Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • July 10th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


You may have seen it, but if not Google Trump golf cartoon and see what depicting the truth cost Michael De Adder. He is a Canadian cartoonist who drew a political caricature of Donald Trump standing over the drowned bodies of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead in the shallows of the Rio Grande River. Trump is standing beside his golf cart, club in hand, saying “Do you mind if I play through?”


De Adder’s contract with Brunswick News, Inc., was canceled. The company claims it was not because of the golf cartoon, but De Adder says “I had every reason to suspect it was over that cartoon. I was given no reason. I inquired and inquired.” He added every time he submitted a Trump cartoon, “it got heated every time there was a Trump in the lineup.”


The afore-mentioned Jesus Christ also said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Today, Donald Trump, who seems to suffer from a Messiah complex, would say, “Let the little children come unto to me…. And suffer.”


As I write, the president of the United States, fresh off having served his perverted ego with a parade on the Fourth of July, the nation’s birthday, during which he made a self-serving speech which included the curious fact that the revolutionary army, fighting to separate the American colonies from England in 1775, bravely conquered the English airports, and inspired the national anthem which wasn’t written until nearly 40 years later.  Airport victories were sparse in colonial America.


Donald Trump is as much a stranger to historical fact as he is to the truth. The truth here is that the small child who died with her father trying to swim their way to freedom is a direct victim of the cruel policies of the man who daily desecrates the nation’s highest office. Another president, Harry Truman, said “The buck stops here.” George W. Bush, a more recent president, said “I am the decider.”


The point of both presidential quotes is that the person ultimately responsible for presidential policies is the guy in the Oval Office. And that, unfortunately, happens to be Donald J Trump at least until the nation’s electorate comes to its senses and kicks his ass out of office.


If we believe that to be true—if indeed the president is responsible for the consequences of his decisions— then there is no other conclusion to draw except that Donald J Trump is a child killer. That is a terrible accusation make against the person who represents the face and voice of our democracy, but there it is.


You have only to look at photos from the concentration camps at the southern border, read stories about children and adults being denied basic sanitary needs, being fed inferior food (if at all), having to sleep on concrete with insufficient bed clothing (if at all), and enduring a litany of indignities not seen since Nazi Germany was in full flower.


Certainly not seen in this country since the indefensible treatment of Native Americans herded into reservation slums because the ancestral mentors of Donald Trump coveted what the Indians had owned forever and were able to take it by force. How long will it be until Trump (who has implied he might indeed resort to it) authorizes the use of lethal force to kill off the asylum seeking migrants at the border? He already has a ready to shoot militia just itching to torch off a few rounds, and apparently a subset of the immigration and customs authorities with a similar “kill them all and let God sort them out” philosophy.


It’s a truism that history repeats itself and it seems to be happening. Chances are there is no possibility there ever will be reparations to African-Americans for slavery, to Native Americans for the indignities suffered by them, nor for similar indignities suffered by Japanese-Americans during World War II. As a nation, we probably can’t afford to make up for past sins, but that’s no justification for committing yet another sin against humanity.  Trump, as I write, is not at work dealing with the crisis at the southern border— he is on a golfing vacation at taxpayer expense.


I am wearing a T-shirt with a circled caricature of Trump circled by the familiar diagonal backslash indicating something that is forbidden. Above and below the circle are the words “resist hate.” I admit it is hypocritical of me to endorse the idea of resisting hate because I fiercely hate Donald J Trump and all he stands for. Almost equally I loath the chinless wonder, Mitch McConnell, and his senatorial sidekick, the little dictator Lindsey Graham.


That unholy trio and their equally reprehensible Republican co-conspirators in Congress do nothing to alleviate the misery at the border, loudly and falsely blaming everything on the Democrats, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and any other Democrat within the memory of modern man.


I am forced, reluctantly, to admit they are faintly justified in blaming the Democrats because that timid party seems unable to get off its puny butt and fight for the right things. Instead, the Democrats seem to be paralyzed by infighting, especially among the nearly 2 dozen people who would be president, each of whom has an agenda largely varying from all the others.


Instead of uniting in common purpose, which the horrible border crisis demands, they unite only in trumpeting “Not Trump!” and then deviate into insulting each other. Meanwhile, hundreds of hopeful migrants, fleeing from oppression, danger, and virtually every miserable affliction human beings can imagine, are compressed into cages in sweltering desert heat, amid conditions that, if they were inflicted on farm animals would bring down outraged local law enforcement authorities en masse.  These are human beings, not stockyard cattle, not feedlot animals destined for the slaughterhouse.


If I were president, which thank God I’m not, I would gather unto myself the power of the presidency and, starting with an immediate visit to the border, start kicking asses and taking names. Instead of signing inane, idiotic, and largely inconsequential executive orders, I would put my name to ordering those responsible for fixing things to fix them. I would, as former Pres. Lyndon Johnson was wont to do, call in the ranking members of Congress, of both parties, get in their faces and demand both answers and actions.


Further, I would take the case against  the inaction of Congress to the American people, explaining that we are not a nation that treats people the way these migrants have been treated and reprise the famous outburst by the fictional television anchorman Howard Beale in the movie “Network”who told his viewers to “Get up out of your chairs, go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’”


Further, I would challenge Congress to find the money to establish a viable economic Peace Corps, in cooperation with those who one time were our allies (most of whom Trump has managed to alienate) to revive the lives and hopes for Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras.


Instead of cozying up to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Chinese president XI Jinping and others of the world’s more odiferous dictators, why couldn’t Donald Trump call for a summit of the leaders of Central and South America, plus Mexico and why not throw in Canada, to brainstorm for ways to bring the devastated countries of Central America back from the brink of anarchy to civilized society?


I’ll tell you why— because such a summit would not be about solutions.  It also would not be all about Trump and he couldn’t stand that. Even if he were to convene the leaders among the Americas, I suspect he would insist on making it a celebration of him, probably with another freaking parade, and somehow would manage to piss off everyone but his bloodthirsty base.


Donald Trump’s solution to a humanitarian crisis is to build a wall. Robert Frost, perhaps America’s most beloved poet said this about walls:


 “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

   What I was walling in or walling out,

   And to whom I was like to give offence.

   Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

  That wants it down….”


Trump says he wants the press admitted to the concentration camps to see what the conditions are, despite having made every effort to deny press admittance. According to him, conditions are kind of like a summer camp and are better than the ones from which the asylum-seekers fled (which makes one wonder why, if things were so great at home, did women and children walk hundreds of miles under horrific conditions to endure more horrific conditions at our border?)


