Archive for April, 2020

  • Blog
  • April 25th, 2020

COVID 10 CRANKINESS

By Joel M. Vance

 

If you are fool enough to leave the safe, quarantined confines of your home and venture into what has become the great unknown of today’s world, and you meet someone in the dark who is glowing like a lightning bug swigging from a pint jar of Clorox, you can be sure this is a person who has swigged from the noxious verbal Kool-Aid being dispensed by our very own version of Dr. No (where is James Bond when you need him?). I speak, of course, of Donald J Trump, the Clown in Chief who daily stands before the nation for two grotesque hours, dispensing medical advice and nonsense.

 

I have refrained in recent weeks from posting blogs about this immoral idiot who somehow has grabbed 40 percent of the nation’s deplorables by the naughty bits. Why bother to write about this blithering moron when, almost before you can commit the words to typescript, he has come up with an even more incredible scenario?

 

I thought his latest inanity about maybe we could cure Covid 19 by injecting those afflicted with the virus with disinfectant was the bottom floor of the elevator of social disintegration the country is trapped by. And how about infusing the body with ultraviolet light which allegedly kills the Corona 19 virus? One suggestion, voiced by more than several Facebook scoffers, suggests that ultraviolet light bulbs be inserted as suppositories. But that’s presupposes that you could remove Mike Pence’s head to make room for the light fixture.

 

Donnie now claims that it was sarcasm to suggest to the world that maybe injections of Lysol or Clorox is a miracle cure for Covid 19, that he was baiting the press corps, but the visual evidence is that he was not looking at the reporters; rather at his stunned medical advisors, all of whom had that deer in the headlights expression that suggested they were wishing they had opted for garbage collection as a profession rather than medicine. Both Clorox and Lysol failed to get Donnie’s peculiar humor, both companies quickly issuing strong warnings against ever introducing their product inside the human body.

 

One Facebook commentator posited that ozone therapy is the answer. Apparently this is a cancer treatment, although I can’t speak to that not being a medical expert like the president, but it took about 15 seconds on Google to find that the idea that ozone therapy is a cure for Covid 19 is fraudulent and in fact, the government itself, is suing to stop a proponent of the idea for making the claim. However, don’t discount that Dr. Donnie will use his next comedy monologue to make the claim.

 

He hasn’t yet completely abandoned the fallacy that hydroxychloroquine is the magic bullet, even though the drug has potentially fatal side effects when used for its intended purpose against lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. There is no long-range testing yet done in conjunction with Covid 19 and early indications are that more people treated with it die than those not treated with it. “What have you got to lose?” Fat Donnie shrugged. Well, your life is a possibility. But then dead Americans, so far 51,000, is an apparent and minor consideration when weighed against a plunging economy and the horrifying possibility to the Sociopath in Chief that he might lose reelection.

 

The delusional fat man is so desperate to be reelected that he will grasp at any straw, any lie, any obvious (to everyone but him and his brainless followers) inanity to divert attention from what is a sinking ship. I once read about a fisherman who hauled a large muskellunge into the boat with him long before it was done fighting and, in a panic, pulled out a revolver and shot the bottom of the boat full of holes trying to subdue the thrashing monster. Donnie’s equivalent .357 Magnum is using outlandish whoppers which have the same effect—sinking the ship of state.

 

Each day I think that possibly this is the day that the country will wake up and that basket of deplorables will realize they are following a putrid philandering Pied Piper of pusillanimity. Hillary Clinton partially lost the election to Trump because she called it the way it is “a basket of deplorables” to describe those who blindly follow the porky nutcase but, although she is about as likable as a margarita hangover, she had it right.

 

There are those who plead for balance and criticism, to be constructive rather than negative and to seek solutions for the many problems that face us. But I am reminded of King Canute who supposedly tried to stop the ocean tide by commanding it to recede, but failed. Actually, the king tried to pull off that trick to demonstrate that even kings are limited in their powers and that nature is the ultimate ruler.

 

Our own would be king, Fat Donnie hasn’t learned that lesson yet and, I’m convinced, he never will. He has had delusions of godly power most of his life and seems to be getting worse. He shares his delusional attitude with other strongmen in history who thought they were somehow superior to everyone else, but ultimately succumbed to the inexorable force of reality.

 

Donnie is 73 and one of these days something is going to get him. The least painful for the rest of us would be if he simply is voted out November 3. The downside to that is he has several more months of burgeoning insanity that he can inflict on the country. And there’s no doubt he will—he certainly hasn’t let up on shoveling his own brand of nuttery on the nation. It is not a “daily briefing” but, for those who think as I do, it is a “daily barfing.” I wouldn’t put it past the Sociopath in Chief to be doing these briefings at supper time as a revenge against his perceived enemies— send them stumbling toward the bathroom gagging and heaving.

 

The solution, of course, to this outpouring of craziness, is to turn off the television set and settle into a tranquil meal unsullied by Trump’s latest example of political absurdity. But the reality is that turning Trump off at the television set, does not turn him off in the real world where his actions, and those of his devoted followers continue to resonate and disintegrate rationality.

 

Don’t ever underestimate the power that insane leaders have over their followers. I remember that during the waning days of world war Two when American forces were capturing island after island in the brutal Pacific war against Japan, edging ever closer to the Japanese homeland, Japanese civilian mothers on Okinawa, having been indoctrinated by their leaders in the belief that the Americans were evil and brutal, threw their babies off cliffs, then followed by leaping after them.

