Saturday, December 30, 2023

Blasting and Casting into a Brand New Year

Gentle Readers:
     The end of 2023 brought us big tides, huge waves, biting fish and a chance to get in a little bit of upland game hunting, or more accurately, hiking with a gun, as we declared an end to the War on Christmas.

     Frolicking winter bathers came into view from Young's Beach Shack, where we munched out on great food while watching some of the biggest sets of the year roll in with the king tides.  Beaches to the north took greater damage, so it was more splendid than terrifying for us softy southerners.
     The fish in the harbor bit for us, as halibut moved in tight to feed right after the morning tide peaked.  Hot bait was the white Zoom on a 1/4 ounce dart head, which Tommy rigged up below.

     Your reporter got to play the role of butt whisperer, as many fish rose to the occasion and gave me my three best days of the year, all in a row. It was like the miracle of Jesus with the loafers and fishes.          Getting to release legal flatfish in front of an audience of  surprised harbor-walkers is always fun and I have mostly cast for nothing but fresh air in the harbor this year.

The spotted bay bass even got into the act, as the action was good for about 40 minutes after each morning high tide peaked.

     On December 29, your reporter  and pointing dog Tashtego were joined by my fellow mid-westerner Patrick Neverlate at Woodlands Pheasant club, which is located just on the lucky side of the Mexican border.  It was our first try at the redbirds in over a year and it seems we were a bit rusty.
Mendel  Woodland has steadily improved the facility, which now boasts a clubhouse decorated with  some really beautiful avian taxidermy to go with enhanced food and beverage amenities and real furniture.

     Tash watched us powder every clay we tried to hit as we gained false confidence practicing with the thrower before going out to miss  many of the birds in the giant field Mendel had reserved for us.  Note the obvious expression of doubt on this dog's face after he watched us blast those discs and then walk away thinking that we were ready.

     One of the nice things about upland game hunting is you get to walk and talk, just like golfing, which is an activity in which I no longer engage.  There is no need for silence or sneaking around when strolling behind a working dog, unlike the wet misery of duck hunting or freezing in a snowdrift ambush for antlered prey.

     Patrick is from Wabash, Indiana, which is famous for making cannonballs and mink farming. He was relieved that the busload of his extended family had at long last headed back east after coming out  to stay with his family the day before Thanksgiving in order to spend Christmas in California. Patrick's family has, for generations, run the largest mink ranch west of Fort Wayne and it is quite a storied enterprise.
     Neverlate Mink Ranch has been around since the famous Indiana grave robbing scandal of 1902.  That caper involved Rufus Cantrell, who many of my readers probably remember best for trying to take advantage of the body shortage in dissection facilities for medical research institutions in the greater Indianapolis area when there was  a lucrative black market for body parts. 
       Neverlate Ranch supplies all of  the raw materials used in manufacturing the mink-pelt mud flaps that are mandated by  Wabash County regulations to be installed on every semi-trailer load of mink meat transported to Chicago through Wabash County. Some folks think this requirement is a scam perpetrated by county aldermen trying to support a strictly local interest through an unfair economic burden on interstate commerce.  Most people from Wabash do not feel that way because people in California have ruined the whole idea of wearing real fur, but road safety is still important to everyone who drives our nation's highways. 
     Neverlate Dairy also has the most sophisticated mink-milk extraction facility south of South Bend.  Patrick's encyclopedic knowledge of  the history and the nuances of the mink industry is extremely impressive. 
     I tried to chime in about the important products of my own home town of Youngstown, Ohio, where they used to make steel and car bombs when I was a kid, but the manufacturing demand for those commodities seems on the decline in America these days. Plus, they're just not as relevant or interesting as what goes on in the world of mink wrangling.
     I learned that milking these crafty critters is a black art, as you cannot just hook them up to teat vacuums like they do with cows. Minks do not have udders, nor do they have any regard for them. Milking a squirming mink requires small hands and a mind capable of conning a  wiley weasel, which is why so many milk ranch employees are ex-carnival workers. 
      The mink-milk advisory board of Indiana is constantly lobbying to curtail the lactose-intolerant California alternatives of almond milk, oat milk and woke milk, none of which should be allowed to identify as a legitimate dairy beverage.  Patrick's visiting relatives from Wabash finally left his house only after getting quite militant about how they felt about the marketing of  "California Seed Juice," as they call it.  Patrick's second cousin Bertha modeled her genuine Neverlate Mammary Lane Mink Ranch coat emblazoned on the back with the company motto (that is really more of a cross-industry challenge) -  "No mammal - No milk."
Tash toiled away in the field, as the Woodland pheasants tend to run fast and fly hard.  Tash was quartering and pointing furiously at birds that erupted at point blank range, but seemed to fly right through our flak like we were in an episode of the A team, which some of you oldsters might remember as a TV show starring George Peppard and
Mr. T cast as members of an elite team who took down feared but zany criminals. It was popular during a time when television was trying to avoid depicting death from gun violence, but knew that the audience wanted gun violence. The series featured  fully automatic gunfights with the most rounds expended per targets hit in the history of American crime shows.  The criminals tended to surrender after everything around them was damaged by spray from assault rifles that did not kill anyone.  Our pheasants were not as cowardly as the foes of the A Team, which was a marginal show, but less so than the uncontrollable margins in my blog format.
With Tash performing the Sysephean chore of locating quick birds in vast cover only to see them leave the field unharmed, Mendel finally had to come out into our field with a samurai sword.  He would point at the flushing pheasants like the Japanese gunnery officers on the doomed carriers in the movie Midway, directing his gunners to try and throw enough steel into the air to stop the dive bombers that had finally arrived in the nick of time to kill them.
     Eventually, we had enough birds to eat and photograph, but not in that order.  We headed back to the clubhouse, where  both man and dog  could find serenity while contemplating the flatness of it all.
While our birds were getting cleaned, Mendel fed us tacos and beverages at a table with more talented hunters who are regulars at the club and really nice, helpful guys with cool dogs.