Tucker Carlson, Fox News mouthpiece accompanied Trump recently to North Korea for his schmooze session with dictator Kim Jong Un. Carlson, perhaps unwittingly (or half wittedly), had this to say about Un, “you got to be honest about what it means to lead a country, it means killing people.” If you can assume that Carlson, one of Trump’s pet talking heads, echoes the sentiments of his favorite president, what does it say about the man in charge?


The renowned Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of a narcissist personality, a mental disorder similar to or associated with someone who is a sociopath. Mayo says those with this mental disorder exhibit these symptoms:


                   “Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration, Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it. Exaggerate achievements and talents.  Are preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.   Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people.  Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior.  Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations.  Take advantage of others to get what they want.  Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.  Be envious of others and believe others envy them.  Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious.  Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office. 


                “At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:  Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment.  Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted,  React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior,  Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior.”


If you can read through this depressing list of character flaws and not think of Donald Trump, you’re not paying attention. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to become convinced that we are being led by a person with a serious mental illness. We will all suffer the consequences of this, but probably not nearly as severely as those poor souls incarcerated at the border of our country.


Meanwhile, the right wing hate team is ramping up ahead of Trump’s reelection campaign, claiming that Kamala Harris, a leading candidate, has accused doctors of being racist because they wear white coats, and accusing Megan Rapinoe and the US World Cup champion women’s soccer team of stomping on the American flag after their victory. The Harris accusation is totally false—a damn lie— and the flag accusation is mostly false (a team member accidentally fumbled the flag for about three seconds, quickly scooped it up, and no one “stomped” on it).

Also meanwhile: a Public Policy poll (admittedly, a Democrat organization) showed a day or two ago that if the election were held now, and if Rapinoe were running for president against Trump she’d beat him.


Would that it were so.









Read More
  • Blog
  • July 5th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


A long time ago, I wrote most of the manuscript on eggs figuring that there would be massive interest in buying a book about something that is so common to everyone—we eat them for breakfast, we even began as a form of egg inside our mommies. I had just read a book about peppers and figured that if a writer could profit from writing about jalapenos, I should be able to make a buck from writing about the morning scramble.


So far, the nation’s book publishers have disagreed with me, but I did collect a massive amount of information on eggs, including countless bits of trivia by which I could (and you can if you want) bore people to insensibility (either that, or convince them that you are way past time to be committed to a mental health facility).


So here, for your information or as evidence to be used when the man in the white coats come for you, are many tidbits of egg trivia. It’s been a slow week, it’s summer hot, and I think I’ll take a nap.


Samuel Butler, back in the 1600s, referred to something being “like nest eggs to make clients lay.”   “Nest egg” as used today means a savings account (or in cooking to describe stiffly- beaten egg whites into which the yolk is deposited for baking), but in the chicken world, it means an artificial egg to encourage a hen to lay in a preferred nest, rather than in a hidden spot.  Doesn’t much matter what color, size or shape it is, as long as it is roughly like a real chicken egg.


                One pigeon fancier experimented with different colors, shapes and sizes.  He first put black dots on the eggs, then red.  Didn’t matter.  Then he used other colors, applied in stripes and dots.  Same thing–pigeons accepted them as if they were real pigeon eggs.  He then tried a white Christmas tree light bulbs and a ceramic cylinder.  “They set it,” he said, “but with less enthusiasm.”  Pigeons have brooded small oranges, table tennis and golf balls and quail eggs, as well as eggs from chickens and even from a goose.  No wonder a cowbird egg doesn’t puzzle them.  The researcher said albatrosses will brood a milk bottle and recalled seeing a newspaper photo of a chicken brooding a nest- full of walnuts.


                Darning eggs are another egg-shaped device.  Drop a darning egg (often of wood) into a sock with a hole in it and it makes mending easier, either toe or heel.


                There are few egg quotations, but Shakespeare always is good for a quote on almost anything and eggs are no exception: “They say we are almost as like as eggs,” says Leontes to Mamillius in “A Winter’s Tale.”  Of course, if you consider the ostrich and the bee hummingbird, that simile breaks down bigtime. Cervantes also used the simile: “He is like one as one egg is like another.”  But either could have said, “We’re as alike as peas in a pod,” which someone else did.  Cervantes also adjured against keeping all your eggs in one basket. 


                The modern variation of the quote is: “Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket!”  And the corollary is that if you do put all your eggs in one basket…don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.  Robert Burton, who died in 1640, said someone was “going as if he trod on eggs,” which is the beginning of today’s “walking on eggs” cliché to describe someone proceeding very carefully.  Samuel Butler said, “A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.”


                A couple of more modern philosophers, Ambrose Bierce, the irreverent author of The Devil’s Dictionary, and humorist Dave Barry, also have explored eggs.  Talking about “sacred” scarabs, Bierce compared them to “tumble-bug” beetles.  “Its habit of incubating its eggs in a ball of ordure may also have commended it to the favor of the priesthood, and may some day assure it an equal reverence among ourselves. True, the American beetle is an inferior beetle, but the American priest is an inferior priest.”  Bierce also libeled a favorite egg dish, custard: “Custard, n. A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook.”


                And Barry invoked eggs while discussing the intricacies of fish sex: “…generally when two fish want to have sex, they swim around and around for hours, looking for someplace to go, until finally the female gets really tired and has a terrible headache, and she just dumps her eggs right on the sand and swims away. Then the male, driven by some timeless, noble instinct for survival, eats the eggs. So the truth is that fish don’t reproduce at all, but there are so many of them that it doesn’t make any difference.”


The description of someone as a “good egg” or “bad egg” goes back at least 150 years.  There are many references to people being bad eggs from the late 1840s on (and the phrase seems to have been common then).  F. Scott Fitzgerald used the phrase “a good egg” in his 1922 novel The Beautiful and the Damned.  Next time you see the original King Kong movie, ignore Fay Wray’s screams and listen for a character to say, “He’s a tough egg, all right.”  As a teenager I was far more interested in hearing Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer character describe the various women he loved and shot, but he did talk about “those two eggs” when describing a couple of lowlifes in “Lonely Night”.


                Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary is a compendium of waspish definitions.  He said, “They say that hens do cackle loudest when There’s nothing vital in the eggs they’ve laid; And there are hens, professing to have made A study of mankind, who say that men Whose business ’tis to drive the tongue or pen Make the most clamorous fanfaronade O’er their most worthless work…”


“Chicken manure is extremely rich in nitrogen which is needed in all plant life. It makes an excellent addition to the compost pile, which in turn helps produce better vegetables.


