Archive for May, 2019

  • Blog
  • May 31st, 2019


By Joel M. Vance

            Among the many emails that daily flood my computer 99.9% of which I don’t want and instantly delete, is one called “A Word a Day.”  Supposedly learning all the words and definitions will increase your vocabulary to the point where you can drop words that no one ever has heard before into your conversations.


           While this may increase your vocabulary, it also is more  likely to decrease your popularity to the point where when others see you coming they will use words that don’t need explaining and that you have heard before.


           Recently the word “naupathia” popped up like a spring mushroom. Even though it is highly unlikely I will ever either encounter or use the word, I clicked on the definition and this is what it said “Motion sickness experienced while traveling on water.”


           I deleted the email instantly because it brought to mind a couple of life experiences that I would rather not recall. And, after I deleted the noxious word, I reached for a Tums to quell my rising gorge. The only person who can laugh at seasickness is someone who’s never been seasick…and he laughs at his peril because the nauseated one, laughed at, is likely to become dangerous when he recovers.


            And he will recover because no one dies of seasickness. They just wish they could.  Actually, seasickness is not confined to the sea—technically it’s motion sickness and I used to become queasy every time my father said, “Let’s take a spin in the ol’ Ford.”  What was spinning was my stomach. 


            There are remedies for motion sickness, including scopolamine patches which you wear behind your ear.  Scopolamine is an alkaloid which interferes with the nervous system—a sedative.  According to the medical books it can produce symptoms including dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, and dry skin, mouth, and respiratory passages.  Those are exactly the symptoms I had without a patch when Steve Griffin proposed to take me on Lake Michigan to troll for Chinook salmon.  Steve’s boat was about the size of my bathtub and this was one of the Great Lakes.  I am dubious about big water under almost any conditions (I hid under the theater seat during most of “The Perfect Storm”).


            We were on big water in a boat that would have had me singing, “Rubadub, dub, three men in a tub” if I hadn’t been scared speechless.  I thought of singing “The Edmund  Fitzgerald,” Gordon Lightfoot’s song about a ship that sank on Lake Superior with great loss of life… but singing was the least of what I wanted to do.  Howling like a frightened hound was more like it.


            And then Steve did the worst thing you can do to someone prone to motion sickness.  “You don’t get seasick, do you?” he asked.  Until that moment I’d been too scared to think about throwing up, but as soon as my imagination kicked in, the heaving waves were echoed in my stomach. 


            And then to make it worse Steve added, “How about some summer sausage?”   I couldn’t answer.  I was too busy swallowing noisily.  At that moment a 22-pound Chinook salmon decided that my lure was a sub sandwich (perhaps it was trying to lose weight) and the downrigger bounced and I was fast to the biggest fish of my life.


            Normally this would excite a person, but as the fish bucked and jumped, so did my stomach.  Steve kept giving me directions, but none were to the nearest emergency room.  “Keep the line tight!  Keep your rod tip up!”  Stuff like that was no help to someone undergoing a drastic medical emergency.  I needed encouragement, like, “Here’s dry land!  There’s a soft bed!”


            The fish jumped, then headed for where I wanted to be—the distant shore.  “Give up, fish!” I snarled, trying not to think of greasy summer sausage.  If only I had taken Dramamine.  Dramamine affects the way the middle ear acts and it’s the middle ear acting up that makes you want to puke to the moon.  Some researchers think long-term use of anticholinergics, which is what Dramamine is, can lead to internal damage.  I was already having that, so big deal.


            There are other seasickness remedies, none of which I had available.  The most intriguing one is an elastic band that applies acupressure to your wrist, more specifically to the pericardial meridian (a fact that you can use at parties to send your audience into wild apathy).  Scientists believe that the effectiveness is because you believe it works, not because it actually does—but then motion sickness occurs because you believe it does, too.  So the condition and the cure are all imaginary, just like the fish you’re after when you become seasick. 


             Now, if the imagination is the trigger then I’ve been underestimating dogs because many dogs become carsick and there’s hardly anything more fun than riding with a nauseous dog, especially since bird dogs are capable of producing enough waste to make another dog.


             You also can undergo acupuncture to relieve seasickness, but I’m not sure I’d want my fishing buddy to be jabbing me with six-inch needles on a heaving sea.  I’d rather do the heaving along with the sea. 


            So you’re fast to the biggest fish you ever caught in your life and the waves are rolling, rolling, rolling and your stomach goes up, then down and your eyes are trying to follow the shifting currents and…excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.  I just have to sit down and take a few deep breaths.


            Motion sickness is because your brain, like mine, is geared to accept signals from your eyes and your inner ear.  Usually they agree.  But that stuff sloshing around in your inner ear (better not to think about it) sometimes sends a different message than what your eyes are seeing.  And your brain (well, mine anyway) says, “Hey, man, if you can’t get your act together I’m gonna make you orbit your cookies.”  And so it goes….


            The second memorable time that seasickness struck was on a schooner trip off the coast of Maine, aboard the Nathaniel Bowditch, a three master dating to the 19th century and named for a historic sailing master who wrote the book on oceanic navigation.


            The boat was beautiful, sleek and a living remnant of the time when sailboats ruled the oceans. I felt like Errol Flynn as Captain Blood as I strode the decks of this noble craft trying to repress the urge to shout, “Avast ye lubbers!” And “Up the mainsl’s, ye blaggers!” And other expletives gleaned from 1940s seafaring adventures, seen at the Rialto Theater, where I ate popcorn and stuck my bubblegum under the seat. But I figured that the response from the crew and fellow passengers would be along the lines of, “Up yours too, you dryland lubber!”


