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Saturday, December 29, 2012

How I Almost Met General Norman Schwarzkopf (Blog 118)

The recent death of General Norman Schwarzkopf made me recall how I almost met him but turned down the opportunity.  Several years after the Gulf War ended, I had a call early one September from a resort inviting me to come stay, free of charge and with my meals paid for as well, for a two-day sporting clays shoot with the general the very next week.

The resort's public relations person said that he "hoped" I would do a magazine article on the weekend, touting the resort's features, its excellent sporting clays course, and the resort's connection with the general.  From the start, I knew that the resort more than hoped I would do a story, the establishment was expecting  a major article in a national magazine.

I explained to the PR person that besides being an outdoor writer, I was also a high school English teacher and that school had just started for the year.  I said I would think about the offer and return the call in a few days.

There were all sorts of proverbial "red flags" tormenting me.  In the first place, I didn't feel comfortable going at all, knowing full well what the resort really wanted out of me - a profile in a major national magazine. Since the general was coming in less than a week, the resort's PR person had not given me much time to find an assignment.

Also, I had never been to a sporting clays course before, and this is no false modesty, I am a terrible wing shot for grouse and doves - as anyone who has ever bird hunted with me can attest.  The thought of standing next to this American hero and missing shot after shot was not a pleasant vision. My school system then had a policy that our two annual personal leave days could not be taken back and back and that was another complication.  And what if the resort's food and accommodations were lacking, how would the establishment have felt if I had written that?  Furthermore, I didn't know enough about sporting clays to even know if the course would be any good or not.

Finally, I decided to do what I felt was the right turn down the invitation, telling the PR person about my school's personal leave policy, which was a truthful statement on my part.

And so I didn't go to the event.  A few days later I told my principal about the invitation and he said that he would have arranged for the school policy to have been broken.  I have always regretted not meeting General Norman Schwarzkopf, but I have never regretted not going to the resort that time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chickens Hard at Work (Blog 117)

Our flock of four hens never ceases to amaze us, specifically the quartet's industriousness.  For example, Elaine and I never rake leaves, preferring to let them rot into the soil.  The one exception is the big piles that gather at our garage doors.  We typically rake those and deposit them into the woods.

However, several weeks ago, we decided to deposit the leaves in the chicken run, where our girls were delighted to constantly sift and scratch through them.  The two piles we placed there were soon "flattened out" and now shredded leaves are scattered throughout the run.  By spring, we will be able to gather up the leafy debris, mixed in with manure, and either put the mass into the compost bin or perhaps a corner of our fenced garden for further decomposition.

Ruby, Little Spotty (shown below at work scratching), Tallulah, and Dot are also doing a superior job at "tilling" our garden this winter, which lies adjacent to the chicken run. Already they have eradicated a particularly stubborn line of weeds at the upper end of the garden.  They have also thoroughly scratched the spaces where the tomato plants grew this past summer, no doubt consuming many harmful pests that otherwise would have overwintered and returned to plague our vegetables.

And, of course, there are the droppings from our hens.  Last fall, every time we cleaned the henhouse, we dumped the straw and droppings into the garden.  Later, I worked in the "litter" into the soil.  I am convinced this extra organic matter was a major reason why Elaine and I enjoyed the best garden we have had in many years.

This fall and winter, we have not even bothered to work in the litter.  We are letting the chickens do that - a task they seem to relish.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Venison Tenderloin and Wineberry Cobbler for Lunch (Blog 116)

It's a cold, rainy, dreary winter day in Botetourt, and Elaine and I have spent the day at home, mostly indoors.  It's the type of day to have meals made from food that we have killed, gathered, or raised during the year.

For example, for lunch our entree was venison tenderloin that came from a doe I killed on a Botetourt County cattle farm.  Our dessert was wineberry pie, which came from wineberries that we gathered behind our house this past June.

For dinner in a few hours, we will have omelets, made from eggs that our four-hen flock produced this month.  Today, we even put a "sunflower chain" out for the songbirds.  Saturday while I was deer hunting in Franklin County, I came across a recently harvested sunflower field.

I gathered a half dozen or so flower heads, and this afternoon Elaine strung them on a piece of twine to create a little wayside eatery for the tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, and white-breasted nuthatches, among other avians, that will, no doubt, soon discover this little mini-restaurant for them.

Nothing of much import really happened today, but Elaine and I had a nice day in our country home.  Perhaps tonight, we will even play Scrabble.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Trapped in the Chicken Run (Blog 115)

Last week, I wrote about leaving hunting gear behind, my incompetence manifested itself in a new way this week on Friday.  I locked myself inside the chicken run.

Elaine and I split the duties regarding taking care of our chickens.  Usually, for example, it is my job to let our flock out of their henhouse in the morning, while she puts them to bed at night.  Friday evening Elaine was grilling venison burgers for dinner, so I volunteered to make sure that Ruby, Little Spotty Hen, Tallulah, and Dot were locked inside their house safely.

I accomplished that task satisfactorily.  But when I pushed on the chicken run door, it would not give.  After some struggling against the door, I belatedly decided to check on the lock.  Somehow the hook had fallen into the eye and "locked itself," leaving me trapped inside.  I began yelling for Elaine to come let me out, but I could hear the oven grill exhaust and she clearly could not detect my cries.

Our daughter Sarah, her husband David, and son Sam live across the hollow from us, but that is a good 125 yards away from us and its wintertime, so no windows are open.  Luckily, a neighbor across the road was outside and heard my pleas, so she called out if I needed help.  Too embarrassed to yell back what had happened, I merely shouted for her to call Elaine and ask her to come outside.

Predictably, Elaine laughed and teased me about my plight, and even went so far as to suggest that our hens probably wouldn't mind if I spent the night in the chicken abode. I also think she took a little longer than necessary to unlock the gate.  One of the reasons I love her so much is that she constantly teases me about my shortcomings, a number of which have been showing themselves lately.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Leaving Gear Behind in the Woods, Part II (Blog 114)

Several blogs ago, I wrote about my penchant for leaving gear behind while hunting.  Today, on the last day of the general firearms season West of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, I outdid myself.  My son Mark and I drove to an Alleghany County property where not only was the deer hunting wretched, but I also left my camera case and lunch box behind.

Now as a freelance writer/photographer, my most important gear item is my Nikon camera which is stored within a Pelican case.  For someone in my profession to leave such an important item behind is like a carpenter leaving his tool box behind or a fishermen forgetting to bring any fishing rods on a fishing trip.

Come to think of it, I once left my fishing rods behind.  Elaine and I had just been married for a few months and decided to go on a combination camping and fishing trip.  I left behind the fishing rods, tent, and several items which now escape me as some 34 1/2 years have passed.  To forget to remember to bring what are arguably the most important items on a combo fishing and camping trip (ie the rods and tent) is just unfathomable and wreaks of incompetence.

Elaine has just called the landowner and apologized for my snafu.  The aforementioned items are in the landowner's driveway.  Our son Mark will pick up the items one day this coming week at the landowner's place of business.  My long suffering sweetheart of a wife definitely has to have a great patience in dealing with me.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Career as a Deer Hunting Guide (Blog 113)

I have experienced a very satisfying deer hunting season overall, so for the past week I have devoted myself to trying to help my son Mark and friend Doak Harbison kill a deer.  In short, my efforts at putting Mark and Doak on whitetails has been spectacularly incompetent.

Yesterday was typical of the week as a whole.  I took Mark afield to a Roanoke County woodlot where the landowner has complained about too many deer being present and where on seven previous trips this fall, I have seen deer on five of those visits and killed whitetails on two of them.

A cold front was beginning to pass through the area, so I told my son that he had a very good chance to experience success.  The result? We not only did not glimpse any whitetails but we also saw no game animals of any kind - not even a squirrel.  The big "thrill" was when I heard footsteps in the leaves behind a row of white pines.  I told Mark to prepare himself for a deer emerging from the evergreens, but what did come out was a feral house cat.

