These were taken in the Japanese garden section last Friday using Pam's iPhone because I had left my camera back in the apartment. One reason I'm tempted to get one of these "smart phones" gadgets is the quality of the built-in camera.
Like most people who like the outdoors, I notice birds. The reason that many non-birders own bird books is that we want to identify and have some understanding of what we are seeing. While I am familiar with some bird sounds- the cranky screech of a disturbed great blue heron and the high pitched call of a hawk (inappropriate, I always felt, for such a fierce bird), I recently realized that I can't really identify any song birds by their calls.
It was Lyanda Lynn Haupt's The Urban Bestiary which called my attention to this deficiency in my nature appreciation. Her book contains tons of information about a variety of animals which may be found in cities and close-in and far-out suburbs, and she writes with wit and eloquence. Chapters are devoted to coyotes, moles, squirrels, bears and others, but her real love seems to be birds. She wants others to share this love by tuning in to all aspects these creatures and advises the useful beginning point of learning the robin's song. "If you do this", she says, "you will be more familiar with birds than 98% of Americans."
Many of the song birds (or perching birds or passerines) have left the area for the season, but some will remain and I'm developing the habit of listening more closely while outdoors. Using all our senses is a way of being in greater touch with the earth, a way of being more alive.
Writing about a recent TV debate on whether the nature of Islam conflicts with Western values of tolerance, Slate Magazine writer Andrew O'Hehir argues against the view of Islam critics TV host Bill Maher and especially his guest Sam Harris. For O'Hehir, Harris' opinion is colored by his particular brand of atheism which views religion as "failed science."
This attack on Islam as opposed to those who take a more conciliatory attitude about the religion reflects, according to O'Hehir, the difference between science majors and liberal arts majors. He writes, "When I say that one side is primarily concerned with facts and the other with narrative, or that one side understands the world primarily in subjective, experiential, and relativistic terms while the other focuses on objective and quantifiable phenomena and binary true-false questions, that may help us frame the profound mutual misunderstanding at work. Harris' conception of religion as bad science, which seems like a ludicrous misreading to those who understand religion as a mythic force that shapes community and collective meaning, is a classic example. One side insists that the only important question is whether the truth claims of religion are actually true; the other side says the question doesn't even matter, and then wonders what 'truth' is anyway. It's the overly literal-minded versus the hopelessly vague."
Author Lyanda Haupt in The Urban Beastiary see no conflict in incorporating both myth and science in her descriptions of animals. Early in the book, she quotes Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth that "mythology and science both extend the scope of human beings." Armstrong considers it "a mistake to regard myth as an inferior mode of thought which can be cast aside when humans have attained the age of reason. Mythology is not an early attempt at history and does not claim that its tales are objective fact. Like a novel, an opera, or a ballet, myth is make-believe; it is a game that transfigures our fragmented, tragic world, and helps us to glimpse new possibilities."
My own view is closer to Haupt's and Armstrong's than to O'Hehir's. My degree in history 44 years ago came from the University of Maryland's College of Arts and Sciences. It is now the College of Arts and Humanities, but the old name better suits me. As I wrote in this blog last December in a post titled "Between Poetry and Science", I'm comfortable in that position, respecting both the scientist systematically extending our knowledge and the artist inspiring us.
Although I've driven over it many times, I've never given a thought to its looks. From a fishing boat on the river below, it's actually attractive.
Yesterday was the annual Moo Cup Fishing Tournament, a tongue-in-cheek name for a gathering of guys who hang out at the internet site called the Moo Board for obscure reasons. A half day of fishing in the tidal Potomac is followed by drinking beer and eating some excellent barbeque chicken and ribs. Eating barbeque with your hands is not unusual, but the side dishes, green beans and macaroni and cheese, had to be eaten in the same manner because the forks and spoons were forgotten. With the food served off the bed of a pick-up truck, eight men dressed for fishing eating a meal with their hands must have been a somewhat primitive sight.
After the food came the presentation of the Moo Cup which is awarded to the guy who caught the biggest fish. Whiskey is poured into the cup for the winner while the losers drink straight from the bottle as it passes among them for a couple of rounds.
There isn't much fishing left as the weather grows cooler, so this event has come to be a fun ritual symbolizing the passing of the season for me.