 

It will take many decades before historians will be able to sort out the disaster that Donald J Trump has brought upon the nation. That’s assuming, of course, that there is a nation left. Don’t discount the example of history in that many nations have risen and fallen. Great civilizations that once dominated much of the known world are long gone—the Egypt of the pharaohs, the Roman and Greek dynasties, and in more modern times the rise and fall of the German Reich and Japan’s imperial control over much of the East. In all those civilizations, powerful rulers dominated their commoner class in a sort of herd mentality—the all-powerful shepherd and the witless sheep who blindly follow the orders of the leader, no matter how disastrous.

 

Perhaps that same lemming mentality is what motivates the current wave of protesters against quarantining to gather in groups waving Confederate flags and shouting incoherently about the injustice of having to stay indoors, not being able to gorge on McDonald’s and guzzle beer at their favorite joint. It’s all so obvious to these Trumpites—a deep state, left-wing, plot fueled by the fake news media to deprive them of their inalienable right to commit viral suicide.

 

I also don’t exempt the news media from contributing to the daily horror show. To be honest, and exempting Fox News which is about as trustworthy as anything ever concocted by Joseph Goebbels, the mainstream news media is caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you ignore the daily raving by the Maniac in Chief or cover it as a genuine news event? The bitter truth is that every word, no matter how nonsensical, by the president of the United States, is newsworthy. But that’s with a normal presidency, with a normal person occupying the Oval Office. When you have an inmate running the asylum, you have to consider that all bets are off. I’m still waiting for the day when some reputable attendee of the daily briefing, at the end of a particularly garbled foolishness by the idiot in Chief, leaps to his or her feet  and shouts, “I’ve had all of this bullshit I can stand!” And stomps outs, slamming the door behind. But it won’t happen—mainstream news people, being professional and aware of the deference due the highest office in the land, will continue to put up with the daily avalanche of drivel at least until November 3 when, God willing, the country can shed itself of this nightmare.

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 24th, 2020

BALONEY AND TUMS

By Joel M. Vance

 

A while back— come to think of it was only last week — I wrote a blog about Bill Clark, my friend of six decades. It started out as a reminiscence of places good and bad I have eaten lunch at over the years, usually on quail hunts. I stole the idea from Bill who has been promising to write a book about his birding groups’ many lunch stops over many years of trips around Missouri, discovering hidden rare gems of mid day eateries.

 

Before I even began recounting some of the greasy spoons where I found either uncommonly good food, or gustatory disasters, I was writing a lengthy blog about Bill and never got around to the midday food experiences.

 

Writing about memorable lunch spots may be more an exercise in reminiscence than in a guidebook to eating spots. Bill says “Anything I write about small town restaurants will be obsolete as soon as I hit “save.” Just about every one of them exists from week to week. I  drop in at one run by a Mexican couple with four kids – two of them still in diapers. They do it all alone and it has been successful in a highly prejudiced town at a location that has failed regularly every six months until they took it over about four years ago. There’s no way they can survive if this thing (Covid 19) goes for two months. They’ll need jobs that don’t exist. I could write a column about them, but I could write the same column about a lot of others in the small business world of day-to-day.”

 

So here it is my reminiscences: while Covid 19 continues to shutter lunch spots all over the country and I continue to eat my midday meal at the kitchen counter in our house, the memory of those times paused at some remote and overlooked small town eatery persists, in some cases like a serious case of acid indigestion.

 

Bill’s lunch joints have been discovered in the course of bird watching, mine have revolved about a different kind of bird watching, instead of over the twin barrels of binoculars, the twin barrels of a shotgun. The result often has been the same. Given my often hapless shooting, the reward at the end of the day has been the pleasure of time spent outdoors, with agreeable companions, and in the company of favorite birds, usually seen vanishing over the hill unscathed.

 

I recall one time when the companions were not so agreeable when it came to dessert. It was in a small town which featured a nondescript restaurant presided over by the quintessential ample girthed mom, synonymous with home cooking, and so the meal proved to be. I don’t recall what we ate except for the choice of dessert which the menu said was a variety of home-baked pies. It turned out the available pies were unavailable save for a single remaining slice of gooseberry pie. “I’ll have the gooseberry pie,” I said before anyone else had made a choice only to find their choices were absent. “And top it with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.” I added.

 

Gooseberry pie is an annual treat for the Vance family which gathers the tart green berries (the ripe ones are unsuitable for pies) each spring along the path around our 40 acres. Appropriately sugared and baked in a pie shell, served hot, topped with ice cream, they are an experience from culinary heaven, a taste of angel food. No wonder my usually amiable companions were miffed to hear me moaning with delight as I ate every bite of that last slice.

 

“Well what about us,” asked one of my shooting companions. “Are you going to share?” He looked like a small child who’d lost his binky. “Not,” I replied “in your dreams.” I spent the rest of the afternoon suffering accusations of inhumanity, selfishness and having committed other indignities to the common good to which I could only reply, “Man, that pie sure was good. Wish there had been enough to go around.”

 

The memory of a pie episode reminded me of the time when a fellow national guardsman and I stopped in a small Iowa restaurant en route home from summer training at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. We finished our meal and each ordered a slab of pie for dessert. The waitress took our dinner plates, along with our eating utensils, leaving us with no tools for the pie. When she brought the pie, my fellow weekend warrior who unaccountably (because he was from North Missouri) spoke with a hominy and grits accent like a refugee from Duck Dynasty, growled at the waitress “Ah need a fawk!”

 

She recoiled as if he had said what she thought he said and looked as if she might be contemplating either screaming for help or going for the nearest loaded weapon. “Fawk!, Ma’am, Ah cain’t eat mah pie without no fawk.” Comprehension finally sank in and the waitress scurried off and brought my buddy a fork. People from foreign territory like Iowa sometimes don’t understand simple spoken English.

