Archive for November, 2011

  • Blog
  • November 30th, 2011

Howdee! I’m Just So Proud to Be Here!

           

Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music

  

            A young boy crouches before a hulking Zenith console radio, his fingers delicately caressing the tuning knob like a safecracker listening for the tumblers to fall.  He is looking for the elusive 650 kilocycle signal that wanders erratically over 500 miles or so from its origin in Nashville to Dalton, Missouri.

                Sometimes it’s strong and loud; often it is weak and staticky, always gaining strength as the night hours wear on and competing broadcast sites go to bed.  No bedtime for Clear Channel WSM, the home of the Grand Ol Opry and the reason for the kid’s eager quest.  It is Saturday night and if the Broadcast Gods are in a beneficent mood, the first intelligible signal will appear about 6 p.m.

                It is 1949 and the kid, who is me, is 15 years old and should be on a date with a girl on Saturday night, except there is no social life in Dalton and the Zenith is a doorway to the world beyond the grain elevator and the one-room school.  Besides which I have a long love affair with country music, dating to Chicago and the first of the great country music radio shows, the WLS Barn Dance.

                Not long ago the annual Country Music Awards were televised and if there was any performance featured that actually sounded like country music as defined by me, I missed it.  Today’s slick pap is no more country music than is a country dance by Beethoven (which at least has the virtue of musical genius).  I freely admit to being totally outdated and passé.  But once I gave a friend a Lefty Frizzell album and told her it was Randy Travis early in his career.  She believed it since Mr. Travis is a clone of Frizzell, one of the real country greats.

                Like all the greats who either are dead or in decline, Frizzell is gone and even Randy Travis, among the last of country entertainers with some individuality, has faded.  Sure, there are a few folks today who sound like classic country—Vince Gill springs to mind—but most of them, male and female, are cookie cut from the same dough, overproduced and undertalented (or so I believe).

                The Barn Dance predates the Opry by three years (1924 and 1927) and I remember going to a live show in downtown Chicago when I was perhaps six or seven years old.   A friend of my father played trumpet with one of the bands that appeared on the Sears and Roebuck “World’s Largest Store” station and he gave my father tickets to the Barn Dance.

                We saw Rex Allen, a singing cowboy, who would become the narrator of a slew of Walt Disney nature films, and Arky, the Arkansas Woodchopper, and Lulubelle and Scotty and Mac and Bob, a blind brother duo.  The Hoosier Hotshots livened the theater with hokey songs and comic byplay.  It was less hard core country than it was a combination of western music and old time vaudeville, but it was wonderful. 

                A couple of years later I pestered my folks into getting me a guitar from that same store, the World’s Largest, so I could begin training for my debut on the Barn Dance.  After all, Little Georgie Gobel (who later would have his own very popular variety show on television) wasn’t much older than I.  So I got a Sear’s Silvertone and began to wrestle with the Key of C, like someone throttling a turkey. 

                The strings on the thing were impossibly high and it took all my puny strength to push them down on the frets, making horrible buzzing sounds, like a swarm of angry bees.  My helpful aunt sent me a guitar instruction book by Eddie Lang who happened to be a premier jazz guitarist and who played chords from arcane keys like E-flat and G-minor, called diminished and augmented, and all light years advanced beyond C, F and G-7.  I needed a book by Mr. Hank Williams who never strayed far from three chords in keys where you didn’t need five or six fingers and a grip like Superman, not a doctoral course in jazz guitar by Eddie Lang.

                Hank was on an early evening WSM show for Mother’s Best Flour, usually before the signal was strong enough to penetrate the Missouri fog, but occasionally the wail of Don Helms’ steel guitar would make it into the Zenith and I heard Williams’ cutting high baritone lamenting hearts that were cold and also cheating.  A few years later on the Montgomery, Alabama, Journal I worked with Ed Mohr, who had been an announcer for Williams on an early morning show.  He hated the bedeviled genius, who would show up drunk or not at all.  But most of his fans didn’t know about that troubled life which cost Williams his spot on the Opry, and ultimately his life in 1951 at the age of 29 to drugs and alcohol.  His songs live on and always will because they are real country, not today’s sanitized and transitory pale imitations.