The day before we spend almost the entire outing at a Botetourt County farm where I have counted 45 deer sightings over the course of six previous trips, and where I have already killed three deer this fall, two of which were killed with a compound and a third with my Parker Thunderhawk crossbow.  Surely, a whitetail would come within gun range?

Nope, none did, although we did at least espy a few gray squirrels.

Mark can't go at all Monday through Friday because of his school schedule, so it is next Saturday or nothing for him.  I hope to put Doak on some deer after school this week.  Meanwhile, I am glad my job is not as a deer guide.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chickens Hard At Work (Blog 112)

Ever year around this time, I put the "garden to bed," digging up the weeds and removing the dead vegetable vines and plants so that no disease or bugs will carry over to the next season.  However, Elaine and I have now raised chickens for 18 months, and we have found there is no need to do anything except remove the dead vines.

That's because our chickens are quite willing to do all the "ground" work for us.  Every day when I come home from school (on days I don't go hunting) the chickens spot me and raise a great hue and cry.  I know what they want - to be let out of their run and into either the garden or the yard.

Of the two destinations, our flock of four clearly prefers the garden.  They will even line up to enter the fenced in garden.  Once inside, Ruby, Little Spotty, Tallulah, and Dot immediately begin sifting through the debris, eating just about every insect they encounter and inspecting every little clod of earth.

Any kind of bug - almost - is fair game.  Interestingly, only Ruby seems to like earthworms, as I have seen her target those specifically, whereas the other three prefer beetles and grasshoppers.  All relish stinkbugs, no one seems to care for ants or sow bellies.  Indeed, it has been very disappointing to Elaine and me that our birds won't eat ants, as we have had carpenter ant problems for years.

But all in all, we will give our quartet an A-minus on their overall bug eating skills.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Hunting (Blog 111)

Over the years, I have kept detailed records of every deer and turkey I have ever killed, including the day of the week.  Today, Saturday, I just returned home from muzzleload hunting in Franklin County in the morning and Botetourt County in the evening.  And though does were legal quarry in both counties today, and I went to the farms that have been most productive over the past few years, I never saw a doe the entire day.

With the peak of the pre-rut going on right now, one would think I could manage to see at least one doe.  I did glimpse one deer, a nice, little six pointer that was probably 1 1/2 years old.  I had no intention of shooting him, so predictably he came within 10 yards of me before he became alarmed and then ran off only 40 yards.  The youngster then continued his mad search for a doe.  The little buck did not seem to have any more skill at finding a doe today than I did.

My Saturday deer hunting this year has, in a word, been horrible.  I have not killed a deer on this day and many of those outings have resulted in me not seeing any whitetails.  Conversely, my Monday through Wednesday hunting has been outstanding.

Of course, one thing that needs to be written is that I have hunted far less this year because of my Lyme Disease.  I just have not had the energy to go afield as often as in the past.  In January, I will go to my doctor for another round of blood tests.  I am hoping that I will receive a good report.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Evening Hunt Behind House (Blog 110)

One of the wonderful things about living in rural America, especially where Elaine and I do in Botetourt County, Virginia, is that I can go outside our back door and fish and hunt.  As I wrote about in an earlier blog, I have Lyme Disease and have hunted much less this fall because of the fatigue associated with LD.

But with the high winds that struck this area Monday through Wednesday, I did not do any hunting those days, so somewhat refreshed, I went bowhunting behind our house Thursday on our creek ridge.  The wind was still howling, but I wanted to enjoy the outdoors and had little expectation for success.

And that lack of confidence was justified as events transpired.  I saw three squirrels, one raccoon, and the deer that Elaine and I call Little Bucky.  He is a wimp of a 2 1/2-year-old buck with a disfigured side, making him a very distinct appearing five pointer.  Little Bucky wanders aimlessly much of the time and several people on our road have given me reports of seeing him.

At 6:35 P.M., I descended from my ladder stand, and stiff-legged from the cold and wind, I wended my way through the hollow to our house.  As I neared the garage door, I smelled welcoming wood smoke from our fire - certainly one of the most pleasurable smells to greet a cold bowhunter.

I think I won't hunt Friday after school and then go turkey hunting Saturday morning and deer hunting that evening, as Virginia's muzzleloader season begins that day.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Leaving Hunting Gear Behind in the Woods (Blog One-hundred nine

Both the fall turkey and bow seasons for deer are currently in here in Virginia, and Thursday I bowhunted after school in Botetourt County and today (Saturday) I drove to Franklin County for opening day of the fall season.  And in two days afield, I managed to lose two more gear items.

On Thursday, I misplaced my Quaker Boy gloves while I was field dressing a deer I had killed with my new Parker Thunderhawk crossbow.  It is my understanding that Quaker Boy no longer makes those gloves, which are the best I have ever used, and they were my next-to-last pair.  I returned to the site where I field dressed the deer on Thursday, and the gloves were nowhere to be found.

Today, I killed a turkey in Franklin and while rushing to the bird, I apparently knocked off my Hi-Viz Turkey Buster front sight  Although I searched for the sight for some 40 minutes, I never found it.  Now my Remington 1100 shotgun is out of order until I can order a new sight.

Two weeks ago, I lost one of my favorite turkey calls, a Perfection 3-D Omega diaphragm, last month I lost the bottom of my ThermaCell, and earlier this week I misplaced my glasses while target shooting with my Matthews Switchback.  Fortunately, I found the glasses a day later...right where I had left them on the sundeck, which is where I shoot from.

Of all the snafus on my part, losing the Quaker Boy gloves is the most exasperating.  I had left them in Craig County while hunting the previous Saturday, so I drove over there after school on Monday to retrieve them.  Then I lost the gloves again on Thursday, this time probably permanently.  My incompetence in keeping up with my hunting gear is really quite pathetic.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Story on Elaine and Casting for Recovery (Blog One-hundred-eight)

In the November/December issue of AMERICAN ANGLER, which has just come out, I have  the Waterlines column for that issue, "She Still Can't Cast." The editors gave the story a subhead of "A story of true love and trout fishing."

The story is about my wonderful wife Elaine, how we met, began dating, and fell in love, her battle with breast cancer, and how Casting for Recovery (CFR) helped her in the healing process.

It's hard to write about one's own writing, but, in all humility, I cannot write any better than this.  When I finished the story, I cried.  When AMERICAN ANGLER accepted the story and I told Elaine about it, she wanted to immediately read the story.  I told her she would have to wait until the story came out, which happened this week.

So when the magazine arrived on Tuesday, Elaine quickly read the story about her, and she too began crying and then said, "That was very sweet of you."

If you have a chance, pick up a copy of AMERICAN ANGLER, and if you are unfamiliar with CFR, please go to its  (Photo by Brad Marlow)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bobcats and Mountain Lions (Blog One hundred-seven)

I just returned from a hunting trip to West Virginia where one of the high points was watching a bobcat hunting through a woodlot where I was aloft in a tree stand.  The wind was blowing in such a manner that the first 20 or so seconds that the cat was in view, it did not detect my presence.

But eventually it came across my scent, and the bobcat immediately made a U-turn and quickly departed from the area.  A few minutes later, a spike buck came through and, I believe, detected the scent of the bobcat and quickly fled.  All in all, it was a fascinating 10 minutes or so, as I observed the reactions of both a predator and a prey species when they winded something that they felt was dangerous to them.

The sighting of the bobcat made me think of a recent episode in my high school English classroom when a student asked if I thought that mountain lions lived in Virginia.  My answer was no and I explained why...that is, that no one has yet been able to confirm that wild mountain lions have become established in Virginia.

Many people who think they have spotted cougars actually have glimpsed bobcats, I believe.  Although, cougars are some five times the size of bobcats, people so very much want to confirm the presence of the big cats that they let that desire overwhelm their better judgement.  Not only is there a great size difference, but the mountain lion boasts a much longer tail than his smaller relative.  A bobcat's tail is just a little stub of thing.