 

Otterville is a small central Missouri town named for an animal that had not been resident in the area for 100 years until a Conservation Department otter reintroduction program restored the animal to the Lamine River watershed in the nineteen nineties. Between the vanished historic otters and the modern ones, Otterville was most notable for being the site of a train robbery by the Jesse James gang just outside town.  That was about it save for two notable exceptions: the town is almost precisely in the middle of the two halves of the huge Lamine Conservation Area and was  the home of John’s, a much  lamented Otterville café which was perfectly located to provide both refuge and food for the weary hunter at mid day.

 

So memorable is John’s  that I once wrote an article about it which made the editors at Field and Stream salivate to the point where they actually paid me more than lunch money for it. It was the mandatory midpoint of a hunting trip—first a long trek through at least part of the South end of the conservation area, then a stop at John’s  and, groaning with surfeit, a fairly short afternoon hunt into the other half of the area. Only once did I vary that routine on a memorable morning when, hunting alone, I shot a limit of quail and three woodcock in about an hour in the morning and was home well before lunchtime, thus missing out on the traditional midday Otterville lunch break. After a unique hunting success like that it sounds silly to say that I was disappointed, but I was—I didn’t get one of those delightful meals at John’s .

 

The most memorable came on a hunt with son, Andy, a couple of days shy of Thanksgiving when we hunted hard most of the morning and, already tired and very hungry, opened the creaking door of John’s  to be greeted by an overload aroma of culinary ambrosia. The special of the day was a traditional Thanksgiving dinner— roast turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, hot rolls and choice of apple or pumpkin pie for dessert. We didn’t do an afternoon hunt that day—we just digested.

 

Otterville also was the site of one of the more embarrassing moments in the checkered life of Joel M Vance. Several of us arrived fairly early in the morning before the diner had opened and desperate for coffee everybody but me headed for the local feed mill office which promised to have a pot brewing. Instead I spied a sign at the end of the block partly obscured except for the enticing end of a word “….Tique”. I assume that it meant antique and, ever alert for the backwoods store that, in a dusty corner of a back room, leaning against the wall, I would find a double-barreled Parker shotgun with a price tag of $20. I hustled along the uneven and cracked sidewalk, eyes down. There was a woman sweeping the sidewalk outside the store in which lurked untold treasures—the kind that folks on the “Antique Roadshow” discover are worth many thousands of dollars.

 

“Mind if I look inside?” I asked the woman. I was dressed in shabby hunting clothes, britches stained with faint dabs of old bird blood and the grime left from many miles of trudging forest and field. I looked as if I might have just tumbled off one of the periodic trains left over from the Jesse James days. Tremulously the woman said, “ooookay.” I wasn’t two steps inside the door before I realized what I’d done.  Not “antique” but “boutique.” And there I was, grimy, unshaven, bloodstained britches, eyes bleary from lack of sleep and coffee, having left behind me an increasingly apprehensive beautician, no doubt expecting my next appearance to be someone armed with an ax snarling, “Here’s Johnny!”

 

And the worst of it was, I had to walk back outside past the woman, who was clutching her broom as if wishing it were an AK47, mumbling words of no encouragement whatsoever. At least, John’s was open for coffee.

 

Then there was the time we stopped for lunch in the Twilight Zone. It was at a combination grocery store gas station at the end of a dead-end road in a place which does not appear on any county map I can find. Does it really exist? To this day, I am not sure.

 

We walked into this diner through a wormhole in the space time continuum and I expected immediately to see Rod Serling standing by the rusting pop cooler saying “you have entered a different dimension, a place of imagination that exists only in the Twilight Zone.”

 

Everything there seemed to have leapt into existence from a photograph of a general store, taken during the first administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There was a wood stove, absent only the omnipresent circle of old geezers dissecting the world according to them, but all else was a history lesson from the nineteen thirties.

 

There was no posted menu. You ordered from what you could see in the display case, glimpsed through a Plexiglas cover gone opaque with age. I opted for a salami sandwich (on Wonder Bread of course) and a choice of condiments including ketchup or plain mustard, a bag of potato chips (I blew the dust off), and pop from tepid water in the unrefrigerated cooler—NeHi Orange or NuGrape dominated, along with a few Coca-Colas in bottles so old they now are collector’s items.

 

It was not a place to linger, nor to savor a full belly like that from a meal at John’s in Otterville. The proprietor, as gnarled as the place itself, was reluctant to see us leave, no doubt because we were the first and perhaps the only customers he had had since the end of the Second World War, the absent circle of geezers having long since preceded him to the nearest rural cemetery. As we clambered in our trucks and pulled away I seemed to hear the distant sound of the Twilight Zone theme song.

 

And last but certainly least of the midday dining establishments I’ve patronized over the years is one in a small North Missouri town which I will not name because it would be cruel to penalize an entire community for the dire existence of one of its businesses.

 

I should’ve known this was not a thriving culinary hotspot when we walked in and the only occupied table was by several elderly ladies who would spend the entire time we were there discussing their physical infirmities, most of which concerned female plumbing malfunctions, analyzed at length in loud voices. When they weren’t comparing gynecological gaffes, they were dissing whomever of their social circle had the poor judgment not to show up that day. Soap opera plots also came in for deep analysis.

 

The proprietor and waiter was a gnomelike figure whose eyesight was so poor that the lens in his glasses could have come from the telescope on Mount Palomar. He had to put his nose in the palm of his hand so he could peer at the change he held to discover whether he was holding a nickel or a quarter.

 

I don’t remember what we ate because my appetite, already in crisis mode, vanished entirely when I glimpsed a baby in a soggy diaper crawling across the floor, leaving in its stead a clean wake—obviously what I had thought was the floor was actually a coating of grime which the baby, functioning as an infant floor mop, was cleaning as it went. “Went” as in “there went my appetite.”