                Hank Williams was one of a slew of stars who got a start on the KWKH Louisiana Hayride, out of Shreveport.  One night I tuned the Zenith to the wavering 50,000 watt signal from the Hayride and heard a kid from Memphis light up the stage.  Within months he also would light up the nation until he died fat and drugged-out, allegedly sitting on the toilet. 

                Elvis, of course.  The Hayride (which ran live from 1948-60), along with the Opry (where both Williams and Elvis flunked their first auditions) and the Barn Dance (1924-57) were leaders in the glory years of live radio country music shows.  Their rosters read like a who’s who of legends: the Hayride had Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, George Jones and Webb Pierce, among others.  The Barn Dance had Red Foley who would migrate to the Opry and headline its national network show for years.  Amos and Andy and Fibber McGee and Molly kicked off their long and fabled careers on the Barn Dance as did Gene Autry and his faithful sidekick Pat Butram.

Uncle Dave Macon

The Opry became the holy grail for country but before it abandoned the grimy old Ryman Auditorium and moved to its present bucolic Disneyland you could (and I did) hear authentic country, unamplified and minus drums.  Uncle Dave Macon, nearing 80 years old, played a bevy of banjos, tuned differently, and knew tons of songs stretching far back in the nation’s history.  He had owned a freighting business with horse-drawn wagons.  His guitar backup, Sam McGee, played acoustic solos like “Listen to the Mockingbird” and was one of the few who resisted being plugged in (along with Hank Snow, a Canadian who had a horrible childhood and a legendary adulthood).  The dean of the Opry was Roy Acuff.   During World War Two enemy Japanese shouted, “The hell with Roy Acuff” to piss off the American troops.  It did.

                Ernest  Tubb was another country legend who couldn’t sing a lick, but his almost-on-key songs had been a mainstay of country music all through World War Two.  He hadn’t had a hit record for a decade or more, but it didn’t matter to his fans who only wanted him to sing “Walking the Floor Over You” for the millionth time.  They flocked to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop after the Opry closed at midnight for an added hour of live music, and I flocked to the Zenith to hear it.      One night Tubb played a record of Jimmie Rodgers singing “Away Out on the Mountain” and I was forever hooked on the songs of the Father of Country Music.  I joined the Jimmie Rodgers Fan Club, dedicated to a man who had been dead for 20 years, and avidly read a sentimental biography of him written by his widow Carrie—which carefully left out his first marriage and his charmingly rowdy ways.

                Many years later Nolan Porterfield, a fellow Missourian who also fell under the posthumous Rodgers spell, would write a carefully-researched, accurate biography of the Singing Brakeman that in no way lessened the Blue Yodeler’s enduring charm.

Jimmie Rodgers

                I’m not sure when the Glitzification of country began, but probably about the time that Waylon, Willie and the boys began to look old.  The few who still exist and perform are now legends but you won’t find today’s kids listening to them.  Instead today’s fans snap up the CDs and MP3s of bland singers, male and female, who are backed by amplified bands, even orchestras, and are as slickly produced as any pop group.  It’s elevator music with a drawl.

                Give me Roy Acuff lamenting the awful wreck on the highway with the blood all around and he “didn’t hear nobody pray.”  Give me Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys on the road that was “mighty dark for me to travel”.  Contrast that with Garth Brooks smashing a guitar as the highlight of a “country” show. 

                There aren’t many of us who can remember Uncle Dave whooping and hollering, or Roy glorifying a Great Speckled Bird or Minnie Pearl bawling, “Howdee!  I’m just so proud to be here!”

                And I’m proud that I was there crouching in front of the fabulous Zenith, that magic box that carried me to hog heaven.