            All went well for a couple of days as we sailed with a fair wind behind us, anchored near an island, went ashore, not to conquer the natives, but to feast on lobster, bought fresh off the boat, steamed on a bed of seaweed gathered by us lubbers. It was heaven on earth—or at least as close as you can get to it off the coast of Maine.


            And then, on day three the wind picked up and the boat began to rock, not much certainly for those seafarers among us, but I felt a tremor in my nether regions. Suddenly, no longer was I Captain Blood, but Captain Barf. I explained to my fellow seafarers that I was suffering a tad of mal de mer, hoping that none of them knew enough French to translate that as plain old American “Excuse me before I upchuck on your loafers.” I retired to my bunk below decks, a claustrophobic enclosure about the size of a sardine can (and thank God no one suggested either sardines or summer sausage). I survived in time, but my enthusiasm for oceanic adventure subsided along with my bounding main belly.


             According to my emails the word for today is turtling: ” The art, practice or art of catching turtles.” Sounds like it might be fun. I might do it— as long as it doesn’t involve  getting in a boat.  I’m in good company—about half the astronauts suffer from motion sickness.  So I guess I’m made of the Right Stuff after all.


             If I could just keep it down….





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  • Blog
  • May 23rd, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


When God looks down from His\Her heavenly throne and beholds Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, He\She must grumble thunderously, “how could I have been so wrong!”


According to the Bible, God created woman from Adam’s rib. He or She must have used the wrong body part to create Sanders and as for those two guys, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, God must be wishing He or She had created a more lethal apple or a more venomous snake.


The Mueller report is out and while it never will supplant Gone With the Wind, to Kill a Mockingbird, or the Bible as a bestseller it does make for reading every bit as horrific as Stephen King’s most bone chilling novels. It lays out a roadmap leading from Donald Trump’s trashy presidency directly to the door of the United States Congress within which lies the power of impeachment to get rid of God’s creative stumble.


Predictably, Tubby Donnie trotted out his two female acolytes from the depths of the West Wing to parrot his tiresome denial of wrongdoing. Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing,  appears, seemingly from nowhere, like one of the harpies from mythology. And then there is Sarah Sanders and invariably when the two of them descend on the weekend talk shows like those flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, I instantly think of count Dracula, so chillingly portrayed in the movies by Bela Lugosi, who always was accompanied by a couple of female vampires, ever ready to suck blood from the truth.


The sheer hypocrisy of Sarah Sanders is stunning. How can this woman, daughter of a minister, a professed Christian, so wholly endorse the misogynistic, bigoted, rantings of Donald Trump who, in his personal life, has violated virtually every moral imperative of the Christian religion? She epitomizes the old joke about politicians: “you can tell when a politician is lying— his lips are moving.” (Or hers)


It’s incomprehensible to me that any woman would associate herself (read that as “demean herself”) by associating with Donald Trump, the epitome of the misogynist. I could only shake my head when I saw a photo on the Internet of Trump at a rally in Mobile, Alabama, a state which itself is the epitome of much of society’s ill health. In the photo Trump is faced by a huge mob which, as far as I can tell, is 100% white, and right at the front of this adoring mob of supporters are several women.


One, directly in front of him, is a young woman clutching a baby. Trump is cupping the baby’s face with his pudgy hand (perhaps leaving the mark of the Devil upon it) and the presumed mother appears to be shrieking with delight at being this close to her idol. A couple of people behind her is another woman bearing aloft a sign reading “Thank you Lord Jesus for President Trump”.


After popping a handful of Tums to quell my rising gorge, I looked for a different photo, something more palatable— perhaps a pride of lionesses tearing apart the bloodied carcass of a wildebeest. The only saving factor in that Trump photograph is the baby is not old enough to vote for Donald J Trump. But give the kid enough years and it can qualify for membership in the KKK, the white Citizens Council, or the Alabama Republican Party.


That the woman’s idiotic sign thanks Jesus for Trump echoes the equally idiotic claim by several commentators on the far right that God has sent Trump to save the country. This mixing of religion with politics directly contradicts the intent of the nation’s founders that religion and our republic  have no business being intermingled. But that doesn’t stop the Bible bangers from claiming that God and country are intertwined. And that is one step from claiming that the United States of America should be a theocracy. Guess what? Iran is a theocracy and, according to Donald J Trump, we don’t want to be like iran. In fact, according to Trump’s closest advisers like John Bolton, we should just nuke Iran.


Back in 1950 the egomaniacal general Douglas MacArthur advocated separating North Korea from communist China by laying down a boundary line of atom bombs that would create a radioactive barrier between the two countries—too hazardous to cross. Cooler heads prevailed and, ultimately, after 50,000 Americans died, a form of peace prevailed as a truce which holds, uneasily, to this day—and MacArthur got fired by President Truman. It’s too bad Bolton and his ilk haven’t joined MacArthur as shady footnotes in American history. One can only hope it will come to pass SAP.


Back to Sanders: In February of this year she said “I think God calls for all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that He wanted Donald Trump to become president and that’s why he’s there.” Apparently Sanders thinks her role in God’s plan is to be a sycophant for Donald Trump. If those of religious bent, those who believe in God (which includes Christians, Muslims, and Jews, not to mention other religions which believe in an omnipotent presence), can wrap their mind around Sanders’ outlandish claim that Donald Trump amounts to the Second Coming, it goes a long way toward explaining how televangelists over the years have conned the credulous out of millions of dollars to finance their lavish lifestyles.  If you’re gutsy enough you can claim that it’s God’s will that an old lady should donate her life savings to some evangelical flim flam artist and then go to the polls and vote for Donald Trump for president. Either way, the innocent suffer.


