Archive for July, 2014

  • Blog
  • July 13th, 2014

A Pox on All of ‘Em

By Joel M. Vance

Used to be mothers would tell their sons, “Eat your Froot Loops and you could grow up to be President.  Now a mother would have to be a sadistic ogre to wish that on a kid.  Who wants to be the target for every small minded, simpleton with an attitude so far removed from the common good as to be a sick joke.

I mean of course John Boehner, that tanning bed poster child who speaks for the segment of America seemingly dedicated to resurrecting the era of child labor, crushing poverty, the Dust Bowl, the robber barons and perhaps the Inquisition.

He’s gonna sue the President for “misusing” the power of his office.  How that translates to a legal misstep is a question that any halfway-intelligent judge would punt out of the stadium.  Maybe Boehner hopes to get his silly suit in front of the Supreme Court which can’t tell the difference between Hobby Lobby and a toddler.  There you have four old white men and one African American who might as well be a fusty white guy abrogating the duties of Congress and the President to create laws that can only be overturned by amending the Constitution.   Talk about taking the bit in your teeth.  Talk about not only upsetting but downright jumbling the balance of power.

Perhaps we can excuse Boehner’s idiotic abandonment of commonsense on grounds of diminished mental capacity.  Obviously he doesn’t remember that Ronald  Reagan, elevated to sainthood by every right winger since the late President  shuffled off to the Second Rate Actor’s Valhalla, invoked executive orders 381 times (compared to Obama’s 182, lowest in 130 years).  Little Georgie used the Presidential big stick 291 times.  And neither Boehner or his predecessors sued them.  And, oh, by the way, we taxpayers get to finance Boehner’s dismal imitation of Don Quixote.

And then there is Sarah Palin, the pulchritudinous putz from Alaska who wants to impeach Obama.  The self-styled Mama Grizzly never saw a bandwagon she couldn’t jump on especially if she thought she could make a buck doing it.  She ‘s so hapless she even got fired by Fox News.  Well, at least she straightened out American history—what, you didn’t know Paul Revere’s ride was to warn the British?  “warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells…”  God, what a ditz!

And then there’s the right wing majority Supreme Court where four old white guys and a wannabe WASP black man consider women second class citizens, chauvinistic relics that they are.  By ruling that a corporation can evade paying for contraception because it objects on religious grounds, it has given corporate America an out to deny all sorts of health coverage to women.  Somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he was working up Christianity.

Not only has the Court become judge and jury, it has kicked the doctor out of the examining room.  Doctor says, “You need birth control pills to help insure your good health.”  Hobby Lobby says, “Not on my dollar.”  Women’s rights, which they pretty much lacked anyway, took another shot to the chops.   By opening the door to any corporation (remember, according to that same court, Exxon and BP and those corpora te giants are just folks like you and me) to claim religious belief as justification for refusing to pay for contraceptive health care, they’ve set up a lifetime of test cases claiming all sorts of religious exemptions for corporate evasion of health-related expense.  The Court also invalidated buffer zones around clinics offering abortions which allows the crazies to harass and intimidate patients right to the door of the waiting room (or lets them get closer with their gasoline bombs).

So far the only semi-honest member of this hapless band of malcontents is the Chinless Wonder, Mitch McConnell, who said early on his primary goal was to Get Obama.  The Republican right is so adamantly opposed to Obama that it would not to quote the crude comparison of my youth, give him the collective sweat off its balls if he were dying of  thirst.  In a new book, Todd Akin, that knuckle-dragging proto-human who once pretended to represent Missouri in Congress (he fit right in) recants his infamous statement recognizing “legitimate rape” by saying that he actually regrets airing an ad apologizing for his remarks.  Well, why bother anyway—that misogynistic old fart was a perfect representation of today’s Republican House.  If he could run for it, he’d probably shoot for the Supreme Court.

For the benefit of those with short memory, Akin said of pregnancy resulting from rape, “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”  Yessir, he would make an ideal member of the majority on today’s Supreme Court. “By asking the public at large for forgiveness, I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said,” he explained.  No, there was no misinterpretation of his comments.  He said something incredibly stupid and now he’s merely reinforcing it.

