was doing as he waited for me to catch up...


Believe it or not, I did actually catch a few fish - all sunfish, unfortunately - but given the time constraint, lack of site choice, and diversion of my attention WAY away from fishing, it was all good.  Hank got to reel in a pumpkinseed and touch it, and also got to "call" a pair of resident geese into the roost, shortly before running away in fear when the spring peepers' calls suddenly erupted out of the wet ground surrounding him.  All in all, it was one big fish short of a perfect evening.