In an interview with the New Yorker, Sanders said, when asked how she reconciles her defense of a man who paid off a porn star to help his election chances, “No one is perfect.” I wonder if she ever has seen the wonderful movie Some Like It Hot, where Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress as women and join an all girl jazz band to escape gangsters. Lemmon is courted by a rich goofball, played by Joe E Brown, who, when Lemmon finally confesses that he’s not a girl but a guy, replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect,” as he takes  Lemmon’s hand and leads him toward his yacht.


This claim that Trump is the Chosen One is the equivalent of a get rich scheme, perpetrated by con artists. That’s what Donald Trump is—a quintessential con man. Perhaps the earthquakes which we thought were caused by fracking for oil and gas merely is God shaking in his boots.


Sanders is the daughter of Mike Huckabee a Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, another uncomfortable marriage of politics and religion. Huckabee acceded to the governorship when the former governor was convicted of fraud. As governor he pressured the state to release Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist with a record of murder and sexual abuse charges going back a quarter of a century. Huckabee actually wrote this convict a letter saying “my desire is that you be released from prison.” Dumond was freed, moved to Missouri, raped and murdered a young woman.


Later, as a presidential candidate, Huckabee supported a man named Joshua Dugger who admitted he had molested children including his own siblings as a teenager.  Said Huckabee, “Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgustng things.”


If Huckabee said any undeniably true thing about these two cases it was about Dugger’s family, “They are no more perfect a family than any family.” She meant it as a tribute to a family she said was dedicated to Jesus. I wonder therefore what she secretly believes about the Trump family? As to Trump’s religious convictions and dedication, at least twice he has autographed Bibles as if he were a visiting author, inscribing his very own book.


If any evidence were needed about Trump’s unconventional view of religion it came during his presidential campaign when former Minnesota representative  Michele Bachmann, as nutty a human being who has ever served in Congress, lauded Trump by saying “Trump is highly biblical, and I would say we will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.”


In response to that encomium I can only quote an old colloquialism: “it’s enough to gag a goat.”


The role of the White House press secretary is to convey as much of the truth as the administration deems possible to the nation’s press and ultimately to the nation. Press secretaries are no stranger to evasion, devious interpretation, and outright lies, but none have come right out and described it as eloquently as Kellyanne Conway did when she called her outright lies “alternative facts.”  A fact is a fact and there are no alternatives to that—anything else is a lie.


At least Conway has her husband George (who despises Donald Trump at least as much as his wife reveres him) to counterbalance her fabrications; Sanders has only a few despicable Republican politicians and, of course, her even more despicable boss invisibly standing with her at the press room podium (when she bothers to show up). Perhaps it is this lack of reliable support that has kept her increasingly absent from press briefings. Any honorable person would be suffering from moral agony by having to shovel out the Augean stable of White House manure on a daily basis.


It has been documented that Donald Trump has piled up lies during his half term presidency in the thousands. The fact here is not an alternative one— it is true that he is a natural liar. In one of her more laughable obfuscations about her boss, Sanders said “I can definitely say the president is not a liar, and I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked.” She since has repeatedly echoed Trump’s proved lies, therefore establishing herself as the flip side of Trump’s falsehood fantasies.


Politicians and political parties historically have looked for a song to epitomize their message. Trump repeatedly has stolen the Rolling Stones song “You can always get what you want,” despite the band’s repeated requests for him to shut his mouth and quit stealing their song. But outright theft and misrepresentation never stopped Trump before. Tom Petty threatened to sue George W. Bush for stealing his song “I won’t back down” before little Georgie stopped the music.


 You have to go back to 1936 to find the perfect song to epitomize today’s Republican Party and I would give everything I own to hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Donald Trump stand side-by-side at the press briefing podium and sing a duet of a song written in 1936 by a man named Billy Mayhew. The song since has been recorded by a multitude of artists especially, Fats Waller, the wonderful stride piano player whose birthday it happens to be as I write these words.


The song is “It’s a sin to tell a lie.” Equally famous is a recording by the Ink Spots which contains a monologue by their sepulchral bass singer Hoppy Jones who rumbles “Whole lotta folks hearts have done been broken just over a lotta foolish words that’s spoken.” Perhaps Trump and Sanders could get Conway and Mitch McConnell to join in a re-creation of the Spots.


The Ink Spots and Fats Waller have gone on to musical heaven, Fats playing stride harp and the Ink Spots harmonizing  with the angels. But the country can only hope that the day after the 2020 election (or, if justice prevails, sooner) we can all joyously sing a 1929 song which, in 1932, epitomized hope for a depressed and economically ravaged country with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Happy days are here again.”







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  • Blog
  • May 17th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


Late in life after Robert McNamara began to comprehend the enormity of his responsibility for the stupidity and cruelty of the Vietnam War, he explained it by referring to “The fog of war.” As if the confusion and wrong decisions made in the heat of battle somehow excused or moderated the vast human cost of what he had helped to create. “It was awful foggy out, officer, so I just didn’t see that little kid until I ran over him.”


Today, we still are mired in the longest war in American history— a fuddled attempt to bring order to a disordered and barely civilized rockpile named Afghanistan. We still are muddling about in Iraq and Donald Trump, apparently following in the stumbling footsteps of his predecessors, searching for his own war to claim credit for, is making threatening comments about interfering in Venezuela’s increasingly chaotic politics. Or maybe he can goad Iran into lobbing nuclear missiles back and forth.  The fog of war still is upon us and shows no sign of dissipating.


