Monday, December 20, 2021

Winter Solstice Greetings 2021

     Once again, Gentle Readers, the grip of a full moon band tail pigeon opener is the impetus for this year's end salutation.

           Tommy lurks in the forest as model for Youthful Hunter Clothing Catalogue

 December 18 was this year's opening day for the one week band tail pigeon hunt in the ridge tops near the Palomar Observatory.  The season is only one week in duration, with a two bird limit for this alpine treat.  With David committed to swimming sectionals, Tommy, Tashtego and I followed seasoned woodsmen Robert and Todd on our annual  predawn pigrimage to the snow-dusted ridges near Mount Palomar.  We had to be in place on the ridge well before sunrise.

Opening day is always near the winter Solstice and the week before Christmas, so it has become the messenger of Peace on Earth for this twisted publication. 

The band tail has this sort of is cult following, partly because of the way you hunt it in the forest, rather than the kind of open-sky scrub that characterizes dove and most other upland game venues.  These birds are bigger and more striking in coloration than the doves we get at lower elevations.  Both pigeons and doves share the scientific name Columbidae, which we are not even allowed to say anymore because of what we now know about how the Native Americans were treated after 1492.

"Well," one might ask, "What is the difference between doves and pigeons?"

Some differences are obvious - The dove is a symbol of peace, tranquility and nature's beauty, while the pigeon is associated with swarming, free-loading and urban vandalism (Def from above).  Your narrator's firm conclusion is that what we call pigeons are bigger than doves and otherwise there really is no difference or rule that can be applied. 

I rousted Tommy at 4 am.  Tash was already bouncing with anticipation, as he had observed the shotguns coming out of the safe and into the gun cases the night before.  He saw his kennel in the back of the truck and rocketed into position.

After a little conversation to make sure nothing was foregotten, Tommy hit the snooze button for the ride up.  I listened to the carnage of WW I on Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast after our rendezvous with Todd and Robert at the Del Taco just off the 5.  The setting full moon lit up a clear, cool night as it swelled in the downward trajectory of its compressing azimuth.  We were on the heels of a pretty good storm that added snow to the terrain from which we would be setting our wandering ambush.

I always hate the very first part of this hike, because it is a sudden interruption from seat warmer cabin to strapping on a headlamp and starting a breathgulping uphill stumble through snowcrusted dead-fall in the dark.  Despite the snow, it was not as cold as anticipated.  After I followed our squad with a gasp-infested pursuit, we set up on either side of the ridge saddle. Tommy and I took up positions in the rocks and trees a short distance from each other on the east side and waited for the sun to start peeling away the gray light.

The sun peeked over a snowy ridge and we started hearing the waking sounds of the forest like an orchestra warming up. Tash hunkered down with us to peer toward the opening in our canyon for the tell-tale motion of game birds. 

     After a while we started hearing gunfire in the distance and Tash began surging toward the sound.  He maintained discipline to our "stay" command.  The reports progressed toward us with ever sharper barks as hunters on the slope below our position opened up.  Soon we caught sight of a few flights banking around in the distance.  Some started heading our way and we had a few shots upward through the tree tops.  Once we figured out the likely paths of flight, we adjusted our field of fire, started getting better opportunities and making shots.  Your narrator limited pretty quickly and Tommy was looking to get one more as the birds flew in greater numbers and in more frequent passes than they have for several seasons.

 It was nice to have a convenient spot in the snow to cool the birds.

  By 9 am Todd and Robert came onto our side with their limits just as Tommy made the last shot of the hunt to drop his second bird, rack the slide and complete our harvest.  

    The tragic avian aftermath of an efficient morning for the humans.

We all celebrated with a little sandwich and deer-jerky break before calling in another set of hunters from below us to give them our lucky spot.  We mosied back down the slope toward the trucks and chatted about this year's much improved population and harvest.  On the way down, it almost seemed like the birds were strafing us as ever-increasing squadrons of these striking creatures flashed about all the way down to the road.