 

I’m reasonably sure that encrusted joint has long since closed and I would hazard a guess that the baby did not grow up to change the course of the world, unless it didn’t grow up at all. By contrast, that eerie place from the Twilight Zone with its salami sandwich and its NeHi Orange seems in retrospect like a place to take a date to on a romantic night out. Assuming you could find it, which I don’t intend to do. Instead, if Bill Clark ever gets around to writing his guidebook to Missouri’s outstanding lunch spots, I’ll just follow his directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 17th, 2020

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

By Joel M. Vance

 

My octogenarian friend of 60 years and counting, Bill Clark has a best-selling book stuck in his head and I haven’t been able to pry it out, although I’ve tried for years. It is a list of the favorite lunch spots he and his faithful and indefatigable Wednesday birding squad have visited over the years.

 

I’ve often told anyone who cared to listen that Bill Clark is the most fascinating person I’ve ever met and that includes a whole bunch of fascinating people. He is a quintessential Renaissance man. A partial list of his enthusiasms include major league baseball scout, professional boxer and wrestler, longtime official in just about every sport known, weightlifting record holder, entertainment critic, worldwide birding enthusiast, philanthropist, community activist, and contender for the most joint replacements by anyone human (11 at last count).

 

I first met Bill in 1959 at a frigid early season softball game shortly after I started as the sports editor of the Mexico Missouri Evening Ledger. Bill was, at the time, reporting sports for one of the Columbia newspapers—I don’t remember which but at various times he has worked for both of them. I was bundled up in the stands, shivering in the icy late evening air when this burly guy approached, wearing shorts and a T-shirt and flip-flops and introduced himself. If he was affected by the cold it didn’t show. This is a person I think I need to know, I thought to myself.

 

In the ensuing decade we swapped scores over the phone, pretty much dominated the choice of All-state high school teams and became closer friends with each passing year. After decades of writing columns for the Columbia Tribune, Bill was ousted by a new ownership after he wrote a column critical of the Sheriff’s Department for having ticketed him for making a legal but unsignaled turn. It turns out that at least in Columbia when you want to turn right after a stop at a stop sign, you’d better signal it. Common sense should have prevailed—the deputy who pulled Bill over should have issued a warning, but instead issued a ticket. Bill subsequent column was intemperate.

 

The sheriff retaliated with a rebuttal column. So Bill overreacted, the sheriff overreacted, and the Columbia Tribune which, unfortunately for Bill had the last word also overreacted by suspending Bill permanently. The summary judgment by the paper was symptomatic of what megacorporations do today to longtime employees—rewarding them for their loyal service by putting them out if there is even a whiff of something that doesn’t conform to the corporate image. It reminded me of a hunter I once overheard saying that if a new dog didn’t immediately prove out “I put them down.” The paper lost the voice of, in my opinion anyway, Columbia’s number one goodwill ambassador.

 

Bill had proved out for many years, often spending more to acquire material for his column that he was paid for it—he invariably bought lunch for those he interviewed, including me. Bill taught a series of classes in writing, baseball, and birdwatching, for the adult education program in Columbia, again paying out of his pocket for lunches and travel for those in his classes. The few dollars from his columns helped pay for countless tickets to countless performances by theater groups ranging from area high school thespians to traveling Broadway talent. His reviews showcased the Columbia theater scene for decades.

 

It was, for the large part, a thankless effort one which continues today as an Internet blog without the pittance paid by the newspaper. His retirement income from baseball helps and the Atlanta Braves also have helped him through those numerous joint replacements with their orthopedic expertise. Bill has tried to compensate for losing out on his Tribune pittance by opening a subscription blog through Patreon, aided by one of his five multitalented children who is a computer guru (Bill obstinately had clung to an anachronistic manual typewriter for decades—even Mark Twain succumbed to the lure of mechanized typesetting, although he lost his entire fortune doing it).

 

While Bill may have gotten crossways with Missouri’s version of the Sheriff of Nottingham, it was not the only time he and the law have had different versions of life. Some years back I was duck hunting with several members of the Atlanta Braves when Bill was their chief scout for Latin American talent. Over dinner I asked one of the Braves executives (I think the traveling secretary) if he knew Bill Clark. “Oh, old Clark,” he said, “he’s been in every jail in South America.” It turned out it was one jail, in Nicaragua , when Bill was arrested after he bumped an old man while driving  in a dust storm, with zero visibility.  The old man suffered a broken leg.  Latin American jails are notoriously poor places for gringos to wind up. Bill managed to get a phone call to the Braves and after negotiations and access to the deep Braves’ pocket (they were in their glory years with players Bill had scouted and recommended) he managed to bribe his way onto the good side of the iron bars and his criminal record remained spotless until he forgot to signal a turn.

 

Almost every time I hang around with Bill or even when I read his many and varied columns, I find out something new about this incomparable character. For example, in a recent column he reminisced about the time that he and the Hickman High School wrestling coach Dan Judy owned several trotting horses. It was a revelation akin to finding out that Bill was one of the Apollo astronauts. The world of trotting horse racing (you may have seen photos from the 19th century of a driver behind a trotter in a rickety little sulky, a memento of the time when Dan Patch was as famous a horse name as Man-O’-War or whoever this year’s Kentucky Derby winner would have been if the race hadn’t been canceled.

 

That factoid alone would make Bill unique among my acquaintances—how many people do you know

who have owned race horses of any type?