What to do then, when the fog of politics is too noxious to endure? Then it is time to go out in the sweet spring air and take a hike. So that’s what I’m doing. Somewhere, Donald Trump is tweeting inanities in his reprehensible, half witted and dangerous style, Sarah Sanders is preparing to echo him as if she were Capt. Hook’s parrot, perched on his doughy shoulder. And Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing no doubt, is lurking in the catacombs of the White House, waiting for Count Trumplia to rise from his 24 carat coffin to dispatch her on yet another bloodsucking political hatchet job.


That’s the way it is in the hallowed hotseat of democracy, Washington DC, where duplicity substitutes for common sense. But I am walking across a lush carpet of green. A mini meadow established and meticulously maintained by our son, Eddie. At the far side of this emerald gem is a five acre plot of woods with trails sinuously winding through it. Eddie cleared the trail, carefully maintaining a semblance of remoteness— a marvelous engineering job that gives you the feeling of traversing a long wilderness path when really you’re never more than a few yards from the open meadow.


There is a replica coal mine in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry where you enter an elevator that seemingly drops you 1000 feet into a dimly lit shaft where you can see machines ostensibly extracting coal from solid rock. It’s all illusion and done so marvelously that you would swear at the end of the tour you have just emerged from the depths of a deep coal mine. That’s the kind of magic that Eddie has created in his tiny plot of woods.


Henry Thoreau was the spokesperson for the value of isolating oneself in the wilderness. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Thoreau said but the portion of Walden Woods where he isolated himself was only 14 acres, scarcely larger than Eddie Woods and when Hank felt the need to go to town for a sixpack of Pepsi, he was within walking distance. And he also accidentally once set a forest fire that burned 300 acres of the woods.


But Hank got a memorable book out of his time in the 14 acres; I hope to get a website blog out of my time on Eddie’s trail. Eddie’s meadow, lush and green, has been nurtured by the same spring rains that have caused the Mississippi River to go on a rampage not seen in 150 years. As I write, the Missouri River is forecast to rise above 25 feet, some 4 feet beyond flood stage. In 1993, the Missouri achieved an epic flood that saw the stretch from Jefferson City to St. Louis become a massive lake.


It was, they said, a 500 year flood, implying that Missouri would not suffer the same fate for another five centuries. The water receded slightly and within days more rain came and the river rose even higher to a second 500 year flood— not 500 years later but about five days later.


Engineers have tried for more than a century to tame the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, largely without success. At its birth you can skip across the Mississippi on slippery rocks, risking sliding into cold waters halfway up your shin. The river is no hazard to man there because there are 10,000 lakes in Minnesota to disperse any floodwaters and few people live in the Mississippi headwaters, so few would be affected if there were floodwaters. Between Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis there is a necklace of locks and dams designed to store floodwater and ensure a constant water level for barge traffic. It works fairly well, although the folks in presently flooded Davenport, Iowa, might disagree, but below St. Louis the river does pretty much what it wants to and when heavy rains fall, as they have recently, man’s expensively constructed levees crumble and thousands of acres become temporary lakes.


One of those 500 year or perhaps 1000 year or perhaps all eternity years happened in 1927 when the Mississippi River blew out of its banks in the most destructive flood in United States history. Some 27,000 square miles of land adjacent to the river flooded up to 30 feet deep. Most of the flooding was south of Missouri, and the 1927 disaster is what spurred levee building south of St. Louis to New Orleans.


The Mississippi River’s largest and most unruly tributary, the Missouri, also had its period of levee construction—not so much to contain floodwaters as to provide a uniform depth for barge traffic. There also is a system of dams beginning with Fort Peck in Montana and ending with Gavin’s Point dam in South Dakota. As far as I can tell, what the dams have done over the years is create a reason for river bordering states to scream at each other over who gets how much water when, where, how and why. Plus, below the dam system, every time we have one of those 500 year floods it blows out levees built ever higher over the years in a futile attempt to constrict the river. It doesn’t take a college educated engineer to figure out what happens when you squeeze a garden hose. The constricted water has more force and if you’re trying to blow that water down a narrower channel, inevitably it erodes what has been built up to try to hold it in place. In a word, levees.

So that’s what I’m thinking about as I squish through the soggy entrance to Eddie’s trail. But it’s not a day for thinking of environmental disaster. So I slog through a carpet of lush lawn grass and dandelions.  A friend shot a turkey gobbler recently, the crop of which was crammed with dandelion greens. I never knew that wild turkeys cherished dandelion greens, the curse of the gardener. Perhaps we can substitute wild turkeys for dangerous herbicides— they certainly are better for your health.


The Eddie Trail hike will be a muddy one but a blissful one of perhaps 15 or 20 minutes during which there is the possibility of spooking a deer, turkey or other wildlife. There will be birds, spring wildflowers, and possibly the occasional disease bearing dog tick. As usual I have forgotten to slather myself with insect repellent and probably will pay for it sometime by contracting a tickborne disease. No pleasure exists without threat, including a walk in the woods. Otherwise we would not have original sin.


I’m looking at the tracks of a deer now, stomped into the mud. There have been times on this trail when there were so many tracks that it looked as if there had been a cattle stampede. These tracks are so fresh that you’d think the deer still should be standing in them. But he or she has vanished, probably spooked by me just out of sight.