We retired to an All American Breakfast at the Lake Henshaw Cafe, which has undergone a change of ownership and has not quite recovered all of its former cache'.  The food was good and the lake was glassy and expansive after the recent rains. The whole setting was extremely inviting, but apparently could not provoke me into taking a picture.

After breakfast, Todd and Robert headed up to Love Valley to look for deer to feed Robert's either-sex muzzle-loader tag, while Tommy and I took Tash a bit further down the valley to go walking-with-guns through the manzanita and cactus down near San Felipe.  Tash pointed up a few quail, most of which we chased away with gunfire while adding one to the ice chest.  In truth, we were a bit lackadaisical in our approach.  We were not really willing to commit to a sustained hunt, as we wanted to get back in time to see David swim in the Saturday evening finals in Huntington Beach and already had what we came for.  We noted gaps in the wire, the generally favorable conditions of the areas we covered and decided to call it a scouting trip for future adventure.

The ride back took twice as long, but we got the tools put away and the birds cleaned in time to join WendyJo in the stands to observe some night time aquatic racing.

I put the birds into a tangerine, spice and grapefruit-vinegar brine, where they soak as I type this essay.   These critters can make for a dainty little feast, but with the constrictions of the limit, they are not crowd feeders like some of the other creatures we get to throw down at gatherings.

The Darkness of the Solstice is once again upon us.  Despite a lot of reasons for optimism, this year has not exactly bolted out of the gates with positivity.

Our year started with a frightening reminder that a violent minority bent on retaining power through dismantling our democracy is still hard at work desecrating our flag and lobbing turds into the punchbowl of patriotism.

The events of January 6 were an unsuccessful dress rehearsal for those who now seek to excuse or brush past a sinister attempt to rule through treason, intimidation and misinformation as their Trumpeted alternative to rational persuasion or honest policy.

We must refrain from elevating the decoys of false equivilency to excuse actors willing to sacrifice our vulnerable democracy on the altar of an alt-right aparthied. 

As the darkness of the Solstice gives way to greater illumination in the days that follow, let us remain vigilent in calling for the truth and taking care of each other.  "Freedom" should not be redefined as angry white men with  black rifles doing whatever they want, without consequences.

Just when it seemed like we might be able to enjoy some social encounters that have been postponed for years we have more Covid mania with which to contend, even with second vaccinations and boosters.    Everyone is more than a little fatigued by the incessant waves of precautions,  but we certainly have a lot more resources and recovery than we did a year ago. We are lucky to have a vaccine and can hopefully avoid blaming Jesus for some lib-owning refusal to do a tiny bit to look out for one another.

While there is certainly a recent pall that has been cast over this year's gatherings, we have been able to see more of one another than  in the past couple of years.  

We got a chance to honor our departed ancestors with postponed memorials to remind the living of what we mean to one another.

Isaac has spent most of the year in Boston, working on the lobster boat Audrey as a sternman and generally enjoying his life with Haley as she completes her masters.

Lizzy shined in her efforts to improve the environment of our state and the lives of its citizens with her leaf blower legislation -  one portable gas powered device at a time. 

She has continued her exploration of northern California Parks and wilderness and was able to join us for our first trip to Mammoth since the pandemic.

              Sarah and Conner announced their engagement 

              and we could not be more proud.

Tommy and David have had a wonderful year with resuming live high school and get-togethers with Evolution Swim Club. 

Both are having a a lot of fun dialing up their friends as all of us find reasons to celebrate an emergence from the gloom.

We got in a few sporting adventures with dogs.

       and saltwater....

.......  and the sacred couch of contemplation.

 There are so many reasons to crane your ear, like the RCA dog, toward the melody advancing on our senses from the Cosmic Victrola that spins away our mortality with its revolutions.  

Once again, I can hear the sound of Optimistic Voices, beckoning like the Sirens of Succor:

We're out of the Woods,

We're out of the Dark,

We're out of the Night.