The Golden ID program allows retired people to take courses at the University of Maryland for a reduced tuition rate. I've been in the program for four years, and for the past year I've been the Chairman who organizes the twice monthly luncheons. The format is informal, and the discussions are lively exchanges of information about courses and anything else. Because the participants are intellectually curious people who are interested in continuous education, the level of conversation is often high.
Fished the Potomac at Lock 8 on Friday, September 26, and caught a couple of smallmouth bass and a few bluegills in a couple of hours.
Tuesday the 30th, I took the kayak to a spot on the Bay. Fished an out-going tide for a couple of hours and caught nothing, but it's a nice spot. I've caught fish in the same waters on a friend's boat, so I plan to return sometime. Met friend Joe in Deale for lunch, so it turned out to be a nice day despite the poor fishing.
Today, I went back to the river, this time to Pennyfield Lock which I hadn't fished in some time. When the weather gets too cold to wade wet, I stop fishing for smallmouths on the Potomac, and I think I'm at that time because it was pretty chilly standing in waist deep water in a gusty wind. Nevertheless, I did manage a couple of smallmouths during a short trip, and the second was a nice fish, about 12-14 inches, on a top water fly.
Below is a picture of the lock-keeper's house which can be booked for an overnight stay.
With the wind in my face, the waves were against me as I paddled across the reservoir yesterday afternoon. I had a spinning rod with me and actually caught one small bluegill, but mostly I just drifted along the windward shoreline looking at the scenery.
That shoreline, the Howard County side, is much more interesting than the Montgomery County side in that part of the adjoining lands. A geology professor I
took a course from a year ago lives nearby, and I'd like to have him along on a canoe cruise so he could point out why the rock formations look as they do.
The day wasn't what most people think of as a nice day, but the cloudy skies were good for pictures like these. Getting back to the parking lot was easy with the wind at my back and leaving the fly rods home was a good decision in that wind.
...in the air yesterday at Nolands Ferry. In the air and in the water would be more accurate, but the weather's been beautiful this week, and it was only when the breeze blew that I felt a chill while wading the Potomac. Some years I forget to adapt clothing as the season changes, and in October I find myself shivering because I dressed the same as I had in August. Really wasn't a problem yesterday, but I'll keep that in mind over the next few weeks.
Fishing was unspectacular but certainly satisfactory with three smallmouth bass and a bluegill, some on a surface popper and some lower down on a bullet-head darter. Water level was 1.13 at Point of Rocks.
To me, the entire nontidal Potomac is the Upper Potomac because I'm generally fishing for smallmouth bass, but I guess I should distinguish between the waters near DC from the more western sections. Today, I fished near Lock #8 on the C&O canal, and the above scene shows how scenic this section is even though it is anything but remote. For example, facing upriver from the same location, the Beltway is clearly visible in the photo below, and that infamous road was in fact in view for almost the entire time I waded.
It was a beautiful day although the fishing was a little slow. I did manage two smallmouths and a feisty bluegill in the three hours on the water. Two were caught on a surface slider and one on a B&B. Water level was 2.9 at Little Falls.
During my walk this morning, I thought about what I wrote Sunday about last week at the beach and speculated that there is something about the shore that is conducive to reminiscing.
The two beach houses pictured were not the only ones that our family once vacationed in that I made a point of walking by, and when I did I thought back about those past visits. Stores in Bethany Beach also bring back memories of the past 27 years of vacations there. When I'm near Rhodes 5 and 10, for example, I find myself remembering being in that store when the kids were small and were allowed to pick out toys to play with at the beach. During my normal routine at home I seldom have those kind of thoughts.
This reminiscing is not just the case of an old man looking back because there is more to his past than to his future. On one of our first beach vacations, I walked through the town at night and thought back about the summer I spent on the Jersey Shore 20 years before, and I was barely 40 when I was doing that reminiscing. No, I think there is something about the ocean that summons up such images.
