Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NatGeo: What were YOU thinking?

OK.. time for some feathers to fly.

I just saw a post by one of my Facebook Friends (FBF), pointing to the now-running, National Geographic Photo contest.

As usual the thumbnail image, in the post's LINK, was too small for me to see clearly at first. But, I read my FBF's commentary.  I couldn't agree more.  A National Geographic photo contest should be pretty darned good and worthy of strolling through the galleries of photos.

Then I looked closely at the image headlining the LINK in the post.

What ?? !!!!!

This is NOT a slam on my FBF here. Let's get that out of the way first. It's not his fault the image contains the content it does.
Nor was he condoning the specific content shown in the image associated with the link.

Besides, when you include a LINK widget  this way in Facebook - and the linked-to-page has several images on it, a randomly chosen image appears. Unless you click-through the widget and choose a specific image - the first image (the fighting cock photo in this case) becomes the default.  Just like what you see, when you click the link below.
The image, aside from the content, is - technically- a superb photo!

But - there's the rub: the content.

I ask you.  Explain the difference
  • NFL Player Michael Vick - convicted (rightfully so, in my opinion) for his illegal, immoral and ethically drought dog-fighting antics;
  • A beautifully composed, in vivid color, laser-sharp, focus, wonderfully composed image of two young boys,  maybe 8 or 9 years of age , in colorful, native Indonesian (Suradita Village of West Java)  dress, tossing fighting cocks at each other;

Both are abuses of animals, people and sensibility.

Both, by venue, promote such tragedy. 

One is mediated as heinous conduct, while the other a potential International photo contest winner.

Tell me I'm missing something; please!  Otherwise we're sinking deeper into the quagmire of duplicity.

I'm not squeamish about blood, death or killing. I am a hunter.  But neither of the two scenarios mentioned above have anything to do with the natural actions of hunting or territorial protection.

 Slaughter, mayhem, murder and wanton endangerment are NOT natural. 

Dogs will fight dogs - but NOT without provocation. It's a dominance thing.  The same for jungle cock and every male species of animal on the planet.

The train-jumps-the-tracks when people force animals to exhibit such aggression for their (the 'supposed superior humans' in this case) own gain and/or enjoyment.

So, how can National Geographic possibly condone, support or - dare say, defend - the inclusion of this photo in their contest?  It sure doesn't stand on solid ground by using the statement of the photographer.  [click link below].  In which the photographer says,
Actually it was not a real cockfight because the rooster didn't wear blades on their feet. Children likes to play this game because they almost never have toys in their life.

Yeah. Maybe so. But this is as much 'fighter-in-training' for these two young boys - as it is for the young roosters. Both will end up following the imprinting they are exposed to in their environment.  So, yeah, it really is cockfighting .. it's just 'mock cockfighting' .. which trains for the 'real thing'.

Duplicity is even more effective than C4 in blowing holes in the fabric of a sane, sensible society. Selling abuse-in-training ... whether its against animals or humans ... as a substitute for the lack of toys, is about as duplicitous as one can get.

Think about it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wolverine: Soul of Wilderness


What comes to mind when you hear or see this word, name, description? I'd dare say it is not what truly exists.

Michigan's state nickname? Evil-spirit? Legend? Phantom? Teeth? Danger? Hell-on-paw-w/-claws?
  • How about the most successfully adapted creature to extreme cold climates imaginable?
  • How about one of the most understudied and/or appreciated animals on the planet?
  • How about the rarest 'actually seen-in-the-wild' animal in North America?
  • How about the living embodiment of the Nike slogan, "Just Do It" ?

Yes, I believe the wolverine embodies all of these and so much more. If you'd like to see more and know more about this amazing creature - got to the site and watch the full Nature program, Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom.
I have had a passionate love for these, largest of the weasel family, since I first saw a presentation of one on the old Mutual of Omaha, "Wild Kingdom" - back in the early '60s.

It was a frigid north woods winter in the late '60s, where I had the extremely rare opportunity - and privilege - to encounter and watch a pair of wolverines - in the wild - for over an hour. No camera. Nothing but my eyes and memory to record the experience. The sensation of that memory still sends chills up my spine every time I think of it; which is quite often.