Egg tapping is a custom practiced during Easter in many places.  The principle of the game is to hold an egg firmly and tap your opponent’s egg without breaking your own egg.  The  rules for this custom varied from country to another.  This tradition is still practiced today in southern Louisiana during Easter festivities. 


China ranks as the world’s leading egg-producing country, and the United States ranks second. In Siberia people believed that shamans or witch doctors were hatched from iron eggs laid by a mythical bird. Eggs are symbols of life and fertility.  Easter eggs symbolize the Resurrection and the renewal of life that comes with spring. China’s best known eggs are called “hundred year old eggs” and they are a delicacy. The Chinese have decorated a baby’s crib with egg designs to attract good luck.


Decorating Easter eggs is considered a fine art in many parts of Europe, especially Hungary, the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe.  To Carl Faberge, jeweler to Czar Nicholas II, egg decorating was a fine art.  This gifted artist created enameled and jewel- encrusted Easter eggs that were marvels of beauty and ingenuity.  The ancient Teutons believed that on Easter, rabbits laid eggs.  Thus the beginning of the Easter bunny.  To refuse the gift of an Easter egg was very rude.  It was the same as refusing the friendship of the person offering it.


An Easter egg with two yolks meant great luck and fortune for its owner.  Eggs blessed at Easter could ward off illness.  The Mayans believed the egg could free persons thought to be under the spell of the Evil Eye.  Medicine men would pass an egg back and forth many times before the face of the person believed to bewitched.  The medicine men would then break the egg, look at the yolk as though it were the evil eye, and immediately bury it in a secret spot.  The bewitched would be cured of the evil spell.


In olden days it was said that any egg laid on Friday would cure a stomach ache.  Easter eggs planted in vineyards were supposed to guard vines against thunder and hail.  Coloring and embellishing eggs was a custom during the middle ages in England.  Edward The First’s household accounts for the year 1200 showed an expenditure of eighteen pence for 450 eggs to be colored or decorated with gold leaf for distribution to the royal members of the household.


It is an old courting custom to present beautifully decorated eggs to a favored sweetheart or suitor.  Golden eggs symbolize great fortune to recipients. Chickens do not chew their food (I just threw that in case you’re getting hungry for an omelet). The food is moistened in the throat, and ground up in an organ just before the stomach called the gizzard. If a chicken is on the range, it will eat grit, hard particles like small stones. These particles are what the food grinds against in the gizzard.


                Does any kid today say, “Last one in’s a rotten egg!” when he’s making a running dive in the ol’ swimmin’ hole?  To be a literal rotten egg, of course, would be to smell really horrible, so a dunk in the swimming hole could only help.  How about “egging” someone on?  Does it mean you throw eggs at them to keep them in motion.  No–the word is a corruption of a Saxon word “eggian” which means to goad.


                Calling someone an “egghead” means he’s an intellectual, but it’s said derisively as if there is something wrong with being one.   You don’t want to be labeled an egghead, but you’d bask in the glow of being called “a good egg.”  No one said descriptive clichés have to be consistent.


The ostrich, the largest living bird, lays white eggs that weigh up to 3 pounds. In contrast, the Cuban bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird, lays eggs no larger than peas!  Oology (the collection and study of eggs) shows us that shapes and colors of birds’ eggs are often related to protective strategies. Birds that nest in holes or other cavities, like owls and woodpeckers, lay eggs that are rounded and white so they can be seen in the dark nest by the parent. Birds that nest on ledges, like seabirds, usually have a pyriform or pointed egg to keep them from rolling out of the nest. Birds that nest in the open lay colored eggs to camouflage them with the environment.  While birds are nesting and caring for their eggs, most reptiles are busy laying and burying them. Because they are usually buried and don’t need to be camouflaged, reptile eggs are white. To hatch from their eggs, snakes are endowed with an egg tooth that they use to cut their way out of their shell.  Some eggs are incubated internally.


Gastric brooding frogs will swallow their eggs and incubate them in their stomach until they hatch, then the young will be regurgitated. Suriname toads deposit eggs on the female’s back where a thin layer of skin soon grows over them. When the tadpoles are ready to hatch, they burst out from underneath the skin


                Eggshell porcelain has nothing to do with eggs.  It refers to the eggshell-like thinness of the porcelain.  The process is Ming dynasty (1403-24) Chinese and other Chinese emperors revived the style periodically.


                The only famous person recognized by the Encyclopedia Britannica named Egg is Augustus (1816-63), an English painter who was “famous in his day” which means no one remembers him today.  He also was an actor, equally forgotten by stage historians. 


Because of its connections with new life, the egg has been touted as both an aphrodisiac and fertility insurance. Central European peasants rubbed eggs on their plows hoping to improve the crops. The French bride broke an egg on the doorstep before entering her new home to assure a large family. Back before Nero practiced fiddle pyrotechnics, his consort Livia was told to warm an egg on her bosom. When it hatched, the sex of the chick would foretell the sex of her unborn child. All went as predicted and the Emperor Tiberius (as well as an old wives’ tale) was born.


                The longest distance an egg, presumably chicken, was thrown without breaking is 106 meters.  I doubt the egg was thrown in a gravel pit or the length of an Interstate highway.  Maybe thrown into a pit of goose down?  What group of eccentrics would gather to throw eggs and measure the results?  Who are these people and have we seen them on an X- Files episode?  I would hope the same group (it’s daunting to think of more than one such gathering) dropped an egg 183 meters without breaking it. A couple of other records that I’d rather not think about are for the most hard- boiled eggs eaten (14 in 58 seconds) and the most raw eggs eaten (13 in 3.2 seconds, a terrifying image).


                Egg use in art was widespread in the early Renaissance.  Artists mixed a witch’s brew of ingredients to get colors.  Called tempera, the paint might have had egg yolks (the process often is called “egg tempera”), calves’ hooves, various oils, clay and various powders such as ground marble and gold dust.  The eggs, to provide the best paint, should come from “city hens” as opposed to those from the country.  Presumably hens from the city were more cultured, perhaps taken to art museums where they could appreciate the exquisite application of their reproductive efforts.  Country hens, on the other hand, were accustomed to pecking in cowshit and could not be expected to appreciate Botticelli or Van Eyck, much less produce refined yolks for their use.


                Or am I making too much of this? Don’t egg me on— I’m ready for that nap.