Step into the Sun.

Step into the Light.                                                                         

We hope that all of you have a chance to get together with as many of those you love as possible as we cross this river of darkness and wade ashore toward times of expanding light and hope in the coming year. 

 May your adventures be memorable, positive and allow you to know, for sure, that

    These Are The Days.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Insecticide On The Water

 It seems I have a lot of catching up to do in my reporting, so I will use this chance to cram multiple experiences into a random stew that a more thoughtful writer would dedicate time and effort to explore on a prompt and individual basis.

 I woke up early Friday and took the dogs our for a walk.  The air was cold.  When I picked up the dog doo in the inverted plastic lawn sausage presentation bags, they warmed my grateful hands. 

 Finally some fall weather.

Secret Skipper had invited me out for my first lobster trip of the year after I got done faking my own death to avoid going to work for a couple of weeks. 

It was a spectacular fail in my attempt to portray a Pez dispenser at a Candy themed Cosplay festival.

I tried to persuade Wendyjo to let Tommy and David loose to assist the aging core of our team and partake in potential bounty of this lobster raid, but dedication to the regimen of competitive swimming and a disappointing resistance to the lure of truancy prevented them from joining us.  Skipper would have to make do with your narrator as his only sternman.

Earlier this month while David and Wendyjo were touring back in Jersey, your reporter took the blue collar route with Tommy and Tash pushing down to Woodland's club near Mexicali for a satisfying day of chasing pheasant and chukar.  Tash was great on point and retrieve, Tommy hit his shots and we cooked up a bunch of tasty game bird dishes.  We even got to drop off a couple of our victims with Rich and Rachel, who we knew would do culinary justice to our harvest.

Your reporter has also neglected to file a report following our lone tuna trip of the summer, so please allow that event to be reflected in the photo below.  Skipper got this 70 pound bluefin on a fly-line 'dine about 15 miles from my living room off Dana Point. I got there by driving up to San Pedro and then leaving with Secret Skipper for a pre-dawn run back down the coast to our backyard from Cabrillo Marina.    

This fish took enough line to force us to chase and back down on it before Skipper recovered enough of his spool for me to get a gaff shot for  a most bountiful harvest with our friends.

That bluefin was a hard-earned chunk of sashimi. I am really just trying to get the non-reporting-of-this-tuna monkey off my back, since Skipper had to grind so hard without literary recognition due to my avoidance of the hobby-driven keyboard during an otherwise work-infested summer. 

The story to which I am about to return is about killing something else.

Skipper and I headed out to the Island of Romance after picking up a scoop and a half of mixed sardines, anchovies and a tale or two from Mike, the master baiter at the San Pedro Bait barge.

The trip over to the island at 1 pm shouldered us into a persistently cranky swell and wind chop out of the west.  We stayed bundled up on a slower than usual passage and started cutting bait and making the gear ready for a deployment that would be complete at 4:30pm.

After scouting the bottom for structure, we placed our ten hoop set on a steeply rising tide with no moon. 

We put out three in the 250 and deeper range, three in the midrange under 200 and four in 150 or less. The wind chop was still capping in the water where we made our deep sets in the 250 foot range. 

 The current was ripping as we motored downwind to cast for some bass in shallow water.

The wind was blowing us east at trolling speed and casting plastics on heavy heads resulted in no bites and cold hands.  I eventually hung my swimbait on the bottom and snapped it off when the drift stretched it to the tink point. I was happy to wind in the slack, rack my stick and go into the wheel house to get out of the wind and into my sandwich bag.  Skipper joined me on a pre-pull munch-out a bit later as the gray began to envelope a pale sunset.