I was never taken serious when I told the story of the encounter. I had no proof; only my story. Wolverines had not been verified as having been seen in that region in over 40 years. Yet, over the years reports of sightings have been persistent. Recently, with the advent of imaging technology, i.e., Trailcams, researchers are seeing verified proof of their return.
Many say the wolf, is the symbol that gives the wild in wilderness it's heart. I maintain that the wolverine is what gives wilderness its wild soul.

If the wolverine had a theme song, you'd likely find them hummin' Bosephus' - A Country Boy Can Survive - through a snarl, oozing attitude that would rock-the-world of a grizzly bear. Hiding their complex nature as a very social animal, has been a successful key in their survival.

But, for all the survival ability it embodies, the wolverine has one major flaw in their arsenal: they are heavily dependent on cold - really COLD - temperatures to survive. As the earths polar and altitude environments heat up, dependable cold temperature, heavy snows and long winter seasons are becoming an ever increasing problem across their more populated range: the Rocky Mountain glacial fields.

To loose the wolverine would be to loose the soul of the wild.

I -for one- am in total agreement with Aldo Leopold, as he poignantly announces in the first line of his introduction to the book, that has become the repository of his writings, A Sand County Almanac - containing - as the last chapter - what I believe was his most important essay - The Land Ethic,

"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot."

I too, am one who cannot.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Abundant Abuse: We have been warned

It is amazing just how comfortable we, in the fortunate minority of earth's population, can become with a way of taking for granted the most basic of life essentials.

We quibble about not having the right shirt, skirt, pants, shoes or whatever to wear.  We chafe over the least little infraction of our personally imprinted mandate on time.  Our fellow travelers on this road of impoverished awareness of the natural world and our tenuous - at best! - part in it, are no less complacent of their duty or complicit in their premeditated abdication of responsibility.  And each one of us - barreling down this autobahn of destruction - is more likely than not to be clueless to the extremity of our minority value in this issue.

Yet, we certainly seem to be so morally bankrupt in this that we do not realize the extent to which we gorge our pursuit of pleasures at the incredulous expense of the rest of earth's citizenry; of which we are less than 5%.  Yet, we control the use of 95% of the resources earth coughs up.

Could it be assessed - dare I say, assumed - that we just don't care? The evidence shows clearly there is no other choice of analysis.  The bill for such a lapse in moral responsibility will come due and there will be no avoiding it at that time.

It will be a sad, sad day when this happens - and it's not likely that far off. On that day there will be many a lip uttering those damning lines from the morbid, but realistic, John Greenleaf Whittier poem, Maud Miller -

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

We have been warned.

Friday, November 05, 2010


by Les Booth
The water flowed over my rod, now half in and half out of the stream. A gentle gurgle that normally awakens my spirit, now only lulled me deeper into the state of numbness I was entering. All about me the water was covered with the casts of dozens of mayflies. Mayflies which only ten minutes earlier were like manna from heaven. Now only flotsam in my dimming periphery.

It Continues
eLITHOGRAPH - ©2010 les booth
I had entered the water at 3PM to wait and watch for the expected hatch. It was forecast to be a good one. Temperatures – air roughly 68F – water a balmy 58F – just right for a sweet hatch and the onslaught of an expected piscatorial feeding frenzy to follow.

The light of late afternoon draws my soul; from deep down inside, rising on gentle ripples to the surface. There it mingles with the haze of the day's events – tossing the mix, to-n-fro – then gently repacking the essence of longing for peace, on a quick ride to be refreshed by a gentle hush of a breeze. I know this time well. I long for it.  It’s my moment in recharge mode. It's why I came to the water. It's where I collect those thoughts lost in the embattled storms of stress and life. It’s where I reconnect and recollect my soul.

A few casts to warm up amplified what I’d already assumed... I was seriously overdue in my stream-side appointments. To say I was a bit rusty, would be like describing Rip Van Winkle as being a bit ‘out-of-step’ with time. Yeah, sure. But, nothing 20 minutes or so wouldn’t fix. Flying the new line and potential hot-off-the-post fly over the surface of the water; skimming the snares and snags in the back-cast, then finding the landing spot – making more than a few futile-to-success attempts toward an acceptable presentation. This, too was a great part of the mending my inner-lining needed. Needed real bad.