Read More
  • Blog
  • June 28th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


                It was a love-hate relationship for three decades between me and 150 acres of jumble so unproductive that no one would pay the taxes on it so it reverted to state ownership. 


                It’s a swamp in northern Minnesota, only you wouldn’t have known that it was public land unless you had a plat book from the county courthouse which marks ownership and, in the case of the Wagonwheel bore the familiar “Tax Forfeited” label.  So we hunted it because it was public land, open to anyone foolhardy enough to crash through it.


                I wouldn’t have told you where the Wagonwheel is, other than it’s north of Iowa and south of Ontario.  That’s because there’s magic in those mushy acres.  The middle of the Wagonwheel is a swamp, penetrated by fingers of slightly higher land.  Woodcock come in here as if it were Hollywood to an aspiring actor.  And there are ruffed grouse on the fringes where the alders and hemlocks give way to birch and pine.


                The covert was named, as all magic spots are, for something that identifies it (My favorite covert name always will be Wanda’s Wetspot). The fellow across the dirt road into the Wagonwheel had a mailbox mounted on an old wagonwheel, thus the name.  Years ago the wagonwheel vanished from the mailbox, but the Wagonwheel remained, as reliable, year after year, as it always was.


              The house across the road from the Wagonwheel and owned by the owner of the wagonwheel mailbox remained a work in progress for all the years that we hunted the Wagonwheel. It was a ramshackle building of uncertain origin—perhaps it had been a livestock shelter before it purported to be a house. From what we could see it consisted mostly of tarpaper slapped on whatever was beneath. From year to year there didn’t seem to be any improvement except perhaps the application of more tarpaper.


                It became tradition to hunt the first afternoon in the Wagonwheel.  Get the road kinks out, let the dogs remember what tough hunting is all about.  Because the Wagonwheel was tough hunting.  It’s a tangle of suck holes, alder blowdowns and clinging fern and, depending on the rainfall, over-the-boot wet spots or springy peat moss. An hour there is like a half-day in a more congenial place.


                I loved it.


                It was a magic spot.  I have more memories of this one covert than of any of many miles I’ve walked in the north woods.  There was the time I stopped for a break and ate an apple with my best friend, Guff, sprawled at my feet.


                He was muddy and festooned with dead, stinking ferns, but couldn’t have been happier because he had just pointed a grouse and I’d shot it and the bird was lying limp on an old log beside me.  Sunlight slipped through the aspen and spotlighted the bird and I smoothed its feathers with a tenderness that was ironic, considering that I’d just killed it. There is, in my cluttered memory, no single time more filled with bliss and grace than that moment shared with a long gone and sadly missed hunting companion.


                Another time our grandson Nickolas, on his first hunt, moved in behind his dog Muggsy and neatly shot two woodcock, bang! Bang! as they jumped, one after the other.  I haven’t done that and here was this 14-year-old kid with braces who showed reflexes like Michael Jordan.  And he did it with a 28-gauge double barrel that I had “loaned” to his mother who then “loaned” the gun to him.  A gun, obviously, that was not meant to be mine.  I keep hoping maybe they’ll “loan” it back to me. 


                A memory considerably less exhilarating was when Guff and I jumped a huge doe as we neared the county blacktop.  The deer took two bounds to reach the road and I heard a screech of brakes, a thump, and then the inspired cursing of a couple of guys who, though I couldn’t see them, sounded big and mean and mad.


                “Come on, Guff!” I hissed and we slunk back into the heart of the Wagonwheel where we could hide.  Presently the truck, possibly dented, restarted and faded into the distance. 


                Spence Turner was my frequent companion in the Wagonwheel.  We bulldozed our way through the tangles and got lost.  It’s tough to get lost in 150 acres most of the time, but the Wagonwheel is such a maze that being turned around is the norm.  There are two sets of tall pines that serve as landmarks in the otherwise featureless swamp.  One is toward the access road; the other at the opposite side of the swamp.  In a wet year the second set of pines (we call it the Pine Ridge) involves some careful negotiating to reach and, usually, wet feet. 


              There were times that I feared we might have to call out search and rescue teams to find errant members of our hunting party, adrift in the Wagonwheel, but we usually could locate them by the sound of heartfelt, top of the voice obscenity.


                But the rewards of challenging the Wagonwheel were an hour of almost certain action.  There was at least one grouse along the swamp side of the ridge, and perhaps as many as a half-dozen woodcock fronting the swamp.


                The grouse flushed into the pines and vanished forever—hunting grouse in those looming, dark conifers was like hunting the leprechauns at the end of the rainbow.  The woodcock flushed over the swamp and unless you shot quickly the retrieve involved a wet entry for you or the dog (if you could get him to look for the bird). 


                Once Spence took his, setter Mike to the Wagonwheel for the first time. Mike, a rangy, big headed setter, was, to put it charitably, as dumb as a bucket of rocks. You could pitch him a treat and, unlike most bird dogs who snap it out of the air like a major league second baseman fielding a pop fly, Mike would let the treat hit him on the head and bounce off to the floor, and then after a time lapse perhaps of canine contemplation, would open his mouth—better late than never.


            Mike ambled through the fringes of the Wagonwheel, as usual befuddled, and then a minor miracle occurred. A woodcock sprang over the watery interior of the place, Spence shot, and the bird tumbled dead some 20 feet into deep water. The choices for retrieval were few. Swim for it in what amounted to ice water, leave it unretrieved (something no ethical hunter ever does), or encourage poor mentally challenged Mike to go after the bird. Mike had seen the bird fall, looked at Spence as if for instructions, and then without command lunged into the frigid water, swam with powerful strokes to the fallen bird, grasped it in a gentle mouth, returned to shore and dropped it in Spence’s waiting hand.


             That night as we luxuriated in the depth of sleep, we were jolted awake by what at first seemed like an earthquake, an unusual if not unique phenomenon for northern Minnesota. Spence’s bed was heaving and lurching as if in the grip of some unseen science fiction monster, threatening to hurl Spence to the floor. After we got it sorted out, it turned out Mike had crawled underneath the bed and, perhaps in the grip of a bad dream, had come awake and lurched to his feet, thrashing in panic. Perhaps he was dreaming of the ultimate woodcock retrieve. It was somewhat of a relief to have the old Mike back.


                We hunted far more congenial places than the Wagonwheel—in fact every one of them was more congenial.  But the Wagonwheel rewarded hunter effort.  It was not a place for the Sunday hunter or the dilettante.  It was a blue collar operation, complete with sweat and dirt and muscle strain.  Sometimes I wondered if my appreciation for the place wasn’t like the guy hitting himself on the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped.