My shoes stick in the mud and slurp as I pull them loose. I punctuate the sound with snuffling—the pollen count is sky high from oak, hickory, mulberry. A mole tunneled across the trail in front of me, leaving a tiny levee in its passing. Once, we had a Brittany who was fond of of unearthing moles and retrieving them. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as fond of discovering game birds.


I pass an immature honey locust, bristling with lethal looking spines like an arboreal porcupine. Being speared by a honey locust is a painful experience—I swear, those stiletto-like barbs are dipped in acid. Honey locust probably would make good firewood— its cousin, black locust, is among the best burning woods available, but who wants to risk woodland wounding. A neighbor once wanted to use a pasture of ours infested with honey locust saplings which needed to be removed before the grass was usable (cows resist munching on hay laced with vegetative barbed wire). I was more than happy to donate the hay if the neighbor was willing to clean out the honey locust. I never heard directly from the cows but they seemed to smile as we passed them on the road.


Although I am less than 100 yards from Eddie’s meadow on one side and a county highway on the other, it is quiet here, as quiet as the bucolic peace Thoreau sought at Walden. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Thoreau said, but that makes you wonder about a man who discounts the friendship of his fellow man, preferring to travel life’s trail by himself. I suspect I would have found Thoreau a sour old man, somewhat unlikable, and not nearly as companionable as my hunting buddies. But it is good to be alone for a little while— just not all the time.


I didn’t find until after my walk that in ancient Greek mythology, a labyrinth was a structure built originally to hold the Minotaur, a fearsome monster.  The labyrinth which the English call a maze, was so complex that the Minotaur couldn’t figure out how to get out. I hope that I do not encounter a Minotaur on my walk, but did later discover that in modern times labyrinth patterns, inlaid on the floor, are used in hospitals for therapeutic relaxation. They also are used for private meditation, which certainly fits the reason for my excursion into Eddie’s unintentional version of the ancient labyrinth.


Minotaurs no, deer possibly. The deer tracks trundle ahead of me on the trail and perhaps the deer himself or herself is standing just outside my vision alongside the trail, waiting for me to pass. There is a small tree shaded pond to my right which dries up in the summer but which, thanks to the rain, now is flush. I spooked a pair of wood ducks off of it on a previous walk. An old stock tank is buried below the pond dam, nearly obscured by lush growth from seepage through the dam. Once, long ago, livestock grazed here but now the only livestock that ever make it this far back in the undergrowth are the cows that periodically break through the neighbor’s fence and trample the garden.


Here is a deer track where the animal slipped and nearly fell. The ground is peppered with deer tracks— if it’s just one deer it must be a virtual hoofed Fred Astaire. I come to the smiling piggy, atop a stump. Our daughter and son-in-law acquired a series of miniature figures in a junk shop which they placed along the trail to enliven the experience– a smiling piggy, a bird, and several other meaningless knickknacks. They add personality to Eddie’s trail.


The pig’s head is lifted to the sky with a cheerful grin as if it is happy to be there. Piggy is warmed by a shaft of sunlight and we share a moment of optimism. I pass a pair of plastic Scottish terriers nestled together in the crotch of a tree with the word “welcome” inscribed on the base that supports them.


I spy Mickey and Minnie Mouse waving cheerfully at me. They are the last of the figurines before the trail ends. It’s as if the two Disney characters are saying “Thanks for enjoying the trail with us and come again!”


I leave the trail at the edge of the dam across Eddie’s small pond. Cattails are beginning to sprout and will nearly clog the pond before summer is finished and the water will dry to caked mud. Now the pond belongs to spring peepers which chirp and croak in chorus, a jumbled non-Beethovenish “Ode to Joy.” Who’s to say that little frogs aren’t just as enthralled by spring’s exuberant surge of life as I am?

I leave the trail and the woods and the spring peepers behind and walk slowly toward home in the sunlight.



Read More
  • Blog
  • May 10th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


           Fishing tackle tradeshows are to the ardent angler the equivalent of the Super Bowl or the World Series to a sports nut. The largest of them currently is ICAST, a cute acronym which stands for the international Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades and this year was held in Orlando, Florida, the home of Disney World.


           Once I went to a similar show (AFTMA) which stood for American fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association, which was in Las Vegas rather than next door to Disney World. There, I did not see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but I did see some sights every bit as enchanting as the Enchanted World.  The Las Vegas Minnies often were not wearing mouse ears like Mousketeers.  In fact they weren’t wearing much of anything.


          As an outdoor writer It was my duty to attend as a fishing writer and I stumbled into the Las Vegas Convention Center with the savoir faire of Joe Bob Goodolboy presenting his respects to Her Majesty, the Queen.  I wandered the aisles like Gomer Pyle, murmuring, “Wal, gollleee!” as hayseeds scattered from my hair like dandruff.  Or perhaps it was dandruff.


                Here was a booth with three comely ladies (actually, I don’t know if they were ladies or not, but there was indisputable evidence they were comely) who were demonstrating some item of angling equipment.  I think it was boob lures…er, tube lures.


                “I’ll take three of those!” I babbled to the manufacturer’s rep.


                “Why on earth would you want three Duo Duct Neverfail Triple Hedge Wad Cutter Suresink boat anchors?” he asked.


                 “Boat anchors!  I want three of them!” I cried, pointing at the lissome lasses who edged away with charming cries of alarm. He fixed me with a gimlet eye (and, Lord knows, at that moment I needed fixing, not to mention a gimlet) and sent me on my way.  I wandered down the aisle, singing “My Way.”