It was working.

Working the pent up bundles of tensed muscles, from far too-long-in-the-Aeron-position. Feeling the intravenous timing tug of the line, gathering speed and energy, resisting the air-drag and my ignominious European-descent-sense-of-timing. Sensing the slight air currents, watching the water's ever changing variants, formulating all of these variables- then computing the outcome of hitting -my- mark. All of it was slicing away - thick, greasy, festered and decayed layers - the crust of society and work-related-stress. 

It felt good.

Hannibal was right.  It is good when a plan comes together.

As I stood there taking in the energy of the place, my mind washed over the details of WHY I was there at all.  I was here - on the water - preparing for the fish residency - in the midst of natural wonder - tingling with enjoyment - not because I wanted to catch fish.  No, not implicitly. Of course that is always an enjoyable benefit, but ‘catching fish’ can be done in a pay-pond, surrounded by hundred thousand dollar RV’s in the middle of a Midwest cornfield.  No, I was here for something else.  Better said, I was here BECAUSE of something else.  Even more correct .. because of SOMEONE else.  I was here because of a long line of others who had enjoyed the outdoors long before me. Those who over the years influenced my desire for the outdoors.

The list is long, but highlights begin with my dad - who first awakened the love for the outdoors in me - to people I’d never met; 50 years worth of between-the-ends influence; and my virtual fly-fishing friends. I have a lot of those, ‘digital-connection’ folks in my life.

People from all over the world; literally!  People whom, the only thing I’ve ever seen of them have been the resulting characters of bits and bytes translated and reassembled into characters for reading onto a computer screen . Digital fishing commentary careening from all corners of the earth. A few others I’ve actually ‘seen’ their likenesses in photos they have shared online, or from others fortunate enough to have had the ‘face-to-face’ connection. A connection that is - at least at this stage of the game - is lost in the online world.  And a smidgling few of them, I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting. With a handful, I’ve been blessed to have shared fishing water. 

So, it’s people with whom I share a kindred spirit - of sorts - toward fly-fishing, outdoors and the related gamut, that I come to the waters for. Fascinating, isn’t it.But I am not alone.

There are tens of thousands of others just like me - more likely hundreds of thousands, really! - who share these connections with others of the fly-fishing persuasion. Intimate connections. Some of the most truly intimate connections possible. So intimate that each of us feels the grief - honest grief - when one of our ‘virtual family’ suffers a blow from life’s storms.


I begin to notice the beginnings of a hatch.  Whether or not it’s the mayfly species I’m here for, I’m not sure of yet.  I think about getting out the new smart phone, to take a few still shots and maybe some video to share with the virtual companions... but something stops me.  A thought: This one is for you. A gift. Specially for you. There will be more you can share.  Sure your new gadget is burning a hole in your ‘tech-ego’, but cool it.  Just enjoy this one. 

And I did. I just stood there. In the water.  With the current throbbing against the outside of my knee, keeping time with the life flowing all around.  As I watched, a veritable explosion of aquatic insect life began it’s ephemeral ritual for this season. Soon I was covered in mayflies.  I don’t care what species.  I don’t care if they are imago, sub-imago, spinners, males, females ....  I don’t care about anything.  I’m ... I’m ... I’m ... here.   Just me, the water, the gulping fish and the mayflies.  Just us.

Then the intrusion occurs. My phone rings. 

The ring-tone tune of Ramblin’ Man, in most other frames seemed so fitting, here -at this moment- it was a sharp pin thrust into a precious dream. I couldn’t reach it fast enough, to stop the intrusion .  Man! Why hadn’t I chosen something like, ‘Sail Away’ ? 


Then I looked.  At the screen.  The text message.  I froze. 

“Les - sad day - a palid air hangs over the water - Rich Schaaff has died.”

My legs buckled....

“Where were you when______?”, is a common question preceding tales and regales of moments of history impacting the purveyor of the moment.  Lives change in an instant.  Missed traffic signal. Bad investment. Wrong word. Text message.