                Several years ago my son-in-law, Ron DeValk, and grandson Nickolas went back for a season final hunt.  They had the usual boot camp marathon and returned to the truck tired and muscle sprung.  A woman was waiting for them.  “We’ve bought this place,” she said.  “It’s ours now.”


                So the Wagonwheel, after two decades, was not mine anymore.  I doubt that the family who now owns the place ever will hunt it for grouse and woodcock.  Chances are they don’t even know what unseen treasures live within its forbidding interior.  The Wagonwheel now is just another flyspeck on the huge map of northern Minnesota , but not my flyspeck.  I should be relieved that I don’t have to bust the brush and fight through the bogholes, often wondering just where I am.


                But I’m not.


Read More
  • Blog
  • June 20th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I owe an abject apology to Ireland, the country from which my family emigrated  a couple of centuries ago. In a recent blog I said that Northern Ireland was sympathetic to Nazi Germany during World War II. This is 100% wrong.


My good friend and faithful reader Paul Vang set me straight.”You might want to take another look at your reference to Northern Ireland supporting Hitler during WWII. I think it’s the other way, with Eire (Ireland) having sympathizers. Northern Ireland is an official part of the U.K. and is closely allied with England – or at least the Protestants are.” Paul obviously is a far better student of Hibernian history than I am.


I was commenting on Donald Trump’s idiotic proposal that the Irish should build a wall to separate Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland (Eire) as a solution to the country’s long and involved political and religious unrest. Trump is an idiot and I feel like one also for being so egregiously wrong. Northern Ireland pledged support and loyalty to the fight against Germany from the outset, while Southern Ireland, technically neutral, did harbor a number of Irishmen sympathetic to the Hitler regime.


Separation between the two parts of Ireland dates back almost a century.  The South now is called the Republic of Ireland or the Irish free State, while the North remained part of Great Britain, along with England, Scotland and Wales. The southern part of the country became the Irish Ffree State in 1922.


Northern Ireland served as a staging area for troops gathering for the 1944 invasion of Normandy, was host to a number of Royal Air Force bases, and contributed troops to the fight against Hitler’s awful regime. I can only offer my deepest apologies to the six counties that constitute Northern Ireland, although it probably makes no difference to any sons of Erin. If it’s any consolation to those whom I might have offended, I treasure the soothing taste of Bushmills or Jameson’s  Irish whisky, love the music of Da Dannan, and one of the earliest songs I learned to sing was Galway Bay (Johnny Cash, my favorite singer, also learned the song as a kid and does a touching rendition of it in a collection of homemade tapes, available on compact disc)


I hope I’m right in correcting my wrong. If not, I hope that Paul Vang will set me straight.


It is a slogan often seen in backwoods taverns: “Cheer up. They said things could be worse. And sure enough, they got worse.” There is good news from the White House. Sarah Sycophant Sanders is leaving her job as Press Secretary and as Donald J Trump’s favorite ventriloquist dummy, and Kellyanne Conway, the Wicked Witch of the West Wing, has been recommended by the office of the special counsel  for dismissal in for mixing political activities with her government job— a legal no-no. The bad news in all of this is that Sanders is being touted as a gubernatorial candidate for Arkansas. That’s especially bad news if you happen to live in Arkansas where her father was governor with a dubious record and where other politicians have had less than stellar personal lives (and I include Bill Clinton in any listing of dubious Arkansas politicos).


My home state of Missouri has had its share of boneheaded governors (the present one replaced Eric Greitens  who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct and campaign fund shenanigans) but we’ve had no one who can compare to Arkansas’s Orville Faubus, way back when, then up to and including Clinton and Sanders One.


Conway, even if justifiably canned , no doubt will have no trouble finding a new job—perhaps as the Red Queen in a revival of “Alice in Wonderland”. And there’s always Mrs. Hannigan in an “Annie”-revival or the evil stepmother in “Cinderella”.


The Fourth of July is a few days away and here are a few thoughts about that event. Trump apparently is going to get his cherished parade and as I write this there still is scheduled a speech by the big baby boy himself. Without a doubt this unwanted talk will be nothing but a campaign speech larded by personal attacks against his favorite Democratic party adversaries. There may be a flyover by Air Force One possibly repainted with Trump’s latest campaign slogan. There are no plans announced as to who or how this parade will be paid for, but you can bet that the American taxpayers are going to get stuck for it— creditors still are waiting to be paid for some of our deadbeat president’s other nefarious escapades.


Donald Trump long has wanted his very own parade in Washington, featuring tanks, guns, and Army Navy and Marines. Rather than mobilizing the nation’s armed forces for the glorification of the Great Leader, why not just mobilize all the people who have been fired or resigned from the Trump administration and march them down Constitution Avenue. They might outnumber the sparse crowd on the Capitol Mall that attended Trump’s inauguration.


Protesters already are petitioning to hoist the Baby Trump balloon like the one that welcomed him to England recently — perhaps the one of him sitting on a potty. I’m sure that the English, now that they have gotten rid of the pudgy interloper, would be happy to loan it out for Trump’s extensive parade of former employees.  Trump initially had backed down on his parade idea, blaming the local politicians for not supporting him accusing them of inflating the cost in order to cast a pall on his megalomaniacal proposal.


It would be interesting to know what the average English person thinks about our American president who bragged in an interview that he not only would accept help from a foreign government to get himself reelected, but he actually had a conversation with (and I am quoting from one of his tweets) “the Prince of Whales. Sarah Sanders claims that Trump was chosen by God to lead our country— not only God but apparently the Clown Prince also has a direct line to Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.


“Abraham Lincoln was treated supposedly very badly. But nobody’s been treated badly like me.” That’s what Trump said to interviewer George Stephanopoulos.  Trump proposed that he make a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, the most celebrated holiday we have, specific to our independence and our democratic system of government. Such a desecration of our proud heritage is so awful an insult to every citizen that even the most ardent Trump supporter should be ashamed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the iconic seated statue of Abraham Lincoln would slump over, much as Mr. Lincoln did in Ford’s Theater a moment after he was shot from behind by John Wilkes Booth. That sad event would seem to trump Trump as an example of being treated badly, but not according to poor pudgy picked on Donnie.