 

In a recent column Bill fessed up to the fact that he is way behind on joining the wonderful world of book authorship. Being a book author is kind of like having once owned a trotting horse, a source of ego boosting but unless you’re the rare Stephen King or John Grisham, is unlikely to boost you into the ranks of the moneyed few. Bill wrote, “When I turned 86 (Bill is 87 now) I had a talk with myself and decided that I probably didn’t have more than 25 more years to live. If I still had plans to write all those great books, I had better start.”

 

He found that after writing about 40,000 words of a memoir of his officiating days, and doing interviews with local black leaders about collecting columns he had written on his interaction with the African-American community of Columbia, what he termed as “the huge number of bank storage boxes containing all my notes and collections” that had been in a storage area on his family farm had burned to the ground destroying everything. “Essentially my whole life work had disappeared. All I had were memories and publishers don’t pay much for undocumented memories.”

 

I beg to differ. While most writing concerns the here and now, there is the rare individual, like Bill Clark, whose here and now is plenty fascinating, but whose undocumented memories are more fascinating than anything life conjures up these days.

 

Bill is more of a Luddite than whoever Lud was, whoever he was, and his editor at the Tribune once told me that it drove me nuts when Bill came in and plopped down a typewritten column probably on copy paper left over from the nineteen fifties, which then had to be typeset before it could be shoveled into the newspaper by computer. There was a two month gap between his ousting at the Tribune and the birth of an Internet blog several times a week. I suspect having a computer savvy son and the urging of his wife, Dolores, of 65 years playing a large part in bringing  about a revival perhaps not seen since biblical times in the rebirth of the Clark column.

 

I quickly subscribed to the new service which unfortunately has not been overwhelmed. Bill’s viewpoint on current issues, his wry observance of the human condition always is entertaining, even when he’s writing locally about things that don’t apply to my part of the world. I haven’t figured out how to negotiate Patreon but you can contact Bill at 3906 Grace Ellen Drive, Columbia, Missouri 65202 – 1796 or call him at area code 573 – 474 – 4510. Just don’t call on Wednesday; that’s birding day and Bill won’t be there. He’ll be somewhere in Missouri  at a birding spot in his new\used Toyota Camry which replaced one that was within shouting distance of 500,000 miles.

 

Bill said that he and the Camry planned to reach the end of the road together, but the Camry didn’t make it and Bill rolls along with the practically new Toyota and 11 new joints.

 

Which brings us to one of the several books Bill has promised me for years that he will apply fingers to (oh, horror of horrors, (he has delivered his manual typewriter to the same fate as the venerable Camry) in favor of a computer keyboard. The book would be a survey of the favorite lunch spots of the birding group, collected over the many years the birders have chowed down during visits to about 1200 conservation locations in Missouri, ranging from river accesses, to the state’s largest conservation areas.

 

If ever you have, as I have, spent time roaming afield far from home when hunger struck at midday, you know the value of finding one of those rare eating establishments that serves up memorable food. There’s not always a McJunque on every corner in those remote towns where wildlife areas exist and the hidden mom-and-pop eatery that makes Bill’s list is one to be cherished and shared, which is why I think a guidebook to the state’s lunch spots would be a bestseller. But first it has to be written and that’s where the snag has been. Even the most productive of Renaissance men would have trouble applying britches to seat and fingers to keyboard to produce a book. The material is there waiting to be transferred to type, but good intentions are merely asphalt on the road to hell.

 

And maybe he has lost his notes and documents to fire but he is far from having lost his mind where those same notes and memories reside. I want to read his memoir. And, although my weightlifting mainly is relegated to lifting a fork at dinner time, I even want to read his history of weightlifting (his notes of decades of lifting and writing about it mercifully were stored in an obscure corner of the basement and escaped the disastrous fire). Where else are you going to find a history of weightlifting? And I think the African-American community of Columbia if not the country would be interested in the thoughts of an old white guy who’s always been far ahead of the curve in racial relations. Those are just several of the five books he has indicated he has plans for. But, butt to chair, Bill. They won’t write themselves.

 

In a recent column, Bill talked about the impact Covid 19 has had on him his family and his activities. He has a pile of tickets bought in advance of the many entertainments he had planned to visit and review which now will not happen. Instead of asking for his money back, he has told the various venues to apply the ticket cost to next year’s productions. Typical Bill Clark—giving back that which did not need to be given back.

 

Here is Bill’s take not just on Covid 19, but on life itself: “the world must reopen, then recover before the bright lights go on again. Take care of your family and yourself. Keep your distance so that we can eventually gather together again in the music halls and theaters and enjoy the world of make-believe.”

 

Subscribe and enjoy—and don’t forget to signal your turns.  

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 10th, 2020

CONFESSIONS OF A SAUNTER STAFFER

By Joel M. Vance

 

 

The late, great, hard-to-define, inscrutable, Leon Redbone (who was fond of taking Polaroid photos of his audience), grabb  ed me with his first recording popular among people like me who appreciate musicians who don’t conform to the norm—and God knows,Redbone was far from the norm. But he left the world with this bit of wisdom which has livened my life. As he told us in song , “if I ever left my house without my walking stick well it would be something I could never explain.”

 

Never mind that credit card thing, take Leon’s advice and never leave home without your walking stick. Mine is about 6 feet long, longer than recommended for a walking staff/stick (ideal is supposed to be a staff that reaches from the ground to your armpit), but I love it and would not be without it, not only for its varied uses, but for its intricate design. It is not carved at the upper end as so many walking staffs are, but has instead been decorated by the sharp bill of a woodpecker.

 

I don’t know what the bird was looking for, but when I left the staff outside, the hungry, bug seeking woodpecker drilled a neat hole and, possibly miffed at not finding a juicy morsel inside, ripped off a couple of chunks of the Eastern red cedar, and then flew off looking for greener pastures.