Maybe one day, the mountain lion will become established in Virginia and West Virginia once again.  But as for now, county me as a skeptic.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chickens in the Garden (Blog One-hundred six)

The last of the tomatoes have been picked and eaten, and now it's time to let our chickens do their work.  Elaine and I have been letting our four birds  through the garden gate to search for any pests that remain where our tomatoes, onions, squash, and zukes once grew.

And we have been very pleased with the labor of Ruby, Tallulah, Spotty, and Dot.  They have mowed down the weeds and we frequently see them scratching up some insect to consume.

Followers of our blogs may note the omission of Violet.  Last May, our late rooster Little Jerry crippled one of Violet's legs during his overzealous mating.  A number of times we removed Violet from the flock so that her leg could heal, but it never quite did.  Meanwhile, Violet plunged to the bottom of the pecking order because of her infirmity.

The first thing the other four hens would do, when they were let out of the coop, was to maul poor Violet.  Predictably, she took to remaining in the hen house or hiding under it, and she stopped laying eggs.

Finally after trying and failing to nurse her back to health for many weeks, we had to dispatch her last Sunday.  Her last gift to us was Sunday lunch and several lunches after that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Deer Hunting Success At Last (Blog One hundred-five)

Wednesday I finally killed my first deer of the season, arrowing a fine mature doe right before the end of shooting light.  The blood trail was bountiful and short, and I had heard the whitetail fall earlier, so it was an easy matter to find her.

I didn't go Thursday and Friday, preferring to take Elaine out to dinner on Friday and spending Thursday cleaning up from the Wednesday hunt.  One of my long time deer hunting goals has been to kill a deer in Virginia and West Virginia on the same day, so I spent the morning in Roanoke County in the former and the afternoon in Monroe County in the  latter.

And struck out in both states, even though I had deer within 20 yards of me in both the Commonwealth and Mountain State.  In both cases, I was preparing to go to full draw when a trailing deer spotted me moving on the whitetail I was preparing to shoot.

The West Virginia trip was particularly upsetting because I had gone to full draw, the lead doe had moved behind a shrub and her head had already appeared around the other side.  I was waiting for her to take one more step when she turned around and bolted away - no doubt because the trailing doe had snorted and danced about at my movement.

In this heat, I am having a terrible time keeping the deer from winding me.  Comments on how to avoid that issue would be welcome.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Red-headed Woodpeckers and Bowhunting (Blog One-hundred four

Virginia's urban bowhunting season continues to be an abysmal experience for me.  I went out four evenings this week and saw a grand total of one doe - and she was 60 yards away and heading in the opposite direction.  If there are plenty of deer in Roanoke County, I surely have been unable to find them on the four properties I have visited.

My incompetence at finding whitetails aside, there are charms of the season.  One evening I watched a flock of night hawks "hawking" for insects.  It was the only time all year I have seen this species.

As great of an experience as that was, the highlight of my bowhunting and birding has been on a Roanoke County farm that possesses red-headed woodpeckers in great numbers.  I have been to two woodlots on the farm and both have healthy populations of this woodpecker, which is a threatened species in many states.

The red-headed woodpecker makes a very interesting sound, its "scream" is similar to that of the red-bellied, but the former's noise is higher pitched and not as loud.  On one outing, I watched two males fighting over turf while a third individual, presumably a female, watched nearby. Both males were shouting non-stop at the other.

I have been looking for my first kinglets of the season, but so far none have shown up, just like the deer.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bowhunting Struggles (Blog One Hundred-three)

I continue to struggle during Virginia's urban archery season.  This morning (Saturday) I was on stand an hour before shooting light, hoping to make sure that I did not bump any deer coming to my Roanoke County stand.  I succeeded in that task and then spent the next hour in the dark not hearing any deer and the first five hours of daylight not seeing any.

I decided to go home for lunch and a nap and was back on stand shortly after 3:00 P.M. I had moved the stand about 10 yards and felt like I had make the logical decision as I was right where two travel lanes crossed with food along both of them.

However, the deer were not impressed with my logic and I spent the evening watching whitetail after whitetail pass by me, seven in all, just out of shooting range.  Finally at around 7:15, a doe and a fawn came within shooting range, I drew back, but could not release the arrow because it was simply too dark to attempt an ethical shot.

After the duo departed and I climbed down from my hang-on, I moved the stand to the tree where all the previous deer passed by.  I am hoping this little change will pay off on Wednesday when I return to the property.  I am very, very frustrated.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Bowhunting Week (Blog One hundred-two)

It was not a good bowhunting week, continuing the unsuccessful start profiled in last week's commentary on opening day.  On Labor Day Monday, I went afield before dawn at a Roanoke County farm.  However after a buggy morning of multiple insect bites and no deer sighted, I retreated home.  Before leaving, I scouted the farm and could find no deer sign at all.  I won't be returning there this month.

On Wednesday evening, I finally saw my first deer of the season.  Around 7:30, just before shooting light would start to wane, a four pointer led four does and fawns toward my stand.  But at a distance of 60 yards, the wind changed, the buck detected my existence, and the entire quintet fled back the way it came.

Friday evening I tried again on the same farm as the Wednesday misadventure.  This time a mature doe led her two fawns toward my stand.  I drew back, feeling the doe would soon come within the 20 yard shooting range that I have.  However, for some inexplicable reason, my bow string chose that moment to come off, sending the arrow falling to the ground and the deer fleeing.  I have never had such a thing happen.

Right now as I write, the weather is rainy and breezy, and I am doubtful of being able to go hunting Saturday evening.  Next week has to be better.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Deer Season Begins (Blog One Hundred and One)

Today was the first day of deer season and the whole thing was rather surreal.  I have never hunted this early (today is September 1) except for a trip I took to the South Carolina Low Country in 1989 where the season begins in mid August.

But this year, Roanoke County has an urban archery season that began today.  I arose at 4:30, drove 20 or so miles from my Botetourt County home to the next county over, Roanoke, and climbed into a tree stand and affixed the safety harness.

At 6:30 A.M., I could glimpse a rabbit 35 yards from me and a few minutes later, squirrels started cutting on oak and hickory nuts.  But as the hours passed and the temperature continue to rise, the heat definitely became oppressive.  Meanwhile, no deer showed.

Finally at 9:50, I descended from the tree and walked over the Roanoke County suburban lot that I was afield on.  A series of houses, all on approximately five-acre lots, surrounded the property I was on and none of them had deer on them, or least seemed to have any from my vantage point.

By 10:30, I was on my way home, totally baffled about how to go about this suburban deer hunting exercise.  I will try again Monday, weather permitting.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My 100th Blog (Blog One Hundred)

When I started writing a weekly blog nearly two years ago, I began numbering the entries, a habit I have  maintained.  Although I don't have anything earth shatteringly profound to comment on today as part of blog one hundred, I would like to return to a common theme on this site - my passion for the outdoors.

This morning when I took my daily walk of three miles, which is both great exercise and a source of daily renewal, I found, like most mornings, sublime pleasure in observing nature.  This morning, I let out the chickens before I left home, so dawn had already broken.  Still, I heard two screech owls taking the opportunity to utter their piercing screams at each other before going to roost for the day.

Next, I came across two wide-eyed fawns, which couldn't quite decide whether to stare at me, stomp one of their front feet at me, or flee.  Finally, their mother arrived and they followed her lead - they fled.

Another 80 yards or so of walking brought me to a field where 19 turkeys were searching for various insects and the odd wild seed or plant.  I noted two adult turkeys and 17 young, although it is becoming harder and harder to determine which flock member is a young bird and which is the flock hen.  Soon there will be no telling apart  by size.

I then flushed a dove off the road, reminding me that dove season will be here in a week and then heard several gray squirrels barking at each other.  In squirrel language, each was probably proclaiming that this particular stand of mockernut hickories was off limits to the other - a warning unlikely to be heeded.