I made my way to the shore. Sat down like a drunk trying to sit in a chair only to land -thuddingly- on the floor. My rod rolled from my hand as I attempted to keep my long-gone balance under control.  The rod bounce a couple of times and landed ... reel up, half-in, half-out of the water.  I did likewise the other way only to land far less graceful.

 Now the pain was both inside and out.

As I stabbed awkwardly to make sense of what I had just heard, the mayflies continued to rise. They continued to fall. The water continued to roll. The fish continued to feed. The world simply continued. When my head clears.  My butt stops aching.  My heart stops hurting.  I reckon I will, too.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Unacceptable: Killing of a Remnant

Recently I received a sickening email with the link to a story of a Whooping Crane, shot and killed, in the rural area around Cayuga, Indiana.   Had it been any other Whooper the loss would have been very sad.  However, the loss of 17-02 was extremely tragic.

Sometime at the end of November a very uninformed and ignorant human being destroyed the only captive Whooper who had successfully raised chicks in captivity.  This was a major blow to the captive Whooper program.

As a Hoosier, a hunter, involved in both Outdoor Writing, Conservation and Resource Advocacy, I am appalled, shocked and angered by the level of disrespect for life and sheer ignorance, that took the life of this invaluable avian.

It pains and shames me to say this ugly act of violence, has taken place in the shadow of my own Home Ground.

My sincerest apologies to all those who respect and admire this majestic bird. I can assure you, this is NOT the mindset of your typical Hoosier. Whomever perpetrated this cowardly act, has embarrassed ALL Hoosiers.

I would also like to address the tenor and direction of a few comment threads I've read online accompanying articles about the death of Whooper 17-02.

1) No other word describes the Whooping Crane population better than FRAGILE.

It is true that roughly 500 living members of the once vast populations of Whooping Cranes survive. So, the death of this one Whooper isn't as if someone killed, 'one of the last 10 individuals'. But, when one reads the science behind the recovery effort,  it quickly becomes evident the problem of species recovery, does NOT hinge on population numbers.  The problem is all about FECUDITY: breeding and the ability to PRODUCE OFFSPRING.

Thus, since the individual Whooper, killed in Indiana, was the ONLY successful female to produce a living offspring in any study group, in North America, it was a HUGE loss.  The only other study group in North Amercia was scrapped a year earlier due to several years of zero fecundity.

To demonstrate just how fragile the Whooper population is, during a 2007 Spring storm, in Florida, 16 yearling Whoopers were killed. That was an entire year class gone in one swipe.  In the wild, the population is susceptible to predation, accident, storm, disease, toxic poisoning and of course human stupidity.

A small population also means a very limited genetic diversity pool.  Genetic diversity equates to a stronger population.

One of the greatest benefits is natural immunity strength against disease.  If the wild populations are hit hard by any of the above disasters, the entire species would be at extreme risk of extinction.

Again, FRAGILE is the key concept.  Thus loosing 17-02 was a very BIG deal.

2) HUNTERS: just because a human kills another species of animal, the act does NOT make them a hunter..!

The person who took the life of 17-02 was NOT a hunter.  Not in even the loosest of terms.  The irresponsible human who committed this atrocity was a KILLER.  NOT a hunter.  Any true hunter is both sickened and outraged by this criminal act.

For it was not only Federal Crime in violation of the Endangered Species Act, but a violation against everything all responsible hunters commit to.  This is a violation against the very heart and soul of the hunting heritage; conservation, respect for the resource and the passage of the heritage to the next generations.

3) Broad Brushing All Hoosiers as, "... ignorant clods.." - offensive, wrong and small minded.

Too many have been quick to paint the Hoosier name as ignorant killers.  Indiana has its problems, but it's not unique.

Every state and nation has its undesired minority of morons. But while those who chuck verbal molotovs, run, hide and toss insults - there are many of us who remain and work to educate and clean up the messes created by the few loose canons we share with the rest of the world.

I challenge all who would resort to such useless drivel by taking the simple minded approach and wiping the table clean with an improbable curse, so-to-speak,  to get out and involve yourself in frontline grassroots efforts to combat the cause.

Be a part of the solution.  Not the problem.  Or worse... a roadblock to change.