When we started pulling at 5:45, we discovered that the deep rigs were all "pegged," meaning that the wind  and current had blown the buoys back to the point that the counterweight had retreated into the back of the buoy while the hoop and current were combining to tug the lighted float below the surface.  Skipper did a great job of pulling us into the wind to try to take up the slack on our retrieves.  The tension on the line was difficult to overcome in getting the rope up through the yard and mast pullies and then down into the newly upgraded line wheel on the Bagram.

The first four were empties, but we knew that we were on the bottom because of the big turban snails that festooned the mesh like Christmas ornaments.  It was starting to feel like one of those "paying your dues nights," with the  stiff, cold breeze and stubborn tug-back  from the resisting hoop lines.   I reminded myself just to be glad I was standing up and back out here.

Finally, on number 5 in the midrange, we got a real nice crawler and were on the board.  We got another whose size condemned it to the dubiously named livewell from the 120 foot range before moving into the last two of our shallowest  tries in less than 100 feet. 

The wind was starting to die down and was significantly less brisk in the lee provided by the shallowest drops.  These last two retrieves were not pegged and we were able to get slack on the line before pulling on what skipper declared to be a heavy load as he sampled the resistance to the wheel.  We both peered hopefully into the depths as the hoop started to come into view in the milky light that seeped into the water from the flickering light housings in our hull.  We had dropped these last two in an area of heavy kelp, which often creates a bit of  friction through which to drag.

"It's full of kelp and that what's causing the drag", Skipper noted as we saw a proliferation of brown against the mesh of the ascending platform.  The hoop popped into the surface lights as the "kelp" mutated into the grunting, insect forms of  our quarry, causing both of us to hoot like apes as I hauled it over the gunwhale and onto the deck.  Seven legal lobster, including a couple of three pounders, flopped about and were deposited in the tank amidst high fives over the sudden reversal of our fortune.

Like the lucky tailor from Brother's Grimm, we struck Seven at a Blow with this epically stupid pull.

This haul was a full limit in a single lift and was a new record for your narrator and Skipper.  Suddenly, we had 9 bugs going into our last pull of the first set of the night.

We were now completely energized from the cold doldrums that had so afflicted us a few minutes earlier.

We got the last hoop line onto the wheel and Skipper sampled the resistance.  "This one feels even heavier than the last."  We got hopeful again and beamed our expectations down into the darkness below.

This time, as the hoop popped up to the point of my interception and removal from the pulley, the top of the cone was completely shrouded in kelp.  We noted something below and cleared off the heavy cabbage to discover this hog holding court below.

In two consecutive pulls, we had hit what for me were personal best records for both quantity and quality in decades of this pursuit.  
After a bit of tribal dancing around the deck, we
gathered ourselves back enough to snap this shot of Skipper presenting our prize like Mufasa thrusting Simba up for consecration.

Now we headed out for a second pass knowing that a big crawl was on and we could probably fill our limit while recovering and breaking down our gear for an early end to an evening that had started out so slow.  This gambit is always a risky exercise in hubrisbut it seemed warranted in the giddy mood that swept over us as the wind died off and the chop laid down.

The deeps were still pegged and uninhabited when we pulled them in, dumped the bait, removed the lights and began stacking them for transport in the stern.  

We got another couple of big ones and then found ourselves in the high clover of throwing back large lobster as we worked through the heavily occupied shallow drops.  We had all the gear packed, stacked and the decks hosed down for running home at 7:50 pm, as we listened to the Clippers begin their defeat of the Lakers.

Although I would have nodded and said "Yeah I know that" if somebody told me our biggest roach weighed 8 pounds, the tale of the scale revealed a different reality as this bug tipped the digital de-liar at 5.96 pounds.  I will be rounding up to six every time I talk about this trip.

Larry let me take home the big one to show off to my kids.  We all got to take turns posing with our victims before I got medieval on them.

David cracked WendyJo up while channeling Maxwell Smart as he tried to secretly contact PETA to report our cruel harvest on the Live Lobster phone, while a not-so-innocent bird dog lurked near the bottom of the frame.