 

I harvested the staff from our woods which are a composite of Eastern red cedar, various oaks, hickorys and a few other trees that make up a typical mid-Missouri forest. Cedar is so dominant that we named the road into our place Cedar Grove Lane and would’ve named it Cedar Glade Lane except that somebody copped that name first for another road north of us.

 

Among the first things any diligent little Sunday school going kid learns is to memorize the 23rd Psalm, “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me….” There’s lots of cool stuff in that psalm. In case you have forgotten, it begins “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” I’m not so sure that I want to be considered a sheep, in need of somebody to herd me, but I like that part about “shall not want.” I take that to mean that I won’t go hungry nor ever be without a good bird dog or in times when I may lust for one of Oscar’s French dip sandwiches, and a good quail hunt.

 

(Oscar’s, by the way, is a local restaurant which not only has outstanding French dip sandwiches, but also outstanding catfish dinners.)

 

Before we get to the walking staff part, the 23rd Psalm continues “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadith me beside the still waters.” While snoozing in a green pasture on a soft summer day can be pretty relaxing, I think I’d be careful to look around for deposits left by the pasture residents before lying down, and the prospect of still waters, possibly with bass or trout, is considerably more appealing than sprawling amid cow flops.

 

Anyway, back to the walking staff which, in the Psalm, belongs to the Lord, not to me. I’m just a sheep who needs herding with the rod (or possibly a good butt whipping) and protection from predators with the staff. Various Celtic tribes pioneered the use of walking sticks, possibly about the same time God did, at least 2000 years ago and since I have Celtic DNA (Scot Irish) I gravitated naturally to using a staff on rambles afield.

 

The Celts used their walking staffs for weapons and, according to one source, as a sort of primitive pole  for vaulting across streams and ditches. Druids used a staff as a leadership symbol often in religious ceremonies. “It was a form of status and the type of wood used depicted the rank of the person in the ancient tribes.”  Thus says one website on the history of walking staffs. Since cedar is one of the most ancient of woods, I would hope that my peckerwood scepter carries with it both status and rank, and perhaps the kind of magic properties nowadays most often performed in the hands of Harry Potter characters.

 

Early on, walking staffs became more elaborate with intricate carvings, mostly having to do with a story or mythology. I don’t know what kind of story my woodpecker was trying to tell, but I suspect it had to do with edible insects, and the bird gave it up because the story had no good ending.

 

John Muir said it best “the mountains are calling and I must go.” Muir, a Scot, and a former sheepherder is considered the Godfather of the National Park system and was Teddy Roosevelt’s prime advisor when it came to preservation of wildlands. He preferred to be called a saunterer rather than a hiker as did his predecessor and major influence Henry Thoreau. There are varying interpretations of the meaning of the verb “to saunter”–one proposing that it means to go to the holy land and another that it merely means without country.

 

Saunterers argue that hiking is merely going from one place to a destination, whereas to saunter is to pause and smell the flowers. Boiling it down, can you find morels by charging along with purpose? You need to use that (shall we call it a saunter staff?) To poke through the leaves looking for the elusive fungi. In a pinch, you can use your saunter staff to flip rattlesnakes out of the path, knockdown spiderwebs, and lacking rattlesnakes flip, those deadly little sticks that somehow otherwise would leap between your legs and send you sprawling.

 

I once wrote an article on walking staffs and a reader sent me a beautifully crafted staff for which I hope I thanked him profusely. The knob end was intricately designed by nature herself, featuring  aberrant protrusions that were perfect for fastening a leather thong through which I could fit my hand, like the grips on ski poles. It had a resemblance to the caduceus symbol of the medical profession. I used this staff for many years—actually abused it to the point where the tip splintered and the finish wore completely off. It has been retired, replaced by the woodpecker designed staff I now use.

 

I’ve been called a peckerwood more than once now it actually is an accurate description, at least of my saunter staff. A good percentage of hikers don’t use a staff but there are so many advantages to one that I can’t see why not. first of all, it provides stability. Rather than two feet, you now have a third  point of balance and the more decrepit one becomes, the more need there is for all the balance you can get (speaking as one for whom the description “decrepit” is discouragingly accurate).

 

A survival website called Survival Weekly offers a bunch of suggestions on uses for walking staffs, including using one to string up a radio antenna. Possibly this could be used to tune in late night jazz sitting around the campfire warding off the neighborhood timberwolves. “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” I’ve never dealt with a savage breast before, but you never know— a little John Coltrane late in the night has untapped potential when that howling you hear just outside the firelight is not Miles Davis. However, it’s more likely that you will use your walking staff for things other than fending off aggressive critters in the wee hours.

 

I’ve never encountered a mountain lion or a ticked off grizzly bear while hiking, but depending on location it’s not impossible. However, even armed with my sturdy woodpecker-carved cedar stick, I’d be more comfortable with a can of bear spray and a .357 magnum revolver. Maybe I could just loan ursa arctos horribillis my iPhone ear pads for a little soothing John Coltrane? Except I don’t have an iPhone and ear pads. I don’t have a .357 magnum or bear spray either, but our mid-Missouri woods are so far devoid of apex predators—oh,we have the occasional reported mountain lion and once a timber wolf showed up in North Missouri, but I’ll take my chances with my woodpecker stick.

 

The most dangerous critter I’ve ever encountered was a striped skunk once. He seemed to know whose path it was and it wasn’t mine. I agreed and we carefully skirted each other and continued on our respective way. Once, on a ramble through our woods, I spied a cedar tree with claw marks above my head. If it was a white tailed deer buck rubbing its antlers, it was the biggest one in the history of deer. And if it was a cottontail rabbit nibbling, it had to of been at least as big as Harvey, the mythical invisible rabbit friend of Elwood P. Dowd, Jimmy Stewart’s best friend in the movie of the same name. My first thought was “bear!” That was years ago and I’ve seen no evidence since, nor any bear. But I have my stick.