When I arrived back home, it was time to work on a magazine article.  I would have loved to have lingered outside longer, this being a Saturday, but the Lyme disease that I am currently battling has stolen a lot of my energy.  Hopefully, I will be back to normal in a month or so.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dealing with Lyme Disease (Blog Ninety-nine)

Thirty days ago I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and would not wish this affliction on anyone.  My symptom was a tingling sensation in my left toes.  Three weeks later when my right toes started tingling, too, I decided it was time to visit my family physician.  A blood test was given and a week later the results were in that  I had tested positive.

The medicine I am on is doxycycline.  It is potent stuff and it makes me nauseous almost every time I take it.  To counter the nausea, I try to wake up in the middle of the night and take a pill, hopefully falling asleep before the nausea kicks in.  During the summer, I would take the pill around 1:00 P.M., then take a nap - again hoping to avoid the queasiness.

Another effect of being on this medication is that my doctor told me I should avoid sunlight.  This, of course, has ruined my summertime river smallmouth fishing.  But such is the nature of things and I just have to deal with the no fishing edict.

The tick bite that I believe gave me the disease took place in mid April while I was doing a magazine story in Augusta County, Virginia.  The day was a blustery, cold one, but I arrived home with two ticks on me, one of which was attached.  Of course, it is difficult to know for sure if that was the tick that was the cause for my ailment.

The only good thing to come from my illness is that I have been able to do a great deal of writing.  I finished my fifth book, which is on the South Branch of the Potomac and the upper Potomac, and it should hopefully be out early in 2013.  Since I couldn't go outside, I decided to make good use of my time.

Elaine and I always thoroughly check each other every time, truly every time, we come in from the outdoors.  Yet, doing so was not good enough to avoid my coming down with Lyme Disease.  As I have always thought and said, ticks are the creatures I fear most in the outdoors.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Chickens Love Whole Wheat Bagels (Blog Ninety-eight)

It's not good to keep secrets from your wife, but I must confess that I have not told Elaine why our five hens have enthusiastically followed me everywhere for the past week when I have let them out for their daily hour of free ranging about our yard.  Our 38-acre parcel is mostly wooded, and I have counted 13 different predators that frequent our land, so we only let out our hens when they can be supervised by us.

Our chickens are rarely ready go back to their run when their hour has passed - until I hit upon the idea of while they are out, periodically dropping whole wheat bagel bits on the ground.  There are certain foods that our quartet's members have a frenzied passion to consume.  Corn on the cob would be number one beyond a doubt, but one can not carry corn cobs in his pocket.

Whole wheat bagels rank second to corn, though (and fit much better in pockets) and whenever I give the food call, "lookie-lookie" and toss bagel bits on the ground, they all come running.

The other day (I know this is devious) I gave the food call, dropped the tidbits, the chickens came running, and then we all paraded by Elaine.  I bragged that the chickens were so obedient to me and why oh why could they not be so dutiful to her.

Elaine is puzzled by my suddenly being in such command of our birds.  However, I have a feeling that this will soon change.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Night Sounds (Blog Ninety-seven)

During the heat of the summer, and we've had a hot one here in Botetourt County, Virginia, I have taken to walking before sunrise, specifically the last hour before the sun starts to rise and I have to unlock the hen house to let the chickens into their run.  One of the enjoyable things about walking in the dark is listening to the night sounds.

For example, the 30 minutes before first light is a time when the last sounds of the night birds merge with the first ones of the diurnal ones.  Great-horned owls (shown below) are still making their haunting hoots and one morning, I heard two screech owls emitting their piercing whistles at each other.

Soon the cardinals chime in, as the redbird is an early riser if there ever was one.  Carolina wrens are often the next to make music, but the sound the male most often seems to make is the call note to his mate.  Soon she answers back with her "whirring" response.

Perhaps the most vocal bird, even with the advent of August, is the indigo bunting.  The male indigo belts out his explosion of notes as if he himself were about to explode.  How and why does he sing so loud and so often even during the heat of August?

But August is also a time when the dawn period is one of the quietest of the year.  Most birds have stopped singing now, mating and the rearing of young are both just about over.  And all too soon some species will even be starting to migrate, the barn and rough-winged swallows will be among the first to depart.  Meanwhile, I will enjoy the night sounds on my early, early ramblings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Casting for Recovery (Blog Ninety-six)

We live to support Casting for Recovery, a national organization helping women recover from breast cancer, every chance that we have.  Recently we received this e-mail from Mollie Simpkins, a volunteer for CFR and decided to use Mollie's comments in this week's blog.

Dear Friend of CFR,

It has taken over a year, but an article that has been in the works has finally been published in Virginia Wildlife Magazine....HOORAY!

For the participants, River Helpers, and staff who were part of the 2011 Virginia Retreat will remember Bruce and his wife Elaine lurking quietly..and not so much at times.. asking you to take off your hat or to hold the fish just so.  I remember the day vividly for various reasons. 

One thing that Bruce does allude to was his wife's diagnosis with breast cancer and how CFR 'revitalized' her.  With that Bruce did an absolutely spectacular job in capturing the essence and spirit of Casting for Recovery and the purpose of the retreats.
You have been included in this email because you are one of our many wonderful supporters and/or volunteers or one of the over 300 amazing women who have attended a Casting for Recovery Retreat in the Mid-Atlantic.  As the program continues to grow in many ways, we recognize that we would not be successful if not for the selflessness of our volunteers and the many women, who after attending a retreat, return to be part of the program.  With that, we all thank you so very much for your continued support.

I urge you to share this article with anyone and everyone who might just need a feel good story.  Virginia Wildlife Magazine - Casting for Recovery

Also..if you know of a women who has or has had breast cancer and lives in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, or Washington, DC. and you feel as though she could benefit from attending a no cost Casting for Recovery retreat, we are taking applications for the Maryland retreat through August 3rd. The retreat itself will be held in Flintstone and Hagerstown, Maryland October 12-14.  She can apply

Again..thank you for your part in CFR..large or small..we truly could not continue the work without your support.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chicken Pecking Order (Blog Ninety-Five)

The picture I have posted on this blog entry shows four of our five hens waiting for me to drop a piece of bread among them.  Bread is our chickens' second favorite treat, following only an ear of corn.  On the perimeter of the picture frame, you can barely see Violet, last on the pecking order in our chicken run.

Elaine and I have been raising chickens since May of 2011, and one of the most fascinating aspects is the strict pecking order that exists.  The alpha female is clearly Ruby with Tallulah a distant second.  Tallulah, clearly our smartest chicken, more on that in a later blog, is not as aggressive or as athletic as Ruby, which thinks she can fly (periodically she takes off on low to the ground semi-flights) and definitely can run faster than any of our other hens.

Next on the pecking order, and far behind Tallulah, come Dot and Little Spotty Hen, both of which seem quite content with her station in life.  Then far behind those two (even Dot and Little Spotty will occasionally torment the hen last in the pecking order) poor little Violet.  I use the word little because Violet is just a tad smaller in size than our other hens.  The proverbial statement "size matters" does seem relevant in our run.

In the picture, there is no point in Violet crowding in among the others because if she did her four superiors would thrash her.  I guess she will just have to be content with her station in life.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Shenandoah Riverkeeper (Blog Ninety-four)

It is late Saturday evening as I write this, as I just returned home from the annual Shenandoah Riverkeeper Rodeo.  The event is held to raise money to support the Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble and the hard work he and the Potomac Riverkeeper's staff to protect and improve the streams that make up the watershed.

This year's event was typical - good natured jousting between Jeff and the audience about the day's tournament where participants were penalized mightily if they caught a largemouth, a blue grass band played throughout the evening, and lots of good food was served.

My favorite part of the function this year and every year is talking to fellow fishermen about what patterns are working on the various rivers and what concerns they have about the health of our Mid- Atlantic rivers.

As always, I held a book signing with part of the proceeds going to benefit the Riverkeeper program.  The point of this post is that although the rodeo is over for this year, it is good for river enthusiasts to keep in mind the hard work that the these folks do the entire year.  There is no question that the fishing and water quality have improved the past few years - and the Riverkeeper program has more than a little to do with that.