Since our yard is under construction, the traditional "Lobster Life"  growth chart photo was an indoor job this time. Jen got into the portrait to pull down the lense as Tommy has begun to encroach on David's altitude.  This photo is a clear demonstration of the concept that animals are capable of complex reactions to stimuli.  Although I hate the despicably overused derivative of this term, Dersu is clearly expressing AWE at the sight of this most dominant Lobster.

We were able to coax Sarah and Connor up from San Clemente, as well as drag Randy and Suzanne down from Corona Del Mar to help us consume another big kill.  

I made all of our guests line up like the Usual Suspects behind the food before I would let anyone eat.  Suzanne did not want anyone getting her plate or cutting her first place in line during the delay.

Once again, our One-True God provided abundance to the Chosen as we celebrated Hanukkah with the traditional Hebrew fisherman feast of shellfish and beef.  There was plenty left for lobster omelettes and other lobster-themed consumables for the remainder of the weekend.

We hope that all of you are sharing in the bounty of the fall harvest, as we count our blessings, light the last of the candles to fully stoke the Menorah, and always remain mindful of the fact that


Sunday, November 7, 2021

Mammoth Getaway

  Gentle Readers. 

It has been far too long since your reporter pushed another essay at you from behind all of these covid based excuses.

I am reaching back to the beginning of what turned out to be a hectic summer to try and recapture a trip our offspring conspired to deliver as a Christmas present to their parents.  They decided that their gift to us would be separate vacations.  The girls took Wendy to Topanga Canyon for  some kind of hippie-chick encounter workshop while the full compliment of kids planned a fishing trip to a Big Bear Air B&B in May with Dad.  The owners apparently did a little bit of research and then contacted us to let us know that we were no longer welcome to stay there when we were pretty committed to that time frame.

Fortunately, our good friends Rich and Rachel, who have hosted us on prior occasions, volunteered to allow us to totally horn in in on their vacation plans for Mammoth during the first week of June.  The loss of the Big Bear time slot meant that Isaac was rubbed off on the rail of adverse scheduling.  He had to leave by then to begin his new job as a lobsterman in Boston, so we had to carry on without him.


Sarah, Tommy, David and I  left in the predawn darkness of a Sunday morning for a cruise up 395 to our traditional rally point of an 8:30 am  breakfast at Jack's in Bishop. We were a couple minutes late and there was a line of mask wearing feeders ahead of us, but we got seated soon enough at our favorite table.

We made it to Mammoth and hung out with Rich and Rachel for a day of acclimation followed by the first of a really great series of dinners.

The next morning, we snuck out in the gray light for our 6 am  rendevous at Lake Crowley with Joe Contaldi, our favorite guide in the eastern Sierra.  Joe had planned a day of midging near McGee creek.  This kind of flyfishing involves using a weighted brace of two tiny midges suspended just above the bottom and below an indicator that dips when a trout sips at one of the flies. You have to keep a constant eye on the indicator and strike violently when the bobber exhibits any movement. This year, the bite was mostly cutthroats that were feeding in 25 feet of water, so it was especially challenging to cast with that much sinkered line that had get through a sliding bobber.  It is too much line to allow for a fixed indicator.  We used rubber bands on the flyline as wind-on stoppers for the sliding bobbers.  The rubber bands have a tendency to hang up in the guides as we tried to work our casts away from the boat, so we had a hard time getting distance and then waggling our rod tips so that the line would feed down through the float without bringing the whole rig back towards the boat.

Our difficulty with getting distance on our casts did not really prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, as the fish were periodically feeding through the zone over which we hovered.

Sarah hooked up early and often as the morning clouds kept us cool and the wind stayed off our spot.

She landed a pretty nice rainbow and was the high stick for the day on a nice grade of Cutts.

Below is an example of one of Sarah's  bronze-back cutthroats

Joe now has a special fishing guide edition camera lense which dramatically enlarges the size of the angler's hands.  Below is our favorite example of this  effect, as David hoisted up a trout big enough to have bitten his head clean off.