It seems there is no cherished institution of our democracy that Trump can’t throw mud on. Donald Trump the most narcissistic politician in the history of the country reminds me of the evil queen from Disney’s cartoon “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” who daily looks in her mirror and asks “Who is the fairest of them all?” To which the mirror is supposed to exclaim “Why, you are mama!”


Except that there comes a day when the mirror, which probably surreptitiously voted Democrat in the previous election, says “it ain’t you, baby!” Trump is far less charming than the evil queen and if he resembles anybody in Snow White it’s Dopey, the dimwitted dwarf— although Dopey is well-meaning and sweet tempered, attributes which no one believes about Donald Trump except that 40% of muddled voters who continue to support the old fruitcake , endorsing the cracked mirror into which he peers constantly.  I’m reminded of the Rodney Dangerfield joke “my psychiatrist told me I’m going crazy. I told him, “if you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion.” He said, “All right, you’re ugly too!”


And then there’s another Trump appropriate joke about mirrors from Dangerfield, “I went to see my doctor.‘ Doctor, every morning when I get up and look in the mirror I feel like throwing up. What’s wrong with me? He said, ’I don’t know, but your eyesight is perfect’”.


My apologies to the late Mr. Dangerfield.


I can’t get over the sight of Trump hugging the furled American flag as if it were his own personal banner. Grinning like a deranged chimpanzee, Trump was photographed on Flag Day, of all things, which also happened to be Trump’s 73rd birthday. If any more evidence were needed of Trump’s mental disintegration, that photo, officially issued by the White House, should be ample proof. Once he pried himself loose from that unhinged embrace of Old Glory, Trump went on to attack Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign conspiracy with Russia, calling it “bullshit.” If anyone knows bullshit it is Donald Trump who daily spews more of it than a stampede of uncastrated male bovines.


Proving that Twitter is not the exclusive domain of Donald Trump, one veteran (which bone spur deferred Trump is not) commented on the goofy photograph, “That photo intensifies the disgust most veterans and active duty military feel when they see you treating our flag with such disrespect. The flag is not to be fondled like some porn star. Despicable.”


Apparently there is no institution of our democracy that Trump can’t diminish. Already he has ignored the constitutional imperative that no president may serve more than two terms by suggesting that somehow he is owed two terms plus two more years  because of the length of the Mueller investigation—and he has intimated that being president for life like Chinese dictatorXi Jinping would be just fine by  him. Of course, it is not going to happen and if there is a just God and a viable legal system in this besieged country he won’t even make it through one term.


It has been nearly 250 tumultuous years since this country officially separated from England and  became, however tenuously at times, the United States of America. There have been wars upon wars and the bloodiest of them involved a four-year squabble between the states as to whether they truly are United or not.


But still, despite a civil war, despite long-standing disputes over states rights, federal rights, and individual rights, on July 4 we celebrate our unity. We must do this to preserve the image that we have created of a nation where truth, justice, and the pursuit of liberty are triumphant.


We do this in spite of the most awful president in our long history, one who treats our most cherished documented=io tributes to those ideals as outdated pieces of paper to be ignored and scorned at his whim. We don’t hug our flag as if it were one of his pornographic girlfriends, we fly it high and free, rippling in the sweet wind of liberty.


Let’s just, for one day, ignore our would be dictator and salute our flag and our history, no matter how frayed it sometimes is, and proclaim loudly and proudly to whatever deity we believe in, “God bless America!”






Read More
  • Blog
  • June 14th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I’ve seen it attributed to Mark Twain but actually it was the rope twirling humorist Will Rogers who said “If dogs don’t go to heaven, when I die, I want to go where they go.” Considering the many moments of happiness and hilarity that dogs have given me over the past decades, I’m with Mr. Rogers when it comes to a vacation in eternity.


My first dog was named “Chaps” a literary allusion.  Chaps was a half cocker spaniel half springer spaniel who seduced my father as he was passing a pet store in Chicago, Illinois. He thought that having a dog would tame my juvenile tendency to create new ways to get in trouble. Of course, in later years, Chaps became his dog, a constant companion in the squirrel woods where she excelled at treeing the bushytailed critters so he could shoot them.


But I did get to name her as a puppy. I had been reading “My Friend Flicka” and there was a dog in the novel named Chaps which I thought was a good one for my new puppy. I also had been working on a balsa wood model of a World War Two airplane and had spent countless hours gluing the little pieces together until I had a lovely, but flimsy replica of a fighter I much admired because of its sleek and dangerous look. Unfortunately, with virtually no grasp of international warfare (I was eight years old), the plane I chose to build was a Focke Wulf German fighter bomber. The puppy, Chaps, obviously was far more patriotic than I was because as I passed by my bedroom en route to the supper table, I spied Chaps reveling in the wreckage of my cherished model which she had chewed to splinters and shreds of paper.


Flick was a Li’l Abner among dogs, a rangy French Brittany who seemed from the outset to believe that his purpose in life was to have a good time. Once, hunting with the late outdoor writer Nick Sisley, Flick had an exemplary morning, outshining the other dogs on the hunt, pinning pheasants to the ground as if he had staked them with a hammer and nails. All in the hunting party admired my flawless dog until just after lunch when our host introduced his dog to the hunt. “She’s coming out of heat,” he said, “but I don’t think she’s attractive to male dogs anymore—she’s been defused.”


Flick, however, disagreed and fell instantly in love and the only thing he pointed from then on was his new girlfriend. “He is,” Nick said, “a fun dog.”


Flick did love the ladies and his best friend among our dogs, was Tess, a demure French Brittany whom I called Lady Di because of her habit of peering somewhat seductively up at whoever was petting her, much as did the late Princess Diana. Tess and Flick loved to race each other until the day that Flick, a half stride ahead in the race, looked over his shoulder at Tess…. And ran headlong into a tree. He staggered back from the collision, shook his head— and then snarled and jumped on Tess as if to say, “it’s all your fault, bitch!”  Typical male reaction— blame somebody else when you do something dumb.


Not too long after that, Tess came in heat and she and Flick were united in canine marriage. Sixty three days later they became the parents of eight puppies. I have a photograph of Tess standing in the yard with eight youngsters hanging off her faucets as she glares at Flick, standing nearby, with an expression that clearly says, “it’s all your fault, you son of a bitch!”


Pick any given winner of Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition, especially if that blue ribbon dog is a pointer, a bird dog, symbol of the club for 100 years, and lead that dog into a field formerly occupied by cattle. Unsnap the dog’s leash and let it roam and within minutes, the dog will return covered with green slime from having joyously rolled in odious cow flops. There is no substance so noxious that a dog will not enthusiastically decorate himself and, if you’re not extremely agile at evasion, you.