                Las Vegas is not exactly the home of the United Churches of the World.  The next table over at supper one night held the real-life counterparts of half the characters in “The Godfather.” I eavesdropped on the conversations of people apparently all named Vinnie and it was about “hits” and “rackets.”  I suppose they were talking about tennis, which is quite popular in Las Vegas. Most people do not come to Las Vegas to see the scenery (in fact I may be the only person ever to visit the city who actually has seen Hoover Dam).


                I spent three days in Las Vegas, came home poorer, but with some plastic worms that have a Velcro patch so they stick to the roof of a bass’s mouth until you can set the hook.  I am not making this up. Why not just use peanut butter?  It didn’t make much of a story, even at cocktail parties, and, reading over it now, I see that it still doesn’t.  But it does establish me as a working journalist on the fishing scene, one who has been there. I’ve even been on television.  Once I was watching one of the fishing shows on television and had a momentary wish to be a host, like the Babe or Jimmy Houston or Jerry McKinnis.


               Not, I can assure you, like Bill Dance— if sometimes you’re in the mood to go into wild hysterics, watch the several episodes of Bill Dance bloopers on You Tube. Guaranteed, you’ll laugh until you wet your pants.


                But then reason set in and I flashed back to a period of my life I had buried so deeply in my subconscious that Freud himself, peeling away the layers like a starving man going at an avocado, couldn’t uncover it.  But they say confession is good for the soul and mine needs all the help it can get, so here goes:


                I actually have been on television twice, talking about fishing. The first time was in the days of live local television when I substituted for the host of an outdoor show who was at Camp Ripley MN, on a National Guard holiday defending the country from invasion by people named Olson.


                I had a whammo show, or so I thought.  A friend had just returned from a Western states fishing vacation and I asked him to be my guest. “I don’t wanna,” he whinnied, becoming walleyed like a horse faced with its first saddle.  Stage fright, flop sweat.


                 “Hey, it’s no problem,” I said.  “All you do is talk about your trip.  I won’t ask you anything you don’t know the answer to.”  With great and, it turned out, well-founded reluctance he agreed.


                Came the evening and we sat beneath the hot lights, me the relaxed, assured host, him with a case of what appeared to be advanced rigor mortis.      “So, you’ve been out West fishing, huh?”  I asked.




                 “Tell me about it,” I said.  A long pause.


                 “Well, I went out fishing.”  He sounded as if he had a trout caught in his throat.


                “Did you catch anything?” I asked, my confidence running out like sand from an hourglass.


                “Yes.”     At the rate we were going, all my carefully-prepared questions would be answered in about 35 seconds, leaving us with slightly over 26 minutes of air time to fill (the “us” obviously being “me”).


                “What kinds?” I asked, praying desperately that he had caught 26 minutes worth of different fish species.


                “Mostly trout.”


                “Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, brooks?” I babbled, my voice becoming increasingly high-pitched.


                “Yeah,” he answered.


                “What states?” I asked, hoping for a list of 49 (I knew he hadn’t been to Hawaii).


                “Colorado.”  I glanced at the clock.  This awful show had not been going on for most of my adult life, as it seemed, but for only one minute and 13 seconds.  This was a nightmare where you’re naked at the Senior Prom and the school superintendent is roaring, “*Where are your clothes*!”  Finally, I remembered a mildly humorous anecdote he’d told me and prompted him and it pulled the plug.  He relaxed, told his story, then another one.  Hey, we were rolling now! We got to the first commercial break and grinned at each other. Nothing to this television.  A little slow at the start, but what could stop us now?


                “So, we’re back,” I said to the camera. “Tell me,” I said, turning to my guest, “I have my own opinion, but I’d like to hear it from an expert–do you fish upstream or downstream?”  If I had ripped his heart out and thrown it against the wall, I couldn’t have got a more dramatic reaction.  His mouth flopped open; his eyes took on a catatonic glaze and the color drained from his face.


                This was it, the ambush question.  Mike Wallace never jumped out of an alley and nailed anyone harder. Time rumbled on and on and on.  I had a brief, riveting flash of thousands, maybe millions of viewers guffawing in living rooms across the land, shouting, “Hey, Melba, come here and watch these two guys making fools out of themselves!” Finally, after civilizations had fallen and planets had changed orbit and the Universe had grown measurably older, my friend rasped, as if he hadn’t spoken in about two centuries and was running low on lubricants, “Sometimes … I … fish…upstream…and…sometimes … I … fish … downstream…”


                My other television experience was as a guest on a show hosted by my late friend Bill Bennett, outdoor editor of the St. Joseph (MO) Gazette.  Bill, who resembled Poppin’ Fresh with a beard, had waited for years to get even with me for calling him “the outdoor pixie” in print. I’ve always felt that I can talk for 30 minutes on any subject, whether I know anything about it or not and I was well on my way to proving that. I was distracted out of the corner of my eye as I saw Bill swipe at something in midair, as if he were trying to catch a housefly. He did it again and I was torn between trying to maintain eye contact with the camera lens, and watching Bill, who was just out of the camera picture.   I remembered stories by media acquaintances on how dirty tricksters off-camera would try to unsettle the on-air personality by making faces, obscene gestures or other tricks designed to discombobulate the talent.


                I remember once driving somewhere and listening to famed newscaster Lowell Thomas relating a story about Pres. Eisenhower visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the famed chocolate bar industry. “The president,” Thomas said, “enjoyed the hospitality of Hershey workers, both with and without nuts.” And then he and his engineer both began to laugh and they laughed uncontrollably for the remainder of the program. It’s not always those out of camera range who cause uproar. Sometimes we do it to ourselves.


              Not me, no sir! I thought.