Maybe it's the steady pounding of the surf like the ticking of a clock that make us think of the passage of time. Also, there is the movement of the sun. During a typical day at the beach, I set up the umbrella in mid-morning and find myself moving my beach chair to stay in its shade as it moves as the day goes on. I'm like a human sundial. In writing about the importance of rhythms last Fall (http://writings-djones.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-beat-goes-on.html), I mentioned that during beach visits I try to get into the rhythms of the tidal changes. The pounding of the surf against the beach and the rise and fall of the tides- they both mark time. Maybe these rhythms click in our minds and make us think of times past.
Early in the week my feet display a distinct tanning pattern brought about by wearing Teva sandals all summer. During the week I wore flip-flops or went barefoot, so the pale parts of my feet got a little burned.
The City of Bethany Beach has made a park at the end of the loop canal.
About 25 years ago, we stayed at this house on the canal. Although I enjoyed being able to crab from the dock and watch the wildlife on the canal, we were further from the beach than normal which made it a little inconvenient with small children.
This was our house this summer which we rented once before, about 12 years ago.
Took a break from smallmouth bass fishing on rivers to accept an invitation from my friend Greg to go out on his 17 foot Boston Whaler yesterday. He caught a couple of small perch and a couple of small rockfish on light spinning tackle while I used an 8 weight fly rod and caught a small bluefish. He was disappointed with our results, but I had a good time. Though too small to keep, the bluefish fought well and jumped. I love it when fish jump.
Good fishing yesterday at the Mouth of the Monocacy. Waded along this gravel bar in the morning and caught three smallmouths on a green surface popper.
In the quiet water at the end of the bar, I caught four bream. It took somewhat over an hour to cover that stretch of water, and I then walked back to the kayak, ate lunch, and took pictures. It's a good summer for the hibiscus which grow along this shoreline:
After the break, I resumed fishing for a brief period and caught another smallmouth on a chartreuse bullet-head darter and then called it quits. Had a nice talk at the boat ramp with a guy about my age who hunts ducks in these waters. River level was 1.4 at Point of Rocks.
Both Nobel Prize-winning writers, their lifetimes spanned almost exactly the same years. Their writing styles were dramatically different, but the outdoors figured prominently in their lives and in their writing. Hemingway wrote about both hunting and fishing whereas Faulkner, to my knowledge at least, mentioned fishing only in passing, but the two activities are essentially the same with different quarry and usually with different tools.
Hemingway was a world traveler, and much of his writing about hunting takes place in Africa. In his short stories and in The Green Hills of Africa he is often very precise about the specific gun calibers and bullets used. The locales of his fishing stories span from Michigan to Spain and to Cuba and are similarly detailed about equipment and technique. Faulkner focused on his home area in northwest Mississippi, and although very descriptive of the terrain and the hunt he gave only a general description of the gun, letting the reader know not much more than whether it was a rifle or shotgun.
Pursuit of fish or game heightens senses: sight, sound, and smell. In social situations, Faulkner quietly watched and listened. Hemingway was quoted as saying he disliked cigarette smoking because as a hunter he was sensitive to the disagreeable smell.
Hunting and fishing have not been necessities for most people in the world for some time, and those of us who are drawn to these activities often ponder what it is about them which entices us. This pondering leads some to questioning about humans' place in nature and how other human activities might reflect these very basic urges. For me, in very different ways both Hemingway's and Faulkner's writings display these questions.
I've been haunted by a large smallmouth I hooked last fall and eventually lost after it got loose after a few jumps. The spot on the upper Monocacy has done well for me, and I've found it to be a pleasant place to wade. Yesterday, however, it was disappointing.
The water was higher than I was used to from previous visits (2.0 at Frederick and 2.1 at Bridgeport) probably because I usually fish there later in the season, and wading was a little trickier. Despite trying a variety of flies I caught no bass, but about a half dozen bream and a fallfish saved the outing.
Like last year, the first part of summer has been wet and river levels correspondingly high. Nevertheless, although the upper Potomac has been low enough to wade my favorite spots for a week or so, I hadn't gotten up there until today when I drove to Nolands Ferry.
It was good to be catching large bluegills in the morning because I hadn't seen any that big for a while in those waters. They put quite a bend in the seven weight fly rod, and I would have been satisfied with that although I was really looking for smallmouths. When eating lunch on a gravel bar, I noticed some surface activity and paddled a little further upriver where I put on a surface slider which had not been effective earlier.