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  • Blog
  • November 22nd, 2011

Smear Sauce on Me and Call Me a Pizza

               All you need to do is smear a little tomato paste on anything and it becomes a vegetable…or so the Republican pizza lovers in the House of Representatives believe.  They are proposing to classify pizza as a vegetable so it can be served in school lunches (a windfall profit for the pizza conglomerates). 

                This is such blatant silliness from a Congress that has made an art form of being silly that one can only shake one’s head.  If anything should be declared a vegetable it should be the Congressional mentality.  At a time when jobs bills, economic aid, public works projects and other proposals to help the country out of a financial swamp are floated in the House and Senate, these dimwits are concerned with helping Godfather’s make more money.

                You have to wonder if Herman Cain, the pizza king and one of the tattered army of Republican presidential hopefuls, has anything to do with this insane legislative hi-jink.  But as nutty as he is it’s hard to believe he could influence a whole covey of right wingers to do something this goofy.  Only they, in their infinite lack of commonsense, would waste time on such blatant nonsense.

                No—chances are it’s another case of “let’s get the Obamas, no matter how silly we look.”  Michelle Obama has been hammered by these same gourdheads for her efforts to de-fat the diets of our lardy kids, especially by urging more health-conscious school lunches.  The Congressional fatheads and their acolytes cry that government has no business telling kids what to eat. 

                Well, the government isn’t trying  to do the job that parents should be doing, but it is trying to encourage the kind of menu school lunches should provide and that logically and morally should not be a fat-loaded pizza or any other dish that porks up an already obese society.  Fat Albert may be a source of amusement when Bill Cosby tells stories about him, but he’s no role model for adolescent America.

                The efforts of the right wingers to nail Obama at any cost are becoming beyond bizarre and one hopes that these morons will self-destruct.  They seem to be well on the way.  The Republican hopefuls keep shuffling their ranks as today’s flavor, only to find it bitter, even for the faithful.

                Once it was Sarah Palin who has decided she’d rather be rich than president.  Michelle Bachman fluttered briefly, like a butterfly on amphetamines, then Rick Perry couldn’t remember his ass in a series of debates, and now it’s that fat old pol Newt Gingrich who has been married three times, and who raked in more than $1.8 million as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae during the financial meltdown while simultaneously criticizing everyone else for cosying up to government sponsored entities…like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  On his first stint on the FM payroll he got $ 30,000 a month!  In a second tour with FM he only got $300,000 a year.  Poor guy!  He had to take a cut in pay, just like the millions of unemployed or the many thousands of teachers, firemen and police who are being robbed of their right to negotiate for better wages and working conditions by Republican legislators.

                Yeah, ol’ Newt is a moral example for the nation, as is Pizza Man who fondled his way through a high old time as CEO of the National Restaurant Association (where, apparently, he thought every female co-worker was the special of the day).  Cain also couldn’t articulate a policy on Libya because he had “all this stuff twirling around in my head” which means he’d probably bomb Los Angeles if he had to push the button. 

                The only one of the bunch who seems to have a shred of honesty, decency and feeling for good governance, is John Huntsman who is so far down in the polls he doesn’t even blip the radar.  The only difference between the pizza pols in Congress and the bumbling hopefuls is that the pols aren’t running for president….yet.  Who knows?  The Onion News Network put forward its own candidate, a mystery man with a paper bag over his head “whose identity will be revealed when he is elected President.”  Given the sorry state of Republican hopefuls, that’s not a bad idea. 

                Obama has been a disappointment to those of us who’d have liked to see him bang heads from the get-go, but he still has accomplished much, especially since the tea bagheads have grabbed control of the House and are determined not to do one damn thing for the country if it means Obama could get any credit for it.  It has been an uphill battle for him for the past year which raises the question of why he was not more aggressive when he had Congressional support.  But no point in crying over spilled opportunities.

                Republicans are hoping that voters have short memories and, unfortunately, that’s all too often the case.  Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders summed it up this way:  “The deficit was caused by two wars not paid for, huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country, and a recession as a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street. And if those are the causes of the deficit and the national debt I will be damned if we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, children, and the poor. That’s wrong.”