     The patio dining experience was really a sublime way to bullshit away the end of a fun morning on a day when the  weather was Goldilocks-perfect from start to finish. It will start to warm up earlier in a month or two, so this is the time of the season.
     We hope to get out again, as this place just seems to keep getting better and we have yet to be told that we are not allowed back.
     Until that day of reckoning, we will hope for a Treason-free 2024; try disappointing our dog a little less during the year to come; and always keep in mind the inescapable truth that

These Are The Days

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Seasoned Greetings

 Once again, your reporter and Utah freshman Thomas Edison Schmitt joined our good friend Robert on the annual pilgrimage to  Mount Palomar, where we celebrate the Winter Solstice with mountain-top gunfire on opening day of the one-week season for the innocent  band tailed pigeon. Our cultish enthusiasm for this hunt is the invariable jumping off point for the year-end musings excreted by this publication, as we are too lazy and cheap to send out Holiday cards like thoughtful people do. 

We have become empty nesters (not counting the hounds), so Tommy was extracted from the airport  late Friday night, just in time to meet up with his buddy Jack Perez at our house at midnight before taking a quick nap prior to our 3:30 am departure.  The rigors of brother David's academic schedule back east kept him from joining in our mountainous reindeer games. 

We were on time and in place when the ridge-top and white dome of the observatory came into gradual focus as a tangerine glow crept upward to backlight them from the east.

The birds were elusive, but shots were attainable as we greeted the day and gave Tashtego something to mark and retrieve. He bounced around every time he heard distant gunfire and wanted so badly to give chase, but we avoided party fouls with other hunters. We kept him stealthy and close at hand for recovering the birds within our own fields of fire.

Tash rounded up the bounty of our flak; we all got off the mountain in good spirits; and we made it to the Palomar General store to grab ice by late morning.  For those of you who do not like semi-colons, get a colon flush, but don't expect me to be your doctor.

We decompressed at the Lake Henshaw Cafe for our traditional pagan Solstice wolf-down.  We made time for casual reflection on our good fortune with Robert, who teaches us something whenever we have adventures with him.

Then it was time for hard-nosing the highway in the Napmobile for great father-son conversation with my first-year college boy on the long trip back to civilization.

This year has been action packed for our descendants, especially the little boys. Their growth has done nothing to change their lack of seniority within our clan, but has allowed them access to their older siblings' clubhouse of adulthood.  Below is prom night at the Mission.

California State Championship swim finals brought another fun weekend as David successfully defended the state butterfly crown he has held for two years.  

The boys enjoyed playful goodbyes with their relay teammates after capping off a rewarding and ribbon-infested high school swimming experience. They came away with friendships that will stay with them after college scatters their ranks.

We got some big kids to come down for graduation as we closed the books on public school.

Summer brought the pursuit of aquatic prey and chances for good times, as Connor and David prowled the deck of the 3/4 day boat out of Dana on a trip spearheaded by Sarah Jane.

Your reporter teamed up with Secret Skipper to harvest tuna.

Piscatorial pursuits allowed us to continue our tradition of  forcing extended family and friends over for Neptunian guttony

and provide more opportunities to share times of abundance with the people we love.

Isaac  got his 100 ton Captain's license (it totally will not fit in his wallet); treated us to New England style culinary presentations of creatures we killed in California; 

and got engaged to Haley, so we are stoked.

Sarah and Connor stayed local and we got to hang out with them a lot.

Lizzy and boyfriend David were treated to some seagoing adventures with their nautical cousins Trevor and Diego on the Big Island, where they got to meet Trevor and Alex's new baby, Caspian.

Our generous friend Ernie let us stay at his fabulous place in Tahoe for an all-too-brief nuclear family get together, as sisters strolled; 

 Tommy went fishing minimalist-style in the mouth of Blackwood Creek;

and WendyJo side-eyed her children as part of the perils of family poker with Mom.

We got to spend more time with the Hounds of Love during breaks from their needy bark-a-thons, as other resident pack members have devolved into occasional visitors.

The world has not necessarily become a more wonderful place with respect to the fortunes of others this year as the dark days of winter grip our hemisphere. Peace seems out of reach for so many people with so little control over their circumstances.  Every ordinary day of American life is a Godsend of free will and luxury.

 Our family has been mostly favored by the Deity  as we process these final shortest days of the year and lean into the advance of increasing illumination in the rhythm of our lives.

Once again, it is time to listen for the refrain of those old-timey optimistic voices, as we feel our way past the forces of darkness and draw toward the light to come.

You're out of the woods.

You're out of the dark. 

You're out of the night.

Step into the sun.

Step into the light.

Happy Holidays to all who have dared to continue reading to this point.

 If you are religious like me, have a Savage Christmas, stay grateful and say a prayer to Saint Isadore of  Seville, the patron saint of punctuation. If you are without God -  Endeavor to persevere.

May all of us find a means to reflect in gratitude for a sultry dog day afternoon...,

as we remind ourselves, and those around us, that

These Are the Days.