I know this is true because our dogs periodically return from brief romps in our woods smelling not unlike the effluvia from a defective sewage lagoon. A dog’s nose, many hundreds of times more sensitive than that of a human, is a marvel of evolution— able to detect at unbelievable distance the faint aroma of something so odious that it would, to quote an old simile “stink a dog off a gut wagon.” Except, of course it wouldn’t—the dog would be in canine heaven, perfuming itself in an ecstasy of self gratification. The reeking dog invariably wants to share its bounty with you and display its undying gratitude by becoming a lapdog


The target of the dog’s ecstatic attempt to roll in the sludge not always is inanimate. Well-known is the penchant for a dog to dare the rear end weaponry of a skunk with disastrous results both for the canine and the canine owner. Once, on a grouse hunt in Minnesota, the owner of a Labrador retriever, belonging to a member of our hunting party and his fuming owner, returned to the motel apartment where we were staying, clutching in one hand a large can of tomato juice, and in the other hand the collar of the skunk-sprayed Labrador which he dragged rapidly through the room where we were eagerly awaiting supper, into the bathroom where he and the dog and the tomato juice wrestled in the shower.


The theory is that tomato juice defuses the awful stench of skunk but I can testify that is a fallacious theory much like that of the 1950s theory that if schoolchildren get under their desks they will escape the effect of an atomic explosion.  We banished the dog to a kennel in the back end of the owner’s pick up outside the motel where it proceeded to howl its dissatisfaction all night. Periodically, large and outraged truckers staying in the rooms below us opened their doors and snarled that if they ever could discover who owned that condemned dog they would exact corporal punishment. The least the guy who owned the Lab could have done was to sleep in the kennel with his dog— he didn’t smell like roses either.


Another time, closer to home, my late best friend Spence Turner and I were quail hunting when our two dogs went over a nearby rise in search of the elusive bobwhite. We heard a yelp and then both dogs returned bringing with them a veritable tornadic whirlwind of skunk stink. The temperature was about 20° and we were 50 miles from home—and we were in my car which was not equipped for distance traveling with reeking dogs. The only way we could survive was to roll down all the windows and by the time we got back to my house we both were verging on hypothermia. I got no sympathy from the family trying to explain why the family car turned toxic while daddy was trying to hunter gather supper.


Once I had a dog who, in one monumental hunt, committed the equivalent of a human breaking all 10 Commandments in one day. First, he acted as if his genetic imperative, rather than pointing birds, was to make them fly. He ran through grouse after grouse and I began to wonder if he had completely lost his sense of smell–until the moment he obviously scented the effluvia of a particularly juicy cow pasture and returned from having bumped yet another grouse, smelling like an exploded outhouse. By nightfall, when we returned to the cabin where we were staying, exhausted and exasperated, he had run through enough weeds and damp vegetation (and grouse) that the awful stink of cow flop had faded.


I was on the verge of forgiving him for his sins, figuring that even Michael Jordan had a bad game once in a while, and I even felt a twinge of sympathy when he flopped exhausted on my hunting partner’s duffel bag. I heard a faint hissing sound but it didn’t register until my hunting buddy moved the dog to get some gun cleaning material only to discover that the hissing sound had come from a can of WD-40 that he had laid in the bag nozzle up and that the dog had triggered when he laid down on it.


It wasn’t until much later that I remembered something that happened to me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, when I was at ROTC summer camp, learning how to be an artillery officer. It was Friday night and we were to have an inspection the next morning before we could go on leave for the weekend. I had spent a couple of hours arranging my footlocker so that every item was neatly displayed, ready for the most rigorous inspection by the most rigorous inspecting officer. I was ready.


I also was ready for a moment or two of relaxation so, with several buddies, I went to town and indulged in a few cold ones. We returned late at night, worn out with a week of training, readying for inspection, and, not to mention, from a few cold ones. I opened the footlocker for one last look at my artful display only to be confronted with a tsunami of foam from a can of Mennen’s shaving cream which I had laid in the footlocker with the nozzle pointing up…. And then had closed the lid on the can.


It runs in the family.








Read More
  • Blog
  • June 7th, 2019


                By Joel M. Vance


Pussycat, pussycat where have you been?

I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.


Far be it from me to make any risqué jokes about this old nursery rhyme in conjunction with Donald Trump’s recent visit to Great Britain where he hobnobed with the Royal family (those of them whocould swallow their disgust long enough to be seen with the worst thing to happen to Anglo-American relations since George III was King of England.


Trump was photographed with his hand on the Queen’s back and I will make no further reference either to the nursery rhyme or to Trump’s infamous campaign statement about how he treats women. It was bad enough to the dignity of the British monarchy to be seen with Trump much less be associated with his disgusting personal behavior.


The Internet is alive with a photo of Trump beside Queen Elizabeth, wearing a tuxedo that looks as if it were made for Danny DeVito. He is just about as elegant in his evening clothes as if he had slept in them.  Difficult to read what’s going on in the mind of the Queen because Elizabeth was conditioned from birth to be regal, but I can’t help but imagine that she is thinking “I would rather be treated like one of Henry VIII’s wives than to be encumbered with this Yankee lout, dressed like the Penguin from a Batman movie.”


You have to admire the forbearance of Great Britain’s longest lasting Queen in not swatting the pudgy jowls of this arrogant bigoted interloper for having insulted a member of the royal family, a new mother and one much admired by everyone not named Trump, by calling her “nasty”.


Trump sashayed across the ocean in his usual blundering way, raucously tweeting like a seagull scavenging off a garbage dump, scattering insults and incomprehensible falsehoods–in other words, business as usual. After bumbling his way through England, Trump shambled to Ireland the country from which my forebears immigrated (oh, that horrible word “immigrant”). Maintaining as usual that everyone loves him and ignoring the thousands of protesters who basically were saying “Get the hell out of our country!” He over flew those apparently invisible crowds of anti-Trump Brits, heading for the nearest Trump branded golf course in Ireland where he could, like the proverbial ostrich, bury his head in a sand trap and ignore the fact that lots of folks on the other side of the ocean from Trump Tower hate his bloated guts.


As is usual, Trump managed to make a bad situation worse by suggesting that Ireland, which is divided into two entities— six counties in Northern Ireland, and the rest of the country, known as Ireland should build a wall to separate the two. Both sides of the boundary between the two Irelands quickly tried to repair this diplomatic gaffe by assuring the uneasy Irish that there are no plans to build a wall. Trump apparently focused entirely on his reportedly cheat-laden golf game to the exclusion of knowledge about the tumultuous history between the two Irelands.