Bingo, I got a hit and when it immediately jumped I knew it was a smallmouth. It turned out to be a typical Potomac bass, about foot long and healthy-looking and feisty. While floating back to the ramp I spotted some larger ones which I'll remember for the next visit. Water level was 1.5 at Point of Rocks.
My updated list of species caught this year is as follows:
Like many readers, I don't find William Faulkner's novels easy-going. The pace is slow, the sentences long, and the action tends to meander along. However, during the spring semester at the University of Maryland, I sat in one day on an English course that featured a student presentation on his last novel, The Reivers, and decided to read it. I enjoyed the book very much, and it caused me to think about Faulkner's attitude about race.
In general William Faulkner was a white southerner of his time. In the three or four of his novels I've read, African-American characters appear often, but they tend to behave in accordance with the accepted mores of the Deep South in the first half of the 20th century. I don't believe Faulkner ever politically challenged these practices, but I do think he saw black Mississippians as individuals.
In The Reivers, Faulknerportrayed his black characters as he does his white characters in that some were smart, others not, some were honest while others deceitful, and some were kind, and others less so. One character in particular, Ned, is generally the smartest guy in the room in his scenes although he is generally careful in showing off his intelligence around whites. The most despicable characters are white, and they often display their meanness and dishonesty in their interactions with the black characters. In these choices he made about characters and action, I believe Faulkner was communicating something about his attitude about black people. At the time The Reivers was published in 1962, the first signs of change regarding race relations in America were taking place. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was six years earlier, and the Greensboro sit-ins began two years earlier. Faulkner had to have been conscious of these occurrences and how they would effect what was sometimes called the southern way of life.
The Reivers is primarily a coming-of-age story, and the main character, an 11 year-old boy, at one point reflects on his growing anger as he becomes aware of how people act in the world. Among the targets of this anger are "white people behaving exactly as white people bragged that only Negroes behaved." Since Faulkner died the year The Reivers was published, I choose to think that at the end of his life this is what Faulkner thought.
Yesterday I visited a friend who recently transferred from a hospital to a nursing home until he is ready for a major operation. The friend is exactly my age, and I have been musing that such visits to others, or others' visits to me, will become increasingly common as I grow older. We're at that stage.
Two recent trips I've taken with people with extensive local knowledge illustrate this.
Yesterday, friend Lou and I went with Capt. Mike to Mattawoman Creek off the Potomac, a strikingly beautiful area 20 miles downriver from DC. Capt. Mike is a great guide who seems to know every inch of these fishing grounds, and yet all our efforts produced only one small largemouth bass. That's the way it is sometimes.
A few weeks before, I met another friend, Greg, at 5:30 am in the parking lot of his boat's marina. He pulled his truck next to me, lowered the window and told me that a storm was heading to our location on the Chesapeake. Like Capt. Mike, he knows his area well and times his trips for just the right tide and wind conditions. We waited out the storm at the marina and at his home a few blocks away, but when the storm passed and the sun came out a few hours later all the conditions were wrong. Nevertheless, we tried, and, as we anticipated, we caught nothing. Still, we had a nice time watching the rain and lightning at the marina, putting together a piece of furniture he recently bought for his video system, and then having lunch at his favorite neighborhood pub.
Thanks to Lou for the above picture on Capt. Mike's boat. That's a good angle for me even though there appears to be metal handlebars growing out of my head. (Actually it's part of the front casting platform.)
Pam's grandfather was living in this house when I first visited it about 35 years ago. The house is located in a small West Virginia town and has stayed in the family with sister-in-law Kathy and her husband Bernie currently owning it.
When I first entered the house, I was struck by the hand painted artwork of Disney cartoon characters on the dining room wall because I had seen a similar scene long ago. In the 1950's my Uncle Steve and his family lived in an old house on the outskirts of a tiny town in Upstate New York, and the kitchen wall also contained pictures from the Disney cartoon feature, Bambi.
My guess is that these paintings were done in the 1940's because the movie was released in 1942. I don't know if an itinerant artist specializing in these paintings roved small town America in those years, or if kits were sold providing instructions for home-owners to paint them themselves. To me the pictures have always symbolized a link between my family and my wife's.