As is almost always the case, the wind came up round noon and it was time to get off the lake.  It was great to see Joe after a few years of no contact.  He has always delivered and we look forward to trying out his Pyramid Lake technique for monster Lahontans when the opportunity presents itself.

We went back to Crowley the next day to try our luck without Joe. Your narrator was able to put the kids on fish, with Tommy taking big fish honors with a beautiful Brown that ate a Tazmanian about four colors down on leadcore line just north of the entrance to the Crowley Marina.

After we got off the lake, we headed up to Lee Vining for a great lunch at the Whoa Nelli Deli and some hiking near Mono Lake.

Sarah is still their big sister, but Tommy and David have reeled her in on the height chart.

We hit Hot Creek for some fly fishing in the evening before coming back to have another fabulous dinner with the Clampitts.

On day three we went back to Crowley for another shot at the trout.  This  time it was David's turn to score prettiest fish honors with this nice brown he got on a firetiger Tasmanian. Net man Tommy and sister Sarah remained cloaked against the cold of these early June mornings despite the sun on the water.  All fish were successfully released and none seemed too worse off for meeting us .

Lizzy finally was able to join us from Sacramento on Thursday after we got back from Crowley, so we bopped around town and celebrated with another fun dinner after our mandatory cocktail hour set the tone for the flow of another pleasant evening

We got in some tennis with Rich and Rachel.  The kids even got in a workout at a local pool so that we did not completely abandon Wendy's swimming protocol. Oh, and I got to read from Rachel's really beautiful hardbound edition of Typee each night.  I finished before we left as part of my respect for cannibals.

The last day we all had a chance to be together, we decided spend the day on a pontoon boat at Convict Lake, which is one of my favorite places on earth. The kids and I got there early to take possession of the boat and scout around the lake.  We were joined by Rich and Rachel later in the day, as only my children willingingly subject themselves to the kind of lengthy tours of duty that boating with their dad creates for unsuspecting passengers.  We had great snacks and good tunes while orbiting the Lake.  We spotted deer and just basked in the majesty that pulses from the walls of this granite cathedral as the sun came out and warmed up another breathtaking day.

Sarah and Rachel kicked back on the couch. Lizzy got master fishing honors on a day when scenery, food and tunes took precedent over angling dedication, although we kept a line in the water  most of the time to keep the fish honest.  Lizzy even jumped in the lake in the afternoon to scare them away.


We topped off the trip with a fancy dinner at the Convict Lake Restaurant.  I think I would rather eat at this place than any restaurant in the world, because that would mean for sure that I was at Convict lake and likely among those humans I hold most dear.

The next morning we said good bye to Rich and  Rachel, as they decided to postpone the rest of their Mammoth vacation and come back when we were finally gone.  They  explained that they wanted to be able to generate the kind of distance that would allow them to miss us.

We had one more glorious day to spend with Lizzy.  We made the most of it with a dash back up 395 to spend the day hiking below Yosemite along Lee Vining Creek and then heading down to spark about along the so-cool-it-looks-fake June Lake Loop.  We stopped for a tasty lunch at the delightful Silver lake Cafe before hiking and getting in a bit of dry fly fishing along Rush Creek between Silver and Grant Lakes.  I could spend a month on the loop and not put a dent in all that it has to offer.

The next morning we said our sad goodbyes to Lizzy before we escorted each other out to 395. She turned north as we waved one last time and pointed south.  We checked her progress on our cell phones and celebrated the fabulous opportunity we took to be with each other in this magical part of the world.

We have so much for which to be grateful and I am certainly full of thanks to Rich, Rachel and my kids for bringing me more wonderful experiences and memories from which to project future plans and find refuge in wistful moments of dreamy serenity.

The clock has hit pause and the days are suddently shorter as winter beckons. 

 I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thankgsgiving and  try to keep in mind that

These are the Days