          And right wingers are responsible for every one of those problems.  Bush started the two wars which cost about $150 billion a year and instituted the tax breaks for the rich folks. Non-partisan estimates are that the top one percent earners (for you 99 percent left out) have benefitted by more than $700 billion since 2001….and the top five percent have gobbled up more than a trillion dollars of tax break largesse.  And it was a largely Republican Congress (although some Democrats are complicit) that greased the way for the Wall Street debacle.  There is no shame among these jackals and they continue to ravage the nation, hoping that we don’t throw open the windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

          The old practice of tarring and feathering unfortunately has gone out of style because if there was real justice, most members of Congress would look like molting gooney birds.  The sad fact is that many of the 99 percent of us who should read the figures and weep will continue to vote for these horrible human beings because they’re of our party and because they tell the comforting lies that we want to hear.  How else to explain the election of so many crooked, incompetent and self-serving slimeballs, election after election.

          You wouldn’t believe a used car salesman who says, “This baby is a gem.  Trust me.”  Why believe Rick Perry when he says Obama had a “privileged childhood” and never had to work for anything when the opposite is so clearly true and provable.  If a privileged childhood were a limiting factor in choosing a president, George W. Bush never would have quit his job as a Texas brush-cutter and Mitt Romney still would be the very privileged son of a very rich CEO daddy.

          There still are morons who believe Obama was not born a U.S. citizen—some Republicans in New Hampshire are lobbying to have him barred from the ballot next year.  Even some of the most ardent right wingers grudgingly admit the president is a citizen (since they can’t find a Monica Lewinsky to trot out) and always has been, but the hardest hard core right is mostly hard in the head and refuses to believe fact.

          You can slather anything with tomato sauce and call it a vegetable, but even if you decorate the right wing extremist cowpie with candles and frosting it’s still shit.

-30-

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  • Blog
  • November 16th, 2011

Where Will Wally Go?

By Joel M. Vance

Wally is a Minnesota dairy farmer.  That’s all he’s ever been; that’s all he ever wants to be.   A few years ago all his neighbors were farmers, like him. 

Now Wally’s closest neighbor is a Minneapolis expatriate who bought a few acres 30 miles south of the Twin Cities and put up a half-million dollar home.  Others followed.  There are new homes everywhere Wally looks when he’s gathering his cows for milking, homes which cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.  His farmer neighbors have sold out and the newcomers don’t farm.

            Wally finishes milking and goes into his paint-peeling century old farmhouse to think about the future.  He’d like to pass his farm along.  But one of his two sons was killed in an auto accident and the younger one is not interested in farming.  If he’s like so many of his former neighbors, he’ll sell his farm to city people for a couple million dollars and retire.

            But where will Wally go?

          Wally is real and his plight is equally real.  He is among thousands of landowners being forced off their farms because of urban sprawl, often farms that have endured for a century or more.

          And, while urban sprawl is partly a desire to get away from the squalor of the inner city, it also is a reflection of a problem that shows little sign of going away—too many people.  

          While overpopulation creates obvious natural resource consumption and resulting loss of wildlife habitat, the loss of farmers is more insidious.  Without individual farmers (not impersonal corporations or suburbanites), those who care about and understand natural resource conservation, we’re demanding more from less.

Minnesota’s Green Acres program now exempts Wally from property taxes on acreage he keeps in native prairie or wetlands. It offers him tax credits to acreage retained as agricultural. This keeps taxes down and habitat up. By slowing population growth and making it possible to keep land open and productive, maybe Wally wouldn’t have to go anywhere.

But Wally is being squeezed by the suburban invasion and by the nearby small town’s growth toward him. Already there are plans for a sewage system extension within a mile of him.  Next comes annexation and then Minnesota’s Green Acres tax protection no longer applies because he’s now a townie.  His property taxes skyrocket beyond the ability of farmland to sustain and Wally is history. 