              Then, about 10 minutes into the show, as I was deep into some show-off story, Bill interrupted and said, “You know, you’ve been a really rotten so-and-so for a long time now.”  Only he didn’t say “so-and-so.”


                They tell me my expression was that of a bass angler whose wife tells him she gave away all his tackle and his boat to the Salvation Army. It was a setup and many people (not me) have enjoyed looking at the tape.  But there is justice in the world.


                A few weeks later, a mutual friend was one of three guests on Bill’s show and, halfway through, Bill turned to ask him a question.  Jerry looked at him for a moment, said, “I didn’t want to be on this bleeping show anyway,” and got up and walked off the set, leaving Bill looking exactly the way I had.


                Bll stammered and stuttered and finally exclaimed, “You can’t say bleeping on television!”








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  • Blog
  • May 3rd, 2019


By Joel  M. Vance


            The French actor Maurice Chevalier sang “Falling in Love Again” and that could be my theme song when it comes to puppies.  I am a helpless romantic about my dogs.  A hunting buddy once said, “I don’t fall in love with my dogs, the way you do.”  He did—he just wouldn’t admit it.  He was the kind who went off by himself to cry over a dead dog; I do it in front of God and everyone.


           I once talked to another bird hunter who said, “If they don’t produce I put them down.”  I looked at him the way I look at cat vomit, but since he was far bigger than I was, I restrained my urge to put knuckle bumps on his head.  In my considered opinion the wrong animal got put down.  Like the kids my puppies are family, for better or worse, and they live out their lives, for better or worse.


           He was new 13 years ago and cute enough to melt the heart of Genghis Kahn.  Cap is his name and he is a French Brittany, appropriate for a French love song I guess.  As a puppy he was supposed to be a gift to a friend…but then, well, I fell in love and, like an echo of something that happened to me at the senior prom only this time it went my way, I cut in on my friend, stole his date, and he went home alone. 


           Cap was one of a litter of eight that was star-crossed from the get-go.  Mother Molly came in heat while her x-rays were somewhere in the limbo of the Orthopedic Foundation of America being checked for hip dysplasia.  She’d never showed any sign of the degenerative hip problem so we bred her.  And then the results came back: “moderate dysplasia.” 


            With that medical history I wouldn’t sell her puppies, but would give them to friends with full disclosure.  Molly swelled like a football and subsequently delivered.  One puppy arrived dead and one died shortly after birth.  The runt of the litter quickly became my favorite, the most outgoing and quickest to learn among the six survivors.   But he had a deformed esophagus, an incurable condition.  He couldn’t keep food down and despite intensive vet care, he died.


          I knew when we left him at our vet that he wouldn’t make it.  I cradled him on the way there, weak, but looking at me with faith in my ability to fix him.  I was heartbroken, took him in a tiny box across the lake and up the hill near the old log where our dogs are buried.  The grave was tiny and I watered it with my tears.


            Each time I visit the graveyard just off the trail I’m among friends who were more loyal, more trusting and more accepting than all but a handful of people I’ve known.  It’s one of life’s great injustices that dogs have such a shorter life than people.  We should age together and flicker out together.  That’s the way it should be.  That’s not the way it is.


        The surviving five grew exponentially.  One would go to our daughter and son-in-law, another to a young hunting friend.  A third was the one supposed to go to another friend, but he was the one that captured my heart.  He prowled the edge of the yard when the others were wrestling or looking for suck at their mother’s faucets.  He was a born adventurer.


            “Captain Adventure,” I said…and it made sense.  “Cap,” a good, sharp, short call-name and descriptive of his exploratory nature.  I looked at him more closely.  Long spaniel ears and a domed head.  He wasn’t a photogenic Brittany, like a couple of his brothers, but while they were dozing he was pulling up short at the flush of a butterfly, quivering with emotion. 


            I picked him up and scratched his belly.  He looked up at me, contented, his ear flopped over my arm.  Love flowered.  I heard Edith Piaf singing French torch songs—or maybe it was the tinnitus that plagues me from shooting too many shotguns for too long without ear protection.


            Cap’s explorations reminded me of Scruffy now long gone and who in his day was my best friend. In the kennel, he got picked on, but in the field he was his own master.  Possessed of the lungs of a Sioux warrior, he could and did run all day but without a shock collar to remind him of the humans he cherished, he might well have found new continents. Once she did vanish for four days and we had given him up until one night I heard whining at the door and there he was, tired and ragged and, well, scruffy. I theorized he had been pursuing pheromones from a lady dog in heat, but we never knew and he lived out his life without further odysseys. Scruffy was  a Type B dog with his kennelmates.  He sat next to me and leaned and wanted my arm around him.  I was his security blanket.  I’m was not going to bite him, the way his brother  did, or growl at him, the way everyone else did.  We were as close at those moments as brothers (“He ain’t heavy, Father—he’s my brother”).  Yet when I looked at him his eyes were searching the horizon.  I may have been scratching his belly, but his eyes were hunting.


            A few days after Cap’s litter discovered they had hind legs to go with the front ones they would burst from their kennel and flood into the yard like a furry tsunami.  Cap (then still unnamed) led the charge.  Cap gnawed on my shoelaces but also indicated that he wanted to be picked up and fussed over which I did.


            After getting his dose of sugar he wanted to go exploring.  There’s woods and a glade with a nice muddy wet area where a puppy can splash and make canine mud pies.  There’s a trail toward our son Eddie’s house where three huge Labradors waited to bark at intruders.