For more information and/or to donate:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Great Power Outage and Blackberry Jam (Blog Ninety-three)

Last Friday night, winds of over 80 mph whipped through our Botetourt Land, knocking out our power for 46 hours until around 7:30 Sunday evening.  When the power was restored, Elaine and I were playing scrabble in the fading light that reached our den.  We both spontaneously emitted squeals of delight.

We were fortunate to have our power restored so soon, as even as I write this on Thursday, many folks in Southwest Virginia are without electricity.  We were also fortunate that a neighbor loaned us his generator for about four hours a day so that we did not lose any of our venison and wild turkey.  We had the meat from 7 1/2 deer in our freezer, and it would have been a disaster if the venison had been lost.

This whole affair has caused us to do some planning for the possibility of future outages.  We have long had a wood stove which serves as a backup heat source in the wintertime.  But we realized that we need to have more bottled water on the premises and a charcoal grill to cook with.  Elaine has already purchased a grill and obtained water.

We also have decided to buy a generator and Elaine, who is in charge of researching things in our family, is doing the groundwork for a generator.  If readers of our blog have some recommendations in this area, we would appreciate them.

Finally, we have decided to do more canning.  Tuesday, I picked two gallons of blackberries and Elaine made jam from them.  She also has decided that canning the meat from one deer was not sufficient last year and hopes to can the meat from two whitetails this fall. 

Hopefully we will be better prepared next time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Can Women Outfish Men? (Blog Ninety-two)

The last three summers, I have gone fishing once each summer with Jay and Betty Honse, friends from Fincastle, Virginia.  Two of those times were for crappie, the other time was for bluegills.  Each time, the trip was part of a magazine article.

The most recent time was this past Tuesday evening at Smith Mountain Lake.  On that occasion, as was true on the other two outings, Betty clearly out fished both Jay and me. 

It isn't so much that she caught more crappie or bluegills than Jay and I did, it is that she also caught the biggest fish on all three of the trips.

The trend has become so clear that on the Smith Mountain excursion, I found myself, camera in hand, watching what Betty was doing fishing wise, so that I could be prepared when, not if, she caught a nice crappie.

One of the most admirable things about Jay is that he truly enjoys watching his spouse catch big fish.  Not many males would be so understanding.

Jay and Betty have invited me to go striper fishing with them sometime.  If I have that opportunity, I will be sure to keep my camera ready and trained on Betty.  I am betting she won't disappoint.  Here's a picture of me admiring a fine Smith Mountain crappie that Betty caught.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Simple Country Joys on a Summer Day (Blog Ninety-one)

My high school English teaching job finished two weeks ago, and this is the first day I have not been swamped with magazine assignments.  Today, although I have written a little, I have had time to enjoy those little simple summer joys that living out in the country bring.

First, I went out to gather eggs.  However, the chicken Elaine named Little Spotty Hen was on the nest and did not care to be disturbed from her primary duty in life.  Then I went to our garden, which is adjacent to the chicken run, and gathered some chives and a sweet white onion for lunch.  I am cooking baked potatoes and venison burgers (from a doe I killed last October with my bow) and the chives will go great with the former and the onion with the latter. For dessert, we have the option of cherry preserves (from our North Star cherry tree) or wineberry jam (from vines growing on our land).

This afternoon, Elaine and I will let the chickens roam in the yard for an hour or so and pick berries.  The raspberries are about finished for the year but the wineberries and blackberries are starting to come in.  Can I prevail upon Elaine to make a pie or a cobbler? If  no pie or cobbler is forthcoming, we will freeze the berries for next summer's desserts.

Nothing of great importance is happening today and that is a really good thing.  We love living out in the country.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Wood Pile (Blog Ninety)

I now begin my second week of the summer off school, and the first week could not have been any more hectic. I wrote two magazine stories for the Izaak Walton League, worked on a story for Virginia Game & Fish, one for the Quality Deer Management Association, and Elaine and I wrote our Celebrating Venison cooking column for Whitetail Times. 

Many people say that I must be fortunate to have a second job that is all about going fishing and hunting, and I am fortunate.  But all week, I was too busy sitting in front of the computer to even think about fishing.

Meanwhile, out our kitchen window resides a wood pile that is not nearly as long and as tall as it should be.  For months, a black locust tree has been lying on the ground near the wood pile, and the locust needs to join its fellow hardwoods.  Some shagbark hickories down at the food plot also have been resting on the ground for too long, and they too need to evolve into firewood.

Also on our 38 acres, several oaks are crying out for Timber Stand Improvement around them, two black locusts, some red maples, and redbuds need to be cut along the drive way in order for the oaks and dogwoods to prosper, and the garden desperately requires mulching.  And the wild raspberries are ripe and have to be picked today. Oh, and the chicken coop needs to be cleaned.  I have to escape this computer screen today.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New River Land Trust and the Friths (Blog Eighty-nine)

Last autumn, the New River Land Trust (NRLT), as part of a fund raiser, auctioned off a canoe trip with me on the New River.  For those unfamiliar with land trusts, they seek to preserve America's open spaces through having landowners voluntarily place their rural properties under conservation easements.

I am a member of the NRLT and the Western Virginia Land Trust and am a great admirer of what they are accomplishing.  Elaine and I have also placed 412 acres of the land we own under easement as a way of protecting wildlife habitat for the future.  The high bidders for a trip were Jackie and Earl Frith of Floyd County, Virginia, and today I met the Friths for the first time when we gathered with fellow river enthusiast Brett Moss for a float below Claytor Lake Dam.  Like Elaine and me, the Friths have placed many acres under easement and, also like my wife and me, are very glad they have done so.

Earl and I floated together while Brett and Jackie did the same, and a delightful time was had by all.  We bird watched, drifted through some mild riffles, and caught a few smallmouth bass.  The high point, for me, of the day was watching two male Eastern kingbirds fighting for dominance  out in the middle of the river.  The aerial battle was short and decisive, as one kingbird left in ignominious retreat.

Whether you live in Southwest Virginia like I do or in any state in the country, chances are that you have local, regional, or state-wide land trusts nearby.  For more information on the NRLT:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Poults Are Hatching (Blog Eighty-eight)

Last night, friend Jerry Paitsel, who operates Struttinbird Turkey Calls, called.  The main topic of conversation was the status of the turkey hatch.

For those who enjoy hunting, photographing, or viewing these majestic creatures, the main reason why we will have turkeys to do so is the success or failure of the hatch.  Across Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the general Mid-Atlantic, the poults hatch for the most part in late May and early June.

Of course, not all turkeys are born now.  Every year there are reports of birds hatching in early to mid May and even late April.  And sometimes turkey hens lose their first clutch of eggs and renest in July.  But, again, for the most part, now is the time when the young poults hatch.

And the main reason whether the hatch is successful now is the weather.  The reason Jerry brought up the topic was that a cold rain fell Friday and the air temperature dipped into the 40s in the Alleghany Mountains of the two Virginias.  Newly born turkeys are very susceptible to hypothermia, and many of them may not have survived Friday night.

It will be very interesting to observe how many poults are accompanying hens in the next few weeks.  Hopefully, more birds will have hatched out after this past Friday than before.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Casting for Recovery Story (Blog Eighty-seven)

Although I have not seen the story yet, I have been told that my latest magazine article on Casting for Recovery (CFR) is out now in the June issue of Virginia Wildlife, the official publication of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  I have done, I think, five magazine articles now on CFR.

Although I had heard of the organization, I had never considered doing a story on it until friend Anthony Hipps of North Carolina suggested that I do so in 2008.  I received an assignment shortly afterwards from Wildlife in North Carolina to do a story, and, ironically, shortly after that Elaine was diagnosed with breast cancer.

For those unfamiliar with CFR, it offers 2 ½ day retreats in venues around the country where women recovering from breast cancer can receive the latest information on breast cancer, healthy living, networking, making new friends, gaining self-esteem, and to be part of a forum to broaden understanding about breast cancer treatment and enable sharing among participants.  Of course, a big part of the getaways is the participants learning how to fly fish.