          People pressure is a reality, no matter where you are.  Country folk once readily welcomed visiting hunters, but now the reaction often is, “I just can’t let anyone hunt—there’s too many wanting to do it.” And that’s in spite of a decline in hunter numbers.  What seems a paradox is explainable: fewer hunters, but also fewer places to hunt.

          Wally will let you hunt the few remaining pheasants on his place, but his neighbors, living on fragmented former farms, don’t welcome hunters in their back yard.  Corporate farms fear liability and who would you ask permission of anyway?  The CEO in New York City?

           Until we accept there are hard limits on natural resource demands and that the country can’t forever support a constantly expanding population, we are headed down the proverbial slippery slope.

              The assaults of people on the natural world are unrelenting.  The USDA estimates that Americans developed a million acres of rural land in 2002. No wonder Wally has a lot of new neighbors. Farther away in South and Central America, the tropical rainforest is falling like double-wides in a tornado so we can have hamburgers and teak furniture.  According to news reports Brazilians cleared acreage equal to the size of Massachusetts in 2003, some 9,169 square miles-worth.  And that’s just one year in two or more decades of intensive land clearing.  Wally probably couldn’t point out Brazil on a world map…but many of the birds he once saw every summer don’t return to Minnesota anymore because of what’s happening in down there. 

            A few years back Wally and his wife made the longest trip of their lives.  They went to Branson, Missouri.  Once Branson was a sleepy town along Lake Taneycomo, a sinuous body of water that more resembled the White River that it once was, rather than a lake.  It had a population of 4,500 and they still bragged about almost winning the state Class B championship in basketball a few years before.

              But then fading pop and country entertainers, looking for new territory, tapped into the nostalgia of graying Americans and now there are at least 18 theaters. Branson glitters like Las Vegas.   Branson became Boomtown.  The permanent residents grew to just over 6,000…but the tourist invasion exploded to more than 150,000 annually.

In its quest for growth Branson, struggles with too much traffic, too much waste and too few facilities to handle the people and their detritus

I hunted quail on a Missouri farm adjacent to our 40 acres in the country.  Now it is a housing development.  The losers, of course, were the quail who once whistled in the fencerows that have become back yards. 

            Once I studied a Geological Survey map in northern Wisconsin and found a small lake that could only be reached by hiking a railroad track.  It was a blistering day and I was wearing waders.  The hike was perhaps a mile, but I kept alive the vision of pristine fishing as I stewed in my own juices.

            A handcar came by and the trackmen jeered, “Hey, man, you lose a lake or somethin’!”   And then I came to the lake…and found that since the map had been printed a road had been created and a parking lot, jammed with cars. There were several boats on the lake. 

Missouri pioneered the use of old galvanized washtubs, elevated on posts in ponds and lakes, as nest sites, to restore Giant Canada geese.  The big birds readily adapted and thrived.  In fact, Giant Canadas routinely overfly Wally’s farm as they track toward the nearby town’s sewage lagoon, their favored (and protected) roost site.

            It took about 30 years, but finally there was a viable population of Giant Canadas. Now their flocks have gone from the brink of extinction to common pests, damaging gardens, lawns and golf courses with grazing and droppings. 

The white-tailed deer, North America’s most important big game animal, has rebounded from over hunting and now reproduces exponentially.  One doe can have perhaps 15-20 fawns in a procreative lifetime.  If half of those are does, they in turn produce maybe 50-100 young and so on.  The population doesn’t just double—it leaps out of control.  Deer, like their avian counterparts, have become pest animals. They wreak havoc on native plant communities, cause road accidents, and millions in crop and landscaping damage. 

Substitute the word “people” for “deer” and you won’t have to change anything else.  For the first million or so years of our existence, we hardly made a blip on the Earth’s ecosystems. Just like the deer and Canada goose, our numbers began to boom. It took all of human history until 1800 to reach our first billion. We tripled that 160 years later in 1960. The last billion we added (our sixth) took just 12 years.

A rabbit biologist once told me that rabbits and people share a common physiology.  “When rabbits overpopulate, they stress out, get ulcers and die,” he said. 