 

One comment on the survival website says “use as a crutch, improvised paddle or pole, for signaling, a prop support for cooking, snake management, stringing an antenna for ham radio, a digging stick, temporary seat, rescue work, and many others.”

 

I can’t quite see the use of the saunter staff as a improvised pole. As a long-time canoe poler I can testify that unless you are more than 12 feet tall, your saunter staff will not be effective as a canoe pole—a typical canoe pole is about 12 feet long.

 

I use mine extensively in late summer during what I call “spider time.” That’s when the mature web builders of the forest decorate the trails with intricately woven snares to catch supper. I feel remorse every time I knock down one of these webs, but the alternative, is to face plant one dead center and while there is no peril from the non-venomous little arachnids, most folks, including me, dislike scraping sticky web out of their eyelashes. So, I hike the trails waving my staff in front of me like Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

 

Leon Redbone died about a year ago, way too young at 69. “Oh the thing that makes me click on lovers Lane/would go for naught if I were caught without my cane.” Rest in peace, Leon. And rest assured I will not be caught without my stick.

Read More
  • Blog
  • April 3rd, 2020

A HANDFULL OF SUNSETS

By Joel M. Vance

 

 

 By Joel M. Vance

                There’s something about a brookie.  Imagine getting all gooey over a fish that has to strain to reach 10 inches.  It’s like Mike Tyson getting sentimental about knocking out Pee Wee Herman.

                Still…there’s something about a brookie.

                I love the little fish with the fierce heart.  Maybe it’s that a brookie isn’t sophisticated.  I’m not either.  I don’t half know one fly from another and a brook trout simply doesn’t care.  If it looks like food, he’ll give it a shot.  I’m the same way.  I like beer and brats.  A brook trout is a beer and brats fish, designed by Jackson Pollock.

                Maybe I love brook trout because they are the mine canaries of a stream.  Rainbows and browns, cutthroats and bull trout can handle temperatures and pollution that will turn a brook trout belly-up.  Or maybe it’s something else.  Researchers claim that brook trout do have a fair tolerance for acidity and temperature, but don’t compete well with other fish.  Maybe that’s it.  I get grouchy when my stream has too many anglers.  Me and brookies, we like the stream to ourselves.

 

                 In the words of researchers, “Brook trout are vulnerable to angling.”  So what?  Just because a brook trout is naive is no reason to trash him.  He is a fiery fish of unlimited courage that lives where virtually nothing save the occasional osprey preys on him.  He is not stupid; he is noble in the sense that Sir Galahad was noble because of his naïve innocence.  Everything is black and white to a brook trout.  You’re either food or you’re not.

                Call it stupid.

 

                Just not in front of me.

 

                Fishing writers tend to disparage brook trout.  They damn them with faint praise: beautiful but stupid.  Sounds like rednecks telling dumb blonde jokes in a bar.  “How many brook trout does it take to change a light bulb….”Are brook trout dumb?  Famed fishing writer Joe Bates wrote about highly-selective trophy brookies up in the Maine woods where they didn’t see an angler a year.  They weren’t dumb.

 

                Other anglers admit they use 12-foot leaders with elf-hair tippets and tiny flies to catch those stupid eight-inch fish.  So what if a brook trout will attack a chunk of nightcrawler.  A rainbow trout will gratefully accept two kernels of Jolly Green Giant on a No. 12 hook, too.

 

                Could it be that today’s brook trout has been pushed upstream so far, ahead of water warming and trace pollution, that it’s eating out of a nearly bare cupboard and feels compelled to take whatever looks like food?  That’s not dumb–it’s desperation.  Brook trout belong to hidden little streams as intimate as a chat with a lovely woman in a dark bistro.  I grew up on brook trout on northwest Wisconsin streams like Sucker Creek and Thirty-Three and Weirgor. 

 

                  Only one time have I fished for brook trout that reached weight and length you read about in books written before I was born, a depressingly long time ago. That was in the High Uinta mountains of Utah where a wealthy contractor had built a resort that was half for profit, half for his own enjoyment.

 

                    Being a contractor with heavy equipment available, he gouged a series of small lakes out of the thin mountain soil and allowed them to fill with snowmelt from the nearby Uintas. Then he stocked brook trout. You fish from float tubes only—no boats or wading— and use barbless hooks, catch and release only. The grateful fish gorged on natural food, grew to astonishing size, posed obligingly for photographs with which one (me) could taunt envious fellow anglers back in the flatlands of Missouri.   Today’s angler is more likely to encounter a brookie of about 8 to 10 inches long and perhaps ½ pound in weight. The largest weight I’ve seen recorded for brook trout is an astonishing 17 lbs. 10 oz.   

 

                          Except for the often intrusive manipulations of man those brook trout shouldn’t even have been there. Brook trout are native to the Eastern United States, not to the high Uintas or Wyoming or any other Western state. They are transplants who have adapted to the two thirds of the country where they didn’t exist in historic times. And, for that matter, they are not trout but char, a distinction which matters more to another brook trout than it does to me, especially at spawning time. I’m just happy they exist at all, no matter where, for they are as a friend once described them, “a handful of sunsets.”