Elaine attended the 2010 May retreat in Virginia and last May we both went to the May Old Dominion retreat as part of my doing the story for Virginia Wildlife.  In short, Elaine's and my experiences with CFR have been overwhelmingly positive and I hope in the years to come I can do many more stories on this marvelous organization. I know CFR aided greatly in my sweet wife's recovery.

For more information:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cherry Picking -and Pitting - Time (Blog Eighty-six)

In our nearly 34 years of marriage, Elaine's and my marriage has evolved to a certain way of doing things.  She handles most of the inside-related decisions, most of the outside ones fall to me and so on to a variety of other tasks.

And so it is with our annual May task of picking and pitting cherries.  Elaine holds the step ladder while I pick the cherries from our North Star tree while later she pits the berries.

Today for a magazine article we went fly fishing on the Smith River with two local anglers: Al Kittredge and Lisa Hall. Upon arriving home, Elaine told me that she would not be able to pit today because of a sore wrist incurred while fishing.  Thus, the cherry picking and pitting fell to me.

It did not take long into the pitting process before I discovered what a rotten job this is.  Juice frequently went into my eyes, shirt, and pants as well as into the wall.  Some 20 minutes transpired while I was picking a quart of cherries, another 30 went by while I was pitting them.

After a particularly juicy sour cherry sprayed me, Elaine quipped: "Welcome to my world."

Despite the time and effort that goes into picking and pitting cherries, the effort is worth it.  Last year our tree produced 5 3/4 gallons of sour cherries, enough for lots of pies, cobblers, and preserves.  This year we have picked one gallon so far and it is a little hard to estimate how many more gallons will be picked - though obviously because of environmental factors (a high wind event earlier this month) we will have far fewer quarts than last year.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chickens in Clothes? (Blog Eighty-five)

If someone had told us one year ago that our “girls” would be wearing clothes, I would have laughed.  Today as they roam about the yard, one has on camo, one is in denim, and two are in bright pink.  They have begun wearing chicken aprons, or saddles, to protect them from the clawing of the rooster Jerry who has been the cause of their feather loss….. his repeated mountings each day have taken a toll on the girls.  We did not buy an apron yet for Little Spotty, for she alone is still in full feather – Bruce thinks it is because she runs from Jerry and spends large parts of each day inside the hen house.

In the matters of chicken health, we also have had some illnesses.  Dot began sneezing and coughing one Friday, something I would have thought chickens incapable of.  We watched her over the weekend, and aside from that she seemed fine.  Over a matter of about ten days she became “cured,” just like humans having to wait the seven to ten days for a cold to leave. 

More concerning was Violet’s 24-hour bug.  Her first symptom was the poop covering her rear feathers.  Then she spent the afternoon and evening quite listless, not walking to food as the others did, even barely pecking at the special treat of berry-covered pie crust. We had decided that if she did not put herself in the hen house that evening, there was a reason and we would leave her be.  However, at the last moment she went inside.   She seemed so lethargic that we were sure she would be a cold, dead body when we opened the hen house in the morning.

Morning?  Surprise – the same old Violet, running, frolicking, eating just as well as everyone else.   

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Where Are the Whip-poor-wills? (Blog Eighty-four)

When Elaine and I first moved into our Botetourt County, Virginia home in August of 1989, we regularly heard whip-poor-wills on late spring and summer evenings.  As someone who has a passion for spring gobbler hunting, I often enjoyed hearing these birds, which along with chuck-wills-widows are members of the nightjar family, during trips as I waited for the first gobble of the morning.

This spring, I have hunted in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee and have only heard whip-poor-wills once and chuck-wills-widows only at two places.  It's true, of course, that one rarely hears both species of nightjars in the same place, as chucks, at 12 inches in length, are two inches longer than whips - and size does matter in the wild world.

Thus chucks often out compete their smaller relatives and when chucks move in, whips move out.  For example, one of the two places that I have heard chucks is behind our house as when that species showed up in the late 1990s, it was not long until the whip-poor-wills disappeared.  Yet, we only have heard one singing chuck-wills-widow behind our house, as that species' numbers are likewise in decline.

A variety of reasons have been offered for the decline in whip-poor-wills as their numbers have dropped throughout the Eastern United States. Pesticides, habitat change, and lack of logging in many places have been a few of the reasons listed.  Whip-poor-wills require early successional habitat to thrive and a lack of timber cutting has become the norm in the East's national forests.

Whip-poor-wills winter from the Gulf States south to Honduras, so wintering habitat loss could also be an issue.  Whatever the reason for the population decline, the whips and chucks are integral parts of the East's ecosystem as they do yeoman's work at keeping down insect populations, and if we lose these species nature and humans will be much the poorer.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Joy of Turkey Hunting (Blog Eighty-three)

Today, I called in and killed a mature gobbler while afield in Franklin County, Virginia.  For people who don't turkey hunt, they may not know how hard it is to tag a tom.  This was the eleventh time I have been out this spring in Virginia, including many times before I go to teach English, and the first time I actually had a chance to take a gobbler.

Nothing I do in the outdoors has such a low success rate, and nothing compares to that scintillating moment when a mature gobbler is within range and one knows that the hunt will end in an exhilarating fashion or in inglorious misery.

My one-shot kill resulted in a quick and merciful death to the old longbeard, and when I reached him and saw that my prize was secured, I screamed not once, twice, or three times but four.  I thought I was done screaming after the third yell, but one more had to escape.

Later, I went by the landowners and thanked them for letting me hunt.  I am now tagged out in Virginia and will head for West Virginia soon.  Also, I plan on taking several novice turkey hunters here in Virginia.  It is fun to tutor others and not to have to carry a gun.

And today's turkey will soon become grilled breast and the legs will become a delicious soup.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Elaine and Tallulah (Blog Eighty-two)

Elaine has a new best friend, Tallulah, one of our five hens.  Elaine has always enjoyed talking to our chickens since they arrived last May as day-old chicks.  Of course, in the summer we purchased Tallulah, Dot, and Violet from the local Southern States because six of our eight chicks turned out to be cockerels.

The three new girls, as Elaine called them, had a little difficulty being accepted by our resident birds.  But now, I think, Tallulah has become Elaine's favorite chicken.  About a month ago, Tallulah started visiting Elaine when the chickens were let out into our front yard every afternoon to forage.  Little by little, Tallulah became bolder and bolder as she first would feed close to Elaine, then come to her and whine for food, then finally Tallulah began hopping up the steps to stand besides Elaine as she sat on our stoop.

But Tallulah was not done yet with her overtures.  Eventually, she learned to hop up and sit on Elaine's lap and whine for food.  Now, every time Elaine sits on the stoop, Tallulah comes running to Elaine, hops up on her lap, begs for food, and allows Elaine to stroke her chest.

Our alpha hen, Ruby, one of our two original hens, is also our smartest and most athletic hen.  Once Ruby saw that Tallulah was receiving food from Elaine (and all she had to do was sit on my wife's lap), Ruby likewise began sitting on Elaine's lap.  Ruby, though, seems mostly interested in the food, not visiting.  Tallulah seems to actually like to linger awhile with Elaine.

The three other hens, Violet, Dot, and Little Spotty Hen, are below Ruby and Tallulah on the pecking order.  It will be interesting to see if they start the lap sitting gambit.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Opening Day Turkey Hunting Blues (Blog Eighty-one)

Several months ago, I told Elaine that I had a feeling that I would call in and kill a gobbler on opening day of Virginia's turkey season - today.  Whenever I have that particular feeling that I will do well fishing and hunting, it is almost always accurate.  Today, though, it was not.

Not only did I not kill a gobbler today, I was never in the "game" with one.  I heard a few longbeards on the roost, but by 6:30 A.M., the birds were done for the day - and so was I, though I did not know it.

I trekked up and down hillsides on the Franklin County farm I was on, went through a box, slate, and every mouth call I brought with me, peformed my best yelps, clucks, purrs, cutts and even did hen, jenny, and jake kee-kees.  And not one bird responded to me all day.