Wildlife managers shake goose eggs to kill the embryos. The problem is far more complex with people. Shooting to control population isn’t an option and the human equivalent of egg-shaking is frowned on by some segments of society. Nature, of course may solve the problem in a variety of gruesome ways. Think of recurrent famine in Third World countries or AIDs pandemics.  Think of SARS and other virulent viruses. 

Since 1960, human population growth shrank by half. For the most part this has come about because basic family planning services have been made available. But improvements in education, economic opportunities and in women’s social status also contributed.

          Making dramatic change would take a major shift in society’s thinking. We need to go from wanting a growing population to a stable one, from exploitation of natural resources to conservation, from an ever-expanding economy to one that is sustainable. Boosterism incites cities to promote growth as an example of their vitality and civic progressiveness.  But growth for the sake of growth is counterproductive in the longrun. 

We are a consumer society and our consumption of things and of land is far ahead of any country on earth.  Aldo Leopold said it best in the foreword to A Sand County Almanac: “Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.  For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”  

He wrote that more than 50 years ago, but it rings as true today as it did in 1948.  Conservationists revere the Father of Conservation; it remains to be seen whether we can live up to his vision, whether our great grand children will have game to hunt and places to hunt it–and whether Wally will have a place to love.          

Wordage: 2,102

SO, WHERE WILL WALLY GO?

By Joel M. Vance

Wally is a Minnesota dairy farmer.  That’s all he’s ever been; that’s all he ever wants to be.   A few years ago all his neighbors were farmers, like him. 

Now Wally’s closest neighbor is a Minneapolis expatriate who bought a few acres 30 miles south of the Twin Cities and put up a half-million dollar home.  Others followed.  There are new homes everywhere Wally looks when he’s gathering his cows for milking, homes which cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.  His farmer neighbors have sold out and the newcomers don’t farm.

            Wally finishes milking and goes into his paint-peeling century old farmhouse to think about the future.  He’d like to pass his farm along.  But one of his two sons was killed in an auto accident and the younger one is not interested in farming.  If he’s like so many of his former neighbors, he’ll sell his farm to city people for a couple million dollars and retire.

            But where will Wally go?

          Wally is real and his plight is equally real.  He is among thousands of landowners being forced off their farms because of urban sprawl, often farms that have endured for a century or more.

          And, while urban sprawl is partly a desire to get away from the squalor of the inner city, it also is a reflection of a problem that shows little sign of going away—too many people.  

          While overpopulation creates obvious natural resource consumption and resulting loss of wildlife habitat, the loss of farmers is more insidious.  Without individual farmers (not impersonal corporations or suburbanites), those who care about and understand natural resource conservation, we’re demanding more from less.

Minnesota’s Green Acres program now exempts Wally from property taxes on acreage he keeps in native prairie or wetlands. It offers him tax credits to acreage retained as agricultural. This keeps taxes down and habitat up. By slowing population growth and making it possible to keep land open and productive, maybe Wally wouldn’t have to go anywhere.

But Wally is being squeezed by the suburban invasion and by the nearby small town’s growth toward him. Already there are plans for a sewage system extension within a mile of him.  Next comes annexation and then Minnesota’s Green Acres tax protection no longer applies because he’s now a townie.  His property taxes skyrocket beyond the ability of farmland to sustain and Wally is history. 

          People pressure is a reality, no matter where you are.  Country folk once readily welcomed visiting hunters, but now the reaction often is, “I just can’t let anyone hunt—there’s too many wanting to do it.” And that’s in spite of a decline in hunter numbers.  What seems a paradox is explainable: fewer hunters, but also fewer places to hunt.

          Wally will let you hunt the few remaining pheasants on his place, but his neighbors, living on fragmented former farms, don’t welcome hunters in their back yard.  Corporate farms fear liability and who would you ask permission of anyway?  The CEO in New York City?

           Until we accept there are hard limits on natural resource demands and that the country can’t forever support a constantly expanding population, we are headed down the proverbial slippery slope.