 

                         Long ago I fished with an old guy named George Mattis who knew more about the woods and wildlife than 99.9 percent of the outdoor writers of the time.  He was an outdoor writer, in fact wrote the best-selling book ever published by the Outdoor Life Book Club.  But mostly he was a chunky little bachelor who’d gone to high school with my mother and who took pity on a young guy whose idea of fishing tended toward dunking turkey liver for channel catfish and who didn’t know beans about trout.  There were better things in life, he thought, and he shared them with me. I was carp comfortable because that’s the fish I grew up with, a fish of muddy water which tasted pretty much the same. You didn’t need intricate little insect imitations to catch carp; you needed a concoction of Wheaties, combined with sorghum molasses, rolled into a ball and molded on a number 2 hook. If you got hungry you could eat the bait.

 

                George used some flies, but was partial to crappie minnows when he wanted to catch big brook trout (which he kept and ate).  One researcher found brook trout almost never took other fish–just insects.  Tell that to George.  His crappie minnows were fish candy to the trout on Thirty Three Creek. Bait fishing violated the canons of purist trout angling, but George was no stream killer.  He hiked farther than any other angler on streams where few others fished anyway and the few trout he took to eat were cream off the top.

 

                You had to fight through alder swamps and stinging nettle and swarms of deer flies and mosquitoes just to get to beyond where the rest of the crowd quit and went to the car.  That was where George put his rod together.  “I don’t start fishing until the cigarette butts and chewing gum wrappers run out,” he said, busting through another impenetrable jungle like an aging halfback going off tackle.

 

                “If there’s a fisherman’s path, just keep going.”  There was no path where we were and it was a brutally hot day and I had a terrible thirst, possibly the result of an overindulgence in a local Wisconsin brew the night before that, while it may have lacked the indefinable bouquet of craft beer, had the advantage of being cheap.  “I gotta have a drink,” I rasped.  “Is this water safe to drink?”

 

                George shrugged.  “Bears poop back here.  Up to you.”

 

                I chanced it, felt better, and we pressed on.  Finally we came to a bend far back in the Blue Hills where the stream charged into a pool, hit the high bank on the far side, then eddied, scouring a deep, tannin-dark hole.  George nodded, as if to an old friend, dug his Coke bottle from his hip pocket, and shook a minnow free.  That’s the way he kept his live bait oxygenated–a Coke bottle jiggling in his hip pocket.  The minnow swam around, wondering what the hell pass in life it had come to.

 

                I flipped a wet fly into the large, slowly swirling pool and a brook trout whacked it and I dragged the fish, flipping and wriggling, onto the grassy bank.  It was about eight inches long.  George, meanwhile, had landed a rich beauty whose dotted sides glowed with color, like the dabs on a pointillist artist’s palette.  It would go a foot, maybe 14 inches.  He whacked it on the head with his belt knife, expertly gutted it, and stowed it in a wicker creel that Theodore Gordon might have worn.

 

                George was from another time, another century.  He remembered when the loggers came to Birchwood and cut the woods over the first time.  In winter, he wore snowshoes that looked to be 100 years old. He ate venison and brook trout. The local grocery store was foreign territory. Sometimes he would take a small frying pan with him, a salt shaker and some oil and fry up his trout on the streambank and there, alone in the sweet woods he would dine luxuriously. George was a man of another century—the one before, not the one to come.

 

                Next morning, we had a fisherman’s breakfast, brewed up by my Aunt Vic, who had been dealing with smelly anglers for about 70 years.  She fried a bounty of eggs, heaped diced potatoes and toast…and a platter of fresh-fried brook trout.  You ate them like an ear of corn.  Nevermind the careful peeling with a fork that you see in upscale restaurants.  We’re talking fisherman’s breakfast.  You didn’t talk; you ate.  You ate with both hands as if there were no tomorrow.  You picked up a brook trout by head and tail and ate your way from butt to neck on one side, turned it over and ate the other side.

 

                The coffee was lustily constructed to float bricks.  After breakfast, there was a period of contemplation, punctuated by grateful groans.  Then you were ready for another day of brook trout fishing.

 

                This is the way I learned to fish for brookies.  It was a meat-gathering exercise.  Since, I have fished for them in Utah, the high mountains of Colorado and the remote streams of Wyoming’s Big Horns.  I’ve been back to Thirty Three and Sucker Creek, but George has moved on to more distant streams and it isn’t the same.

 

                      I went back to Thirty Three Creek a decade ago, on an uncomfortably hot early fall day. There was a small parking area at the bridge across the creek and I rigged up a fly rod and plunged into the faint fisherman’s trail alongside the stream. It didn’t take long before my T-shirt was soggy with sweat. The creek was narrow and so low that the pools were few and far between. I had a hit on a woolly bugger that, at first, felt like the tug of a trout, but what came to hand was a large sucker, about the right size for a pike bait.

 

                      After a couple hundred yards of unproductive, nearly dry riverbed, I realized this was not the trout stream that George Mattis and I had cherished so long before and I gave it up and trudged back to my truck. There was a conservation agent there, dutifully checking to see who would be fool enough to struggle through the brush alongside this barren stretch of former trout stream. “I don’t think there are any trout left here,” he said. “We’ve had several dry years and most of the streams around here lost their trout.” I resisted the impulse to snarl “thanks a lot!” I gratefully gulped down a bottle of water, gone as tepid as that from the stream…. although presumably free from bear poop.

 

                      The dutiful agent had no idea that that stream had lost more than its trout—it lost a big piece of me in the process. I don’t know if there is a heaven or not but if George Mattis is looking down, as romantics are fond of telling us those who have left us do in their off hours when they are not playing harps or whatever, George could only have been thinking “dumb kid, things change.” And not always for the better. Maybe 33 Creek went to heaven along with George. After all, it was his stream far more than it was mine. The legacy he left me was an appreciation for brook trout and the knowledge that no matter how thirsty you get be aware that bears poop in the stream.

 

 

 

 

Read More