To strike out is one thing but to go down in the proverbial flames in something else altogether.  The only good thing is that it was only day one of the Virginia season, and I will be back at it on day two behind our Botetourt County home.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More Fun than a Barrel of Chickens (Blog Eighty)

It is not a news flash that men and women often approach things differently.  And every day in our chicken run Elaine and I are testament to that tendency.

For example, every day we give our five hens and Little Jerry a slice of bread or two, as this is one of our flock's favorite treats.  When it is Elaine's turn to feed our birds, she tears and divides the bread so that each chicken will have a chance to eat a bit or two.  She says this is the polite, civilized way to conduct matters.

I, on the other hand, delight in tossing an entire slice into the run and watching the whole flock compete for the prize.  Invariably, one hen picks up the slice and tries to run away from the other hens to a corner of the run.  Also, invariably, before that first hen reaches a corner, several of the other ladies have swiped bits and pieces from the hen's mouth. Then Little Jerry picks up some sliver of a slice, gives the food cluck, and expects the hens to come to him for their reward - which they do not do.

The result is mass chaos, hens chasing each other all over the run, Little Jerry giving off non-stop food clucks with no hen paying any attention to him.  And me? I am doubled over with laughter at the Keystone Cops hilarity of the entire affair.  Meanwhile, Elaine is reprimanding me for my actions.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sky is Carolina Blue (Blog Seventy-nine)

For the past 46 years, or since I was 14, I have been a University of North Carolina basketball fan.  During 42 of those years, the season ended badly, that is without the Heels winning a national championship.

The four years where Carolina captured the title are the biggest thrills I have had in sports.  Last Sunday when the season ended with UNC's loss to Kansas, I was moody and gloomy as always, though, in reality, the season likely ended for all intents and purposes the Sunday before when Kendall Marshall broke his wrist.

Nevertheless, UNC has given me much over the years, especially Coach Dean Smith.  I have read his books and the wisdom he imparted on how to treat people in general and young people specifically greatly influenced how I teach high school students.  In fact, I often tell people I have two roll models: Coach Smith and my late grandfather Willie.  Both talked about the importance of hard work, treating people with respect, and having high expectations for yourself.

Yes, the last loss is always a bitter blow, but, proverbially, there is always next year.  And without a doubt the "Carolina Way" that Coach Smith instituted is a marvelous way to approach life.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gobbling and Crowing (Blog Seventy-eight)

This week, the intensity of the gobbling behind our house took a quantum leap forward.  Elaine and I have been hearing toms irregularly sound off since late February, but beginning Monday and continuing through Friday (which is when I write this) the booming sounds of male turkeys reached new levels.

Tuesday was the most intense morning.  While I was walking my daily three miles in the dark before school, I heard one particularly boisterous monarch gobbling a good 45 minutes before sunrise.  When I arrived home, I ascertained that he was only about a 100 yards away from our chicken coop.  Our rooster, Little Jerry, was crowing inside the coop and when I let him out into the run, the cockerel matched the gobbler in their respective species' versions of "I'm in charge here. All males beware."

Finally, Jerry and the tom subsided, but then another gobbler began, just 75 yards below our house and yet another chimed in on the creek ridge 75 yards in the other direction.  This set off Little Jerry and the first gobbler and everybody had to go through another round of who the macho male was.

I can hardly wait until Virginia's turkey season starts.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reasons to Arise (Blog Seventy-seven)

As is usual, this morning, I  arose, ate Bob's Red Mill oatmeal with bananas and other fruit and went walking and birding in the dark.  Even an hour before sunrise, the songbirds, especially this time of year when attracting a mate and establishing territory is vital, are exceptionally active.

The first avian I heard was a mockingbird, belting out his song in a field off our rural road.  Soon two male cardinals began dueling by song, each, in effect, warning the other to stay away from his little patch of turf.

Two weeks ago, we had woodcocks doing their mating dance high in the air, but they have flown north.  But we had another transient visitor a few days ago, a hermit thrush.  He has been singing his flute-like melody - an incredibly beautiful one.

Like the woodcock, the hermit thrush will not be here for long.  Soon he will wend his way north and our breeding season wood thrushes will return.  As melodic as the hermit thrush is, I feel that the wood thrush sports the most sublime song of all our songbirds.

Of course, the song I enjoy hearing the most is not often thought of as a song, but it truly is - the booming gobble of a male turkey.  Which reminds me, I should go outside right now and see if I can hear any toms sounding off.  Turkeys have been behind the house for five straight mornings - will today be number six?

Friday, March 9, 2012

No Power, No Problem (Blog Seventy-six)

Wednesday evening our electricity went off just after Elaine finished cooking dinner.  Living in a rural area, we are used to periodically losing power, especially in the wintertime.  Our wood stove was already well-stoked so there was no problem with heat.

Nor was there any problem with light or the evening's entertainment.  While Elaine went to retrieve our Scrabble set and several candles for ambiance, I went to find our Coleman lantern and flashlights.
Elaine set up our scrabble game near the stove and placed two candles on the brick hearth.

We used our Coleman LED flashlights to make our way around the house, and my wife arranged the Coleman lantern behind the game board.  Then the match began.

Elaine and I are currently involved in a Scrabble brouhaha that has lasted about four years.  We have best of 11 matches and so far there have been over 20 of those matches.  The previous match she won 6-0, and on Wednesday evening I won the latest one, also 6-0.  Most of our matches, though, see scores of 6-5 or 6-4 and the deciding game is often settled by just a few points.

Any activity with Elaine indoors or out is always a joy.  And so when the power went off, it was no problem at all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Transition Time (Blog Seventy-five)

In this time of not quite spring, but not still winter, Elaine and I are definitely in a transition stage.  We are still enjoying the fruits of our labor from last spring and summer, as today she ate strawberry jam (made from berries from our garden last June) on toast while I enjoyed wineberry cobbler (made from berries gathered on our land).

But we are also busily doing habitat improvement projects.  Wednesday after school and Friday before school, we planted white pine seedlings in two clearcuts behind our house and earlier in the week we planted three sawtooth oak seedlings in our food plot.  I had planned to go to our Sinking Creek land to plant eight other sawtooth oaks but the heavy rain the past few days has made that trip unlikely.

The birds are also in a transitional phase.  A woodcock showed up Monday and has remained on our land all week.  Every morning and evening we hear him emitting his diagnostic "peenk" sound and doing his aerial mating flight.  The turkeys have been talking behind the house all week and it is clear that the gobblers are ready for romance.

I also have firmed up turkey hunting trips to North Carolina and Tennessee in the past fortnight and will, as always, pursue toms in Virginia and West Virginia.  And I have trout and smallmouth bass fishing excursions planned.  This is a busy time of the year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chickens in the Snow (Blog Seventy-four)

We often refer to our chickens, which were hatched last spring, as teenage chickens because of their relative youth and how they react to new things.  Their newness to the world was on display last Sunday when our birds experienced their first snow.

In short, they were both terrified and befuddled of the white stuff falling.  Around 3:30 when the snowfall was at its peak, Little Jerry and his five hens stopped moving and feeding altogether.  They huddled near one corner of their run and did not move for over 2 1/2 hours.

As darkness was approaching, we began to fear that they would not have enough sense to walk the few feet to their house and the warmth to be found there.  It is also a fair question to ask that as the birds were all cold and miserable and were not drinking or eating anything, why had they huddled in abject terror for such a long period of time?  Had they not enough sense to come in out of the snow?

Finally at 6:10, one of the hens moved out from the pod and began making her way to the hen house door and the rest followed in single file.  The next morning their behavior was also puzzling - they refused to leave the hen house even though the snow had stopped and was just a few inches deep.

Around 8:00 A.M, we placed food inside the hen house and periodically added more.  Around 9:30, we placed a slice of bread on the gang plank and brave Ruby and Tallulah, our two alpha hens, ventured out to nibble.  But when the bread fell off the gang plank, neither had moxie enough to walk  the few inches to the slice that was lying in the snow.