Obama is criticized by the rabble for not visiting the U.S. Border with Mexico as if by doing so he could wave a magic wand and stop the flow of illegal immigrants.  He doesn’t know what to do and neither does anyone else.  Most tea party types want to round up all those women and kids from Central America and send them back to the places that were so dangerous they left in the first place.  Take a moment and find a current photo of a shouting mob screaming epithets at these displaced persons and overlay that on a photo from the 1960s Freedom Marches in Alabama.  Those earlier ones are the parents of today’s shrill demonstrators.  Same mentality, same lynch mob rage.  All they lack is Bull Conners with fire hoses and police dogs.

Suppose the ancestors of these mindless shouters had been booted out of the country back to Ireland or Germany or France or any of the many nations that created our polyglot country.  How many of them had legal sanction to come here?  Remember what is inscribed on the base of that lofty lady in New York Harbor: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Why don’t we just bulldoze that bitch into the harbor and send those wretched refuses back where they came from?  And send her French ass back to Frog land too!  Come on, Bull, turn on the hoses and wash America clean.  Where is Hitler when you need him?  He knew how to eliminate undesirables from his country.

If you visit New York, check out the cheeks of the lady in the harbor.  They may well be red with shame for her adopted country and well they should be.


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  • Blog
  • July 10th, 2014

A Place to Live

By Joel M. Vance

I knew a man who loved blackberry cobble above all else.  He cleared out a huge patch of wild blackberries…and then planted nursery-raised canes.  The irony never occurred to him.

He was symptomatic of landowners who have been conditioned away from the wild bounty of the land and into a manufactured version of it.  Another landowner I know is a staunch supporter of wildlife conservation.  But he cleared out a long brushy draw and a fallow field and planted alfalfa from which he cuts hay, usually during the nesting season.  He wonders where his quail have gone.

Habitat loss has many names: wetland loss, desertification, deforestation, fragmentation are just a few.  The result is whatever lived there has lost its home.  Some adapt to new conditions; most don’t.  Some migrate to suitable habitat; many don’t.

So-called “clean” farming has become the norm.  It flowered fully during the unlamented tenure of Earl Butz as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture.  Butz’s mantra was “fencerow to fencerow” farming and he meant it literally—do not ever let a weed, a bush or a tree invade your fencerow, else you be accused of sloppy farming.

Let’s face it, much wildlife habitat is the result of neglect.  As much as any factor, it was responsible for the revival of wildlife during and after World War Two.  A generation of young farmers went to war and the farms they left behind often were in the draft horse era, small holdings where the concept of megafarms wasn’t even a glimmer. There were brushy gullies and fencerows, woodlots untouched, fallow fields gone to weeds, no pesticides, no herbicides—in other words a set table for wildlife.  Deer, turkeys and other animals thrived under  this neglect.

It has been a downhill slide for wildlife habitat since Johnny came marching home.  In the 1950s Missouri’s pasture land was more than 90 percent legumes like clover, alfalfa and lespedeza, all beneficial to wildlife.  By the end of the century more than 90 percent was fescue, a rank grass that cows don’t even like much but that grows anywhere and is cheap.  It’s estimated that five times as much land is in agriculture now compared to when the Pilgrims landed.

Coupled with fescue conversion came the flourish of pesticides and herbicides.  Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 book Silent Spring waked America to the dangers of hard pesticides and put and end to the worst of them barely in time to arrest the skid of the bald eagle toward extinction (hard pesticide residues in eagle prey caused eggshell thinning and a subsequent decline in baby eagles).

Has 60-plus years of sluicing the land with chemicals affected wildlife, especially ground-nesting birds and small animals?  It’s not a rhetorical question—there are indications that chemical poisoning causes genetic disruption, ranging from deformities to sex change in male creatures.   No one to my knowledge is investigating whether quail, an indicator species if ever there was one, have been genetically altered over the years by chemical exposure.  For argument let’s say that six decades of chemically treated quail food (seeds and green matter) have resulted in less potency among male quail or perhaps a one-egg decline in the average clutch size among females.

The result obviously would be fewer quail.

Couple that factor with habitat loss, increased predation, even global warming and possibly some other factors we don’t understand and the result is the most widespread poor quail population in the country’s history.