              The assaults of people on the natural world are unrelenting.  The USDA estimates that Americans developed a million acres of rural land in 2002. No wonder Wally has a lot of new neighbors. Farther away in South and Central America, the tropical rainforest is falling like double-wides in a tornado so we can have hamburgers and teak furniture.  According to news reports Brazilians cleared acreage equal to the size of Massachusetts in 2003, some 9,169 square miles-worth.  And that’s just one year in two or more decades of intensive land clearing.  Wally probably couldn’t point out Brazil on a world map…but many of the birds he once saw every summer don’t return to Minnesota anymore because of what’s happening in down there. 

            A few years back Wally and his wife made the longest trip of their lives.  They went to Branson, Missouri.  Once Branson was a sleepy town along Lake Taneycomo, a sinuous body of water that more resembled the White River that it once was, rather than a lake.  It had a population of 4,500 and they still bragged about almost winning the state Class B championship in basketball a few years before.

              But then fading pop and country entertainers, looking for new territory, tapped into the nostalgia of graying Americans and now there are at least 18 theaters. Branson glitters like Las Vegas.   Branson became Boomtown.  The permanent residents grew to just over 6,000…but the tourist invasion exploded to more than 150,000 annually.

In its quest for growth Branson, struggles with too much traffic, too much waste and too few facilities to handle the people and their detritus

I hunted quail on a Missouri farm adjacent to our 40 acres in the country.  Now it is a housing development.  The losers, of course, were the quail who once whistled in the fencerows that have become back yards. 

            Once I studied a Geological Survey map in northern Wisconsin and found a small lake that could only be reached by hiking a railroad track.  It was a blistering day and I was wearing waders.  The hike was perhaps a mile, but I kept alive the vision of pristine fishing as I stewed in my own juices.

            A handcar came by and the trackmen jeered, “Hey, man, you lose a lake or somethin’!”   And then I came to the lake…and found that since the map had been printed a road had been created and a parking lot, jammed with cars. There were several boats on the lake. 

Missouri pioneered the use of old galvanized washtubs, elevated on posts in ponds and lakes, as nest sites, to restore Giant Canada geese.  The big birds readily adapted and thrived.  In fact, Giant Canadas routinely overfly Wally’s farm as they track toward the nearby town’s sewage lagoon, their favored (and protected) roost site.

            It took about 30 years, but finally there was a viable population of Giant Canadas. Now their flocks have gone from the brink of extinction to common pests, damaging gardens, lawns and golf courses with grazing and droppings. 

The white-tailed deer, North America’s most important big game animal, has rebounded from over hunting and now reproduces exponentially.  One doe can have perhaps 15-20 fawns in a procreative lifetime.  If half of those are does, they in turn produce maybe 50-100 young and so on.  The population doesn’t just double—it leaps out of control.  Deer, like their avian counterparts, have become pest animals. They wreak havoc on native plant communities, cause road accidents, and millions in crop and landscaping damage. 

Substitute the word “people” for “deer” and you won’t have to change anything else.  For the first million or so years of our existence, we hardly made a blip on the Earth’s ecosystems. Just like the deer and Canada goose, our numbers began to boom. It took all of human history until 1800 to reach our first billion. We tripled that 160 years later in 1960. The last billion we added (our sixth) took just 12 years.

A rabbit biologist once told me that rabbits and people share a common physiology.  “When rabbits overpopulate, they stress out, get ulcers and die,” he said. 

Wildlife managers shake goose eggs to kill the embryos. The problem is far more complex with people. Shooting to control population isn’t an option and the human equivalent of egg-shaking is frowned on by some segments of society. Nature, of course may solve the problem in a variety of gruesome ways. Think of recurrent famine in Third World countries or AIDs pandemics.  Think of SARS and other virulent viruses. 

Since 1960, human population growth shrank by half. For the most part this has come about because basic family planning services have been made available. But improvements in education, economic opportunities and in women’s social status also contributed.