At last around 11:00, the flock worked up enough courage to come outside.  "The Sunday it Snowed" was not our birds' finest moment.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Waiting for the First Gobble of Spring (Blog Seventy-three)

This morning after conducting my daily routine of filling the feeder and waterer for our chickens, I lingered outside in the early light hoping to hear the first gobble of spring.  The sound was not forthcoming; nevertheless, it is nearly time for an annual rite of spring to commence.

Already, a number of other birds have begun singing their mating tunes.  Last month, the great-horned owls were in full vocal outcry and the mourning doves also began pairing off.  This month, the robins, cardinals, and Carolina wrens, among others, have voiced their desires for spring to hurry up and arrive.

Yesterday another sign of the upcoming season was on display.  Two male robins were chest bumping each other on a little postage stamp of a neighbor's front yard, determined that each would become master of this piece of turf.  The loser, no doubt, would be forced out while the winner was safe - until some other upstart comes along.

This spring, as always, I plan to spring gobbler hunt in my two home states of Virginia and West Virginia and aim also to go to Tennessee and North Carolina.  Last spring, I had my best turkey season, but this year could easily be my worst - or another banner year.  There's rarely any logic concerning how a year unfolds in the region's turkey woods.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sinking Creek Conservation Easement (Blog Seventy-two)

This week we basically finished the process of putting another conservation easement on the rural land that we own.  In April of 2006, we bought 120 acres on Sinking Creek in Craig County, Virginia and immediately after purchasing the land contacted the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) to put an easement on the land.

In November of that year, we purchased a 20-acre tract that adjoins the 120 acres, so that the viewshed would be protected and the 20 acres would not be developed.  The purchase was also part of our "good fences make good neighbors policy," meaning, in this case, no neighbors no need for fences.

For the past few years we have talked about the need to place those 20 acres under easement and this year we finally did so.  As usual, working with the VOF and the Western Virginia Land Trust was a pleasurable experience.

As a couple who enjoys the outdoor experience, we strongly recommend conservation easements as a way to protect rural America from development.  Land trusts exist in every state on the local, regional, and statewide levels.

Here are some helpful sites.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Buck, a Bushytail, a Bear, and a Bunny (Blog Seventy-one)

This past Wednesday was the last day of Virginia's squirrel season, so after leaving school and arriving home, I went out the backdoor to squirrel hunt.  We have a seeded, logging road that runs from one end of our 38 acres to the other, so I walked to our food plot, where one end of the travel way begins or ends depending on where one starts.

No sooner had I left the food plot and entered the road that I spooked the young buck that has taken up residence on our property.  The smallish two pointer, an obvious 1 1/2-year-old male, has been spotted by me a dozen or so times this hunting season.  I was glad to see that he had survived the various deer seasons.

Immediately afterwards, I encountered a gray squirrel, but it was spooky and soon scampered away when I began to slink toward it.  About a half hour later, I heard something rambling through the undergrowth.  The animal turned out to be a black bear, perhaps not having denned somewhere because of the warm weather.

Moving on, and with darkness descending, I jumped a rabbit that likewise was moving along the logging road.  The cottontail was moving so fast that a shot was impossible.

Indeed, I spent the last hour of squirrel season not killing or shooting at anything.  No matter, it was a great evening to ramble through the woods.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Mornings with Elaine and Mad Men (Blog Seventy)

For the past few months, one of Elaine's and my Sunday morning pleasures has been to sit by the wood stove and watch Mad Men from 6:00 to 9:00 A.M. This morning I arose early to start the fire, so the living room was warm and cozy before she came downstairs for her morning oatmeal and Sunday dose of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Roger Sterling, and the gang.

Elaine likes to analyze the characters and I enjoy listening to her commentary. She can't stand Pete Campbell, is ambivalent about Ken Cosgrove, and disapproves of Betty Draper.

As for myself, I relish just being in the presence of Elaine's warm personality.  She did so many nice things for me today from fixing lunch (venison burgers, baked sweet potatoes, and wineberry pie) to watching the chickens as they wandered around the yard to planning a Scrabble contest for tonight before the North Carolina basketball game tonight (I'm an avid UNC basketball fan).

Every day, Sunday or not, with her is a joy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chickens in the Straw (Blog Sixty-nine)

Several blogs ago, I wrote about how Elaine and I placed a bale of straw in our chicken run.  The chickens have relished destroying the bale, scratching and pecking their way through it.

In about two weeks, the hard-packed bale was reduced to scattered straw.  Elaine then spread the straw evenly around the fenced in run.  And then the chickens had more fun, delightedly scratching through the duff every day.

Every time we bring the birds a treat (their favorites include scratch corn, Cheerios, Total Cereal, and bread of any kind) they enthusiastically scratch for hours looking for the last morsel.

We have decided not to free range the birds, knowing that they would last less than a week in our wooded 38 acres.  At least 13 different predators would make short work of them.  What we have done instead is let the birds out of the run in the evening and under our supervision, the chickens scratch their way across our yard.

The five hens are still producing well, providing us with three to five eggs daily.  However, they are moulting now and we expect egg production to suffer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Day as a Squirrel Hunting Guide (Blog Sixty-eight)

I spent all day Saturday taking youngsters and their parents squirrel hunting on the 38 acres behind our house.  I was working on several articles about young hunters, and our place is usually overrun with squirrels.

Not yesterday, though.  In the morning, I took a father and son hunting.  The wind howled, the trees shook, and the squirrels hunkered in their dens.  We only saw two squirrels all day, and they were in the process of fleeing from us.

That evening, Elaine and I hosted two parents and their daughter and son.  The dad and daughter went to one end of the property, the mom, son, and I went to the other.  Results similar to the morning were the result.

The whole, misbegotten day set me thinking about the vagaries of hunting.  I once went squirrel hunting with a wildlife biologist in the Jefferson National Forest.  The gentleman had picked the locale because of its bountiful supply of bushytails.  We never saw one all day.

Two things are certain after yesterday.  One, my career as a squirrel guide is seriously in jeopardy. And two, I expect to see hordes of bushytails every time I walk out the door today to tend to the chickens today.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Deer Season Over (Blog Sixty-seven)

Yesterday, deer season concluded and I was fortunate to kill a doe during the last half hour of the late muzzleloader season.  I started the season in September by bowhunting in Alleghany County, North Carolina and finished it yesterday in Franklin County, Virginia.  I ended up killing 10 deer, 9 in Virginia and 1 in West Virginia.

Elaine and I don't buy any meat from a store, so freezing a good supply of venison is essential for our 2012 food supply.  We easily eat 8 or 9 deer every year, plus share some with family and friends. 

It is always sad when deer season ends, as it has been such a big part of my life outdoors for the past 3 1/2 months.  On the other hand, I am going squirrel hunting next Saturday and am looking forward to the change of pace.  I also have to give two smallmouth bass seminars this month and that too will be a nice change.

Meanwhile, today, I have to clean much of my deer hunting gear, much of it has been piled onto my work room bed - and that is a real mess.  Today, for lunch Elaine and I are dining on venison tenderloin and wineberry pie - celebrating the bounty of the season.  Then it will be time to clean the chicken coop and let our birds free range in the yard for several hours.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best Christmas Present Ever (Blog Sixty-six)

Last Sunday, Elaine gave me the best Christmas present I have ever received - a fly that she tied herself and that came from a feather from a turkey I called in and killed.  I am not ashamed to admit that my eyes became misty when I found her creation in my Christmas stocking.

A little over  three years ago, Elaine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  As part of her recovery, she attended a Casting for Recovery ( retreat in 2010.  CFR is a national organization that offers retreats for women with or recovering from breast cancer. Those retreats combine fly fishing, counseling, medical expertise, and breast cancer recovery.  It was at a CFR retreat that my wife learned how to fly fish and tie patterns.

The joy of having Elaine healthy again and with me during Christmas is something that is hard to express.  The joy of her taking the time to hand tie something for me, especially combining two activities that I enjoy - river smallmouth bass fishing and turkey hunting - is equally inexpressible.

What a wonderful person and wife.