Hitched to changes in agriculture is the proliferation of people.  Not only did Johnny come marching home; he came equipped and supercharged to breed.  Since 1945 when the war ended, the U.S. population alone has grown from under three billion to nearly seven billion (it’s estimated to be nearing 10 billion by 2050).  The rate of increase has declined since 1990 when it was about 88 million a year added—but it still is well above zero population growth, nevermind a negative figure.

All those people demand space…not just space to live, but space to work and shop.  Yesterday’s mom and pop grocery is today’s Wal-Mart parking lot.  The solution is at the same time simple and impossible—quit having so many kids.  That elementary conclusion rams head on into religious and other considerations which make it impossible to legislate or often even to talk about.   Yet anything else is a Band Aid on a grievous wound.  All the programs for wildlife restoration, for habitat improvement, all the incentive payments to protect and enhance habitat don’t mean a thing if the world population continues to constrict what’s available for critters.

Western states with their hefty proportion of public lands (national forests, grasslands and Bureau of Land Management holdings) are better off than their eastern counterparts—fewer people, more untamed acres.  But most of the country lives where wildlife habitat is at a premium.  Public programs come and go.  In the 1950s the Soil Bank retired many row crop acres to fallow fields and pheasant numbers flourished.   But the Soil Bank contracts ran out and farmers plowed up that habitat to take advantage of high grain prices.  Same thing is happening with the Conservation Reserve Program as CRP contracts run out.  It is a boom and bust cycle for wildlife that depends on old field and early succession acres.

Some landowners simply don’t like wildlife.  It’s competitive with them and a nuisance.  Even songbirds eat grain that otherwise would generate cash for the farmer.  That group never will accept any idea that encourages critters.   Another, larger, group can’t afford to idle acreage or share with wildlife.  Farming is a crap shoot, subject to fickle weather and market fluctuations.  The smallest group is those who can afford to subsidize wildlife habitat or who, through a form of genius, have figured out how to make money.  I know a man who was about to sink as a crop farmer, but converted his farm to a dog training preserve and righted the economic ship.

The late Eugene Poirot, a southwest Missouri farmer, took a worn out acreage and turned it into a money machine with creative ideas like filling ponds through spring rainfall, raising catfish for market in them, then draining the water for irrigation of crops when drought struck.  His long out of print book Our Margin of Life details his many ideas for living with wildlife and making money at the same time, but it takes a person of rare vision, even with Poirot’s blueprint, to make it work.

But there are few Poirots either existing today or having existed.  There are far more landowners dedicated to rooting out wild blackberries…and the wild animals that once depended on them.  Maybe those returning soldiers should have concentrated more on breeding Poirots than blackberry uprooters.



Joel Vance is the author of Grandma and the Buck Deer (softcover $15);) Billy Barnstorm (softcover  $15); Down Home Missouri (hardcover $25); and Autumn Shadows limited edition, signed $45).  Available from Cedar Glade Press, Box 1664, Jefferson City MO 65102 or  Add $3.50/book for S/H.


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  • Blog
  • July 6th, 2014

The Making of a Fly Fisherman

By Joel M. Vance   

            I have an image problem writing about trout anglers.  I grew up in Dalton, Missouri where a sport fish was a carp and a trash fish was any one you couldn’t catch. 

            The only time I heard the word “trout” was in conjunction with “trout lines” which I found out actually were trot lines and had nothing to do with salmonids. 

            In fact, I thought salmonella was the study of cold water fishes until I started hanging around with Spence Turner, a trout biologist.  Fly fishing always appeared to me like a man fighting off yellowjackets. 

            But I began fly fishing as a young adult and discovered that it is composed largely of esoteric knots.  There are blood knots, nail knots and my specialty, the wind knot. 

            After a serious skirmish with the Boy Scouts, I realized that knots and me were never meant to be.  The Outdoor Writers Association used to have a knot tying contest at its annual conference.  It was sponsored by Trilene.  They gave you a couple of pieces of Trilene and invited you to tie your favorite knot in 20 seconds.

            Then they would hook the mono to a machine and start pulling.  The winner was the one who registered the highest poundage before the line broke.

            I entered twice and both times the line did not break….because the knot slipped free within the first turn of their machine.  I got the impression the second time that the Trilene folks would rather not have me come back.