           Oh, the delicious fear of those bellowing monsters.  Tuck your butt and race wide-eyed back to safety! Whew!  What a narrow escape!  I held Captain Adventure’s nose to the Lab kennel fence, and he and the fearsome monsters sniffed and they were buddies great chew toys and more tolerant of upstart puppies than those adult Brittanies who have little patience for insolence.


           With me puppy picking happens a couple of ways.  I look for the dog with initiative and with energy.  Molly, Cap’s mom, not only was the most curious of her litter; she also was the last to wear out.  When the others were sprawled, napping, she still was prowling. 


          And then there is the love-at-first-sight factor.   Chubby, my best friend-ever, was the last puppy of a litter of eight.  The rest had gone to new owners and one little male sat with his ears down, his expression that of something that badly needed deep affection.  I picked him up and he nestled close and I told my wife, “There is no power on earth that will separate me from this little guy.”


            That remained true for the dozen years of his life.  He became my feel good dog.  More than once I got sick on the road and lay, feverish and miserable, on a lumpy couch while everyone else was hunting.  Chubby crawled up next to me, nestled close as he had when he was a miserable puppy, and we went to sleep.  When we woke, we both felt fine and we went hunting.


            Our son Andy’s first dog, Pepper, picked him.  Andy was 14 years old when we went to Iowa to watch a litter in action.  Andy drank a Coke, and then laid the can down.  The little pup picked it up and brought it to him.  “She liked me best,” Andy said simply.  Pepper lived 15 years and hunted to the last.  She became the boss bitch of the kennel and could quell uprisings among her rowdy youngsters with The Look, though they all outweighed her by a third.


            She could be willful and after that first pop can retrieve, she decided that retrieving was something she didn’t want to do and never could be persuaded otherwise.  But Andy never regretted his choice of a puppy and I never argued with him about it.  Her blood still enlivens the veins of our  French Brittanies, including Cap and his sister Matty and the newest of the bunch, two-year-old Millie who is, like Pepper, almost totally black colored and has the same boss bitch mentality— tiny in stature but a giant in confidence.


            Matty, the only female in the litter, was a unanimous choice.  We both wanted a female.  Except for that semi-annual three-week heat period, females have been far less trouble than males.  They don’t fight over trifles and they don’t pee on everything although that occasionally is justified.  Once my resident male dog hosed down the guitar case of a guy with a serious case of ego over inflation, to my great satisfaction, and the guy bellowed in outrage.  “It was critical comment,” I told him.  


            Of course there also was the time when I was pontificating to a group of field trialers about the intricacies of dog training, when I noticed their attention had wandered.  I couldn’t understand why—my eloquence was at a peak.  And then I followed their eyes to my leg where my dog was busy sluicing the leg of my britches.  


           Underlying any puppy-pick is the uncomfortable knowledge that Cap and Matty are aging.  Millie is our investment in the future.  We know the time will come when the older dogs simply can’t go anymore. 


            Dog work is the be-all for me when it comes to bird hunting.  It is at least 80 percent of the fun.  The way I shoot, collecting a full game bag isn’t much of an option.  But seeing dogs I’ve lived with, loved and trained do the right thing makes my sleazy shooting inconsequential.


            Way back when I took took all five of the resident Brittanies at the time to the field and one froze on point and the other four honored, locked in time and in my memory.  I moved in at that sublime moment as the dogs quivered with anticipation.  It was calendar art and I was immensely proud of them.


            I flushed a farm cat. 


            An outdoor writer once defended bird hunting without a dog.  I wondered if he’d ever hunted behind good dogs.  I’ll bet if he flushed a cat by himself the moment lacked a feeling of rueful satisfaction that at least he had experienced living calendar art.


            Before we even get to the farm cat stage there are months of drill on the simple stuff: “Sit!”  “Stay!”  “Come!” and, most important “Whoa!”  Puppy training is an exercise in frustration for dog and man.  Never long on patience, I do much grinding of teeth when a puppy just can’t get simple things like “stay” when it’s perfectly obvious to me what I want it to do.  But, I remind myself, I never could learn algebra either.  In fact I burst into tears and threw my college algebra book against the dorm room wall.  I count it a blessing that our dogs don’t hold us accountable for our mistakes.  We yell at them for busting a covey, but they accept it when we miss a meatball shot.  We snarl at them for pointing a rabbit, only to see a huge covey flush (which we salute with a pair of aimless shots). 


             Finally there comes the moment when the puppy sits, reluctantly, for a few seconds and I exclaim, “Okay!” and he comes to a treat and we both sigh with relief.  After all, a puppy does not want to sit.  He wants to run and wrestle and chew and have fun.  I did not want to learn algebra.  I wanted to run and wrestle and chew and have fun.


            Once I was demonstrating my training techniques for a cub reporter who wanted to do a feature story on an outdoor writer famed for his dog training expertise.  I was distracted since she was quite attractive (the reporter although Molly also was cute), therefore wasn’t thinking when I chose Molly as my demonstration dog.


            Molly had just been to the vet who had flopped her on an examining table so he could stick her with needles and otherwise violate her body.  As the reporter looked on  I picked Molly up and plunked her on a table which I built originally to hold beer and brats, not dogs-in-training.  Molly didn’t wait to see if someone in a white coat was approaching with a big needle.  She screamed like a violated maiden, struggled out of my arms and vanished into the woods.


            I grinned weakly, looking remarkably like the Mad Magazine covers featuring Alfred E. Neuman, and said to the bemused reporter, “I guess she doesn’t want to be trained today.”  Then one leg of the table came unglued and the whole thing slowly collapsed.


            Training now is a private exercise between me and our puppies.





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