Possibly he was harking back to the days of World War II when Northern Ireland was sympathetic to Hitler’s  Germany (possibly more because of anti-English hatred  rather than affection for Hitler’s Germany). After all, he was partly in England to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion which resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany and presumably quelled the connection between Hitler and the pro-German Irish. But that is giving more credit to Trump for knowing  history than he deserves since he almost daily indicates that if it didn’t happen to him personally he has no knowledge of it and no interest in learning about it. Trump also chose a solemn commemoration of bloody sacrifice to personally attack Robert Mueller and Nancy Pelosi with the backdrop of thousands of crosses commemorating those who died fighting for freedom. This partisan political name-calling rant was just disgusting, a gut wrenching example of just how petty and cruel Trump is at his core.


For example, he gave a rambling interview on British television in which he said that one reason he didn’t go to Vietnam to serve in that bloody war was that “I wasn’t a fan of it” as if it were a sporting event, and then he said it didn’t matter because no one had ever heard of that country anyway. That despite the fact that polls   at the time showed that Vietnam was the number one concern of America’s citizenry. He carefully did not mention the fact that he received medical deferments so he didn’t have to serve from a doctor who was renting from Trump’s father. Is there something in this that doesn’t smell right?


In the interview with Piers Morgan, Trump briefly put on a hat identical to those famously worn by Winston Churchill during World War II. The anti-Trump twitterites instantly made great fun of his appearance in the hat (which made him look remarkably like Moe, Shemp or Larry) and the best of the twitter feeds was this which parodied a famous speech by Churchill: “We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight them on the landing grounds. When I say “we”, I mean you, as I’ve got a doctor’s note. Bone spurs, you see. The greatest bone spurs ever, etc.”


It would be hypocritical of me to totally condemn Trump for evading military service during the Vietnam War and taking advantage of deferments. I also had a college deferment during the tail end of the Korean War, but went through ROTC, was commissioned as a second Lieutenant, and spent 13 years in the National Guard. But my unit never was activated and I did not serve in Vietnam. I also was not a “fan” of Vietnam, but I didn’t burn my draft card, move to Canada, engage in antiwar protests, or otherwise actively lobby against what I felt then and feel now was a stupid incursion into the affairs of another country. Trump might want to consider some of those same concerns when he starts thinking about messing with Central and South America, Mexico, Iran or North Korea. It’s one thing to react decisively when attacked as we were at Pearl Harbor; quite another to engage in empire building (as we have done periodically over the last couple of centuries) or to interfere militarily with other countries because we don’t like them (as we also have done a number of uncomfortable times in our history).


I got out of the Guard 50 years ago but I think I still am in what they call the inactive reserve, meaning that theoretically I could be recalled to active duty in case of national emergency. Considering that I’m nearly 85 years old I doubt that I could be any more effective as a warrior than Donald Trump is as president of the United States.


It’s wrong as a national policy to become isolationist, but it’s equally wrong if not worse to ignore or insulate the country from the world. Once we had allies, once we were engaged with the world in an effort to help create a more peaceful and stable environment in which all nations could live and thrive without resorting to bloodshed. Trump seems dedicated to destroying alliances which have been carefully built and preserved for decades if not centuries, and to hobnob with the world’s most repressive and brutal regimes led by some of history’s nastiest dictators (and they truly are nasty as opposed to an innocuous English princess who has the good sense to know a bigoted, misogynistic and despicable slob when she sees one).


The Vance family name traces back to the Norman invasion more than 1000 years ago. According to family genealogists, we were named deVaux when we stormed across the channel to occupy Scotland and Ireland. The name morphed into Vans and ultimately into Vance. Somewhere in the 1700s, some of those Vances immigrated (oh, that horrible word again) to America and we’ve been here ever since, mostly in Missouri since the early days of settlement. The Vance immigrants, breeding like flies, spread all over the New World and soon there were Vances all along the eastern seaboard, what would become Ohio, and creeping over the Eastern mountains to Missouri.


I don’t know if any of my direct line deserves to be called either a son or daughter of the American Revolution, but my great grandpa and great grand uncle both served a few short months in the Union Army in the Civil War before they got captured by the Confederate forces of General Sterling Price. They were spanked on the bottom and sent home to resume their roles as Chariton County farmers. At least their hearts were in the right place even if their military training was not. My uncle Roy Finnell, who married my father’s sister, Lilah Mae Vance, was a sailor in World War I and his son, Roy Joe, was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne in World War II and parachuted behind German lines on D-Day, 75 years ago today (as I write these words). He brought home an English war bride—classic example of Anglo-American love.


Trump would tear apart this historic affection. He has called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a bunch of freeloaders. He has strained relations with France, a country which supported the American colonists in the Revolutionary War and without whom we might well have remained an English colony. At the same time he has disparaged our traditional allies, he has been eagerly embracing his good buddy Kim Jong Un of North Korea and other dictators who routinely kill off anyone who displeases them.


Trump is a problem and you solve problems by offering solutions. It does no good to complain without offering remedies. Obviously, Trump can be voted out of office in 2020, but why wait that long? He could be impeached but that is a cumbersome process that might well stretch longer than the next election. Why not begin hearings in the House of Representatives that could lead to an impeachment trial? The only thing keeping that from happening is a timid Democrat controlled House. The Democrats need to get off their easily spooked horse and start asking questions— calling key witnesses, hearing what has transpired behind the scenes, and then acting on the information.


Dithering solves nothing and only plays into Trump’s pudgy hands. Those who could derail him routinely defy subpoenas issued by the House, thumbing their collective nose at the rule of law. Call Robert Mueller to testify and ask him what lies behind the many blacked out portions of his report on Trump’s misdeeds as well as the unredacted portions.  America’s voters are visually oriented these days, to their TV, iPad or other visual devices. They aren’t going to read 400 pages of Mueller’s report, but they will absorb his words spoken directly to them via a visual media. Once they understand the meaning of this damning report Trump’s already eroding power base should begin to crumble.


 And as far as those who defy House subpoenas, throw their butts in jail. The House should refer the defied subpoenas to the courts who presumably would call out the authorities to exercise forcible restraint on Trump’s scofflaws.  It would be nice to see at least part of Congress do something positive for a change.





Read More
  • 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….





Read More
  • 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.”







Read More
  • 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!”








Read More