            The first time I encountered the wind knot was on the Brule River in northern Wisconsin.  I was fishing with a guide who ran a fly fishing shop and he was clearly gritting his teeth.  “You just had a hit!” he snarled.  “The line shot at least six inches!  Set the hook!”

            By the time we got to the takeout the hook had become the “damn hook.”  And he also cried in anguish, “You’re tying wind knots!”  I thought that was kind of cool, to be able to tie a complex knot in the middle of the air, but he didn’t see it that way.

            My first fly rod was leaning against a forgotten counter in a store that was going out of business.  I think the business was a buggy whip factory.  This thing was bamboo and I thought I’d made a buy.  I squinted along it and saw several curves that didn’t seem to be there because of superior engineering, but I figured what the heck, for four bucks I could forgive a few quirks.

            Well, it was like casting kite string with a CB antenna.  Partly it was because I didn’t have the idea of fly fishing down right.  I still figured, as was true with casting rods, that you cast the lure, not the fly, so I used a one-sixteenth ounce jig. 

            Picking it up from the water was like dredging for alligators and it flew through the air like a .22 caliber bullet.  It took just one shot upside the head to get my attention and I vowed never again to stand in the way of one of my own casts.  I learned a technique that I named “hurl and duck” which I still use to this day.  Visualize the Hunchback of Notre Dame on the river with a fly rod.

            You all know about “matching the hatch.”  The first time I heard the phrase I thought they said, “Down the hatch” and I said, “I’ll drink to that!”

            Spence Turner is a man of infinite patience and tolerance.  He’d have to be to have invited me on a trout fishing trip to the Yellowstone area.  He dropped names like Madison and Firehole and Henry’s Fork.  The only Henry’s fork I knew was owned by a guy named Hank who used it to pitch manure.

            I checked the catalogs to see what it would take to outfit me like a real fly fisherman.  There was a shirt with a fly pattern embroidered on the pocket costing only fifty bucks.  I looked in vain for the Jolly Green Giant kernel of corn emblem or at the very least a piece of foam rubber soaked in cheese juice.  These are the flies  of choice on Missouri trout waters

            Finally I donned my ratty jeans and J.C. Penny shirt, scraped the dried mud off the butt of the fly rod (I’d been bank line fishing for catfish with it) and off we went. 

            I knew we were in trouble when we sauntered into a West Yellowstone fly shop and I heard the proprietor talking to a customer in a language which either indicated they were using the Latin names of aquatic insects or celebrating a Mass.

            It’s one thing to say, “Old chap, I usually fish the No. 4 Hexagenia limbata, but I sense perhaps something a bit more delicate would be appropriate.  Pray give me the benefit of your longtime local expertise.”  It’s another to show the guy a tattered bug-eyed popping bug and say, “This here’s what we use for perch back home.  Y’all got anything like it fer trouts?”

            We left the store with me clutching a little paper sack of flies that weighed perhaps a tenth of an ounce and considering what I paid for them were about three times as valuable as high grade diamonds.

            I found that trout on the Firehole were taking something so tiny that the smallest fly I had looked like a road-killed warthog by contrast.  I can’t imagine why a fish eats something so small that it takes more calories to eat that there are in it.  But then fish are supposed to be creatures of low intelligence which kind of makes me sad when I realize they regularly outsmart me.

            Then Spence got us a float on the Madison where he said the fishing was so easy even I could do it.  Don’t you just love it when someone says something is so easy that “even you could do it”?

            I was expecting another No. 55 size Trico, but the guide dragged out a big, ugly bug with rubber legs.  It looked like what scuttles off into the kitchen cabinets real fast when you switch on the light.

            And then it happened.  There was a smashing strike, throbbing rod, line hissing through the water just like a page out of an Ernest Schwiebert book.

            I worried about my backing, mainly because I didn’t have any. But I played the fish masterfully and everyone in the boat was openmouthed….one guy was asleep and the other guy was yawning.  I lifted my fish with a vibrant cry of triumph.  ‘Huge brown?” I asked.  “Trophy rainbow?”

            The guide looked at it.  ‘It’s a damned old whitefish,” he snarled in disgust.  I looked at the bronze fish with its downturned mouth.  It looked almost exactly like a good ol’ Missouri Ozark redhorse sucker.

            It was just like being at home.  You can take the boy out of the country….but you can’t make a trout fisherman out of him.



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