          Making dramatic change would take a major shift in society’s thinking. We need to go from wanting a growing population to a stable one, from exploitation of natural resources to conservation, from an ever-expanding economy to one that is sustainable. Boosterism incites cities to promote growth as an example of their vitality and civic progressiveness.  But growth for the sake of growth is counterproductive in the longrun. 

We are a consumer society and our consumption of things and of land is far ahead of any country on earth.  Aldo Leopold said it best in the foreword to A Sand County Almanac: “Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.  For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”  

He wrote that more than 60 years ago, but it rings as true today as it did in 1948.  Conservationists revere the Father of Conservation; it remains to be seen whether we can live up to his vision, whether our great grand children will have game to hunt and places to hunt it–and whether Wally will have a place to love.

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  • Blog
  • November 8th, 2011

Fishing With Dogs

By Joel M. Vance

            Anyone who fishes with the family dog might as well be juggling hand grenades.  With the pins pulled. 

            I once hooked the family collie in the seat of his pants on a back cast.  I then found that a collie, fleeing in the opposite direction, has the approximate strength of a 18-wheel Peterbilt and does not respond to “Whoa!” “Stop!” or any other command and will either snap 20-pound test line or the bones in your forearm.

            A different collie once went for a canoe ride with me in early January.  A cold snap had turned the creek to near-ice.  The dog, which was not a fan of canoeing anyway, decided to make for shore on what it took to be ice.  He went down like pig iron, came up spewing.  The canoe rocked dangerously close to shipping ice and making me a Super Slushy.

            Then I had to haul an abjectly wet and cold collie back in while I explained to him that I preferred hot showers.  We shared a good laugh over a hot drink and a bowl of dog food back at the house, but he never went canoeing with me again.

            There must be something endlessly fascinating about watching Daddy fish because our dogs all think of it as dog television.  Let me try to cast along the shoreline and I will have half a dozen Brittanies patrolling the water’s edge to see what the fuss is about.  I also see fish scattering in every direction. 

            If I do manage to catch a fish and dress it out for supper, the dog will find the carefully buried guts, dig them up and roll in them, then come wanting a hug.

            And then there are the Brits who enjoy a cooling swim, especially to the canoe…but once there they decide they’d like to join me inside and they try to hook a paw over the gunwale and look hurt when, rocking dangerously, I scream at them.

            Once I took a dog swimming at a popular recreation area.  I was cooling off when I noticed the dog swimming steadily toward some poor guy sound asleep on a $1.98 air mattress, the kind that comes with leaks.  I realized the dog was going to try to join him for a snooze and screamed, “NO!” just as he lifted a paw to begin the climb.

            The guy on the mattress lurched up dazedly and turned over, but by the time he surfaced, sputtering, the dog and I were halfway to shore and picking up speed.

            Of all the dogs I’ve had only one shared my enthusiasm for fishing.  That was Chubby, a French Brittany who would swim for hours in figure eights, peering into the water as bluegills (apparently thinking he was the Bluegill God) swarmed around his churning feet. 

            Every so often he would plunge his head into the water, snapping at a fish.  He caught only one and I happened to be looking at him when he surfaced, a flopping fish in his mouth and an expression of absolute astonishment on his face.  He spit the fish out, looking disgusted, but then he went back to fishing—for him it was the chase, not the catch.

            A true Sportsdog

            Chubby proved he could be on either end of a fishing experience when he swallowed a treble hook.  He and I were fishing on the Eleven Point River when I laid down a small treble hook, around which I had packed a cheese ball.

            Chubby apparently thought it was snack time and when I looked for my cheeseball all I saw was a dog with a satisfied look.  I placed a frantic long-distance call to our vet who recommended stuffing him with food.  A couple of hamburgers later (I hadn’t eaten lunch and my stomach rumbled as I watched him wolf down McDonald’s finest) we headed home.

            The vet and I watched the progress of the hook through Chubby’s digestive system like air traffic controllers monitoring an incoming plane.

            Three days and three X-rays later the hook vanished from the screen, along with my bank account.  Chubby went back to the pond on bluegill patrol. 

-30-

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