Tuesday, October 17, 2017

First Frost

How it Used to Look Mid-October

First frost. Three a.m. this morning, I stepped out barefoot, walked across the lot free of neighbors who might ogle at my folly, and touched ice outdoors for the first time since early in the year. Car tops stitched with tiny frozen patterns. I sat on a curb facing northeast and the sky overhead invited me in as it hasn't in a long time. Simple and spontaneous as looking up and getting admitted free of charge. Inside on the couch, I had been reading Gray's Sporting Journal, a bulwark of sanity against a world that forgets where it is, and forgets that the most basic requirement for living here, besides water and breath, is capturing food and sheltering oneself in the pursuit.

Someone has to do it. Most of us think farmers.

But here's a twist. Gray's is devoted to the word as much as it is to the sport. The name of the magazine doesn't leave out the word journal. Anyone can believe farmers are enough for everyone's dietary need, but only fools believe language should be limited to reflect such systematization as agriculture. Word--for human beings--is as important as food. And funny thing, isn't it, that romancing farm life might lose something--no, not always, necessarily...think of Wendel Berry, perhaps--to sentimentality, compared to reflections of the wild.

Don't mistake romance as escape writing, if you follow what I mean. I think some of the best is gritty with arduously labored detail coming from strenuous first-hand experience. Realism and romance unite in writing difficult to read, requiring time and absorption. Difficult outdoor experience demands the same.

After posting last night, I went into edit function and added what, at first, I felt would be most important to the text, which, when first composing, I completely forgot: green foliage. I subsequently riffed on climate change, but here's more.

I've felt disgusted at right-wing denial of global warming, for years. I thought this a denial of science. Now I think the right, or the denial-laden of any ideological disease, are not religious enough. We used to hear so much huff and puff about The Bible. Now I consider that if the same sort as believe in "God's word" also believe (suddenly we don't hear much of the likes) Global Warming is a false idea, then they don't know how to read The Bible, perhaps.

What was God always doing to the Jews, when they went astray? Biting them in the ass, so to speak, and in response, at least in some of the stories, if I recall rightly, the Jews firmed up. Who wouldn't when getting chomped on at the rear?

Now supposedly, Jesus made redemption universal, so the wrathful antics of a jealous God are done and over with. This might imply sweet nectar from the front side of the human form, but it is a most naïve belief, unless it's understood that this redemption is an ongoing and historical process. Anyone who has worked a tough job in any economy of the past 2000 years knows damn well that The Kingdom of God did not supplant the human condition upon Jesus's crucifixion. The symbolic event of the life of Jesus Christ--and I do not deny its importance, on the contrary--is potential, not actuality. And on that point of Christ's importance, a simple consideration might do. Think of his life. If you don't know about it, you can Google information, if you want to. Anyone of that repressive society (at least more so than ours is repressive) of Christ's time, and who would have lived as Jesus lived for three years before he gut busted, anyone who would have done that would have been a monumental genius.

That said. What about God. Does "He" still compensate in the negative for our excesses. Read the Lessons of History. (The title adorns more than one book.) History never gets over itself. Always pride comes before a fall. Our scientific and technological achievement is the greatest pride mankind has ever known.

As I put it last night. Kudos to all who have done it and still do. Pride is the crowning virtue. Most Christians might not agree this is true, but my opinion differs. Pride and power. And power implies responsibility. So now that it is payback time, we must pick up the mess. Make something that works differently, just as the Scientific Revolution 400 years ago was a proposal to work and produce differently.

Monday, October 16, 2017

October River Smallmouths

Behr's Bait on U.S. 22, Lebanon. Note on the door: "Out getting bait."

So we rode eastward to The Sporting Life. Closed Mondays. On the way to Sportsman's Rendevous in Flemington, Mike told me this place is going out of business....but he had phoned them a week ago and got an answer. We found the store open with virtually nothing left on shelves and in racks or anywhere else. We took two dozen shiners, just about all they had left, and I bought some lures I might need this coming spring and summer, the lures at 50% off. 

"Sorry you're going out of business," I told the man who I think is the owner.

"Just how it goes," he said. He was cheerful in the way a retiree who's lived well might let the past go.

"You were always our old reliable when Behr's was closed," I said. 

And some of those runs from Behr's way out to Flemington involved an extra 45 minutes at the least tagged onto a trip to Round Valley Reservoir, which is right around the corner from Behr's, but 20 minutes from Flemington, far to the west of Bedminster, also.

I hate to think of what might happen with The Sportsman's Rendevous gone, but at least The Sporting Life--a new store--should usually back for up Behr's. In any event, today, I would hope, is unique, except the fact is: climate change is only ramping up towards a very uncertain future. The landscape looked like South Carolina appeared on November 6th just three years ago. True, it is only October 16th, but never before in New Jersey has an October 16th appeared so green. As Cushetunk Mountains appeared on the approach to Behr's, I felt that sort of awe mixed with horror; an inchoate suspicion colored my response as if we might be in for more than a simple adjustment to warmer temperatures. Those mountains are green. Some of the trees are an off green, but far and away, they are green, no orange and red at all, and very little, only slight, yellow. 

After we left the Flemington store with the bucket half full of water and bait, I hooked a right, instead of a left, and wound up way off course for Neshanic...thinking instead of Round Valley. But we got to our spot after driving forever, and passing Stanton General Store where Mike used to buy breakfast as a cable installer. 

"That place has the best blueberry muffins. We used to get them fresh out of the oven, cut in half and buttered."

Valuable to know, whether or not I'll ever be in the vicinity of this place in the morning. And, if so, have time to stop. In itself, the character of Highlands culture and society is interesting to learn about, because it's the backyard of any Central Jersey citizen with enough gumption to explore and patronize what's there. Or in other words, what can make for a life. And whatever our future as a society, I believe we can manage to maintain forms of the good life; we will, that is, if we survive as a civilization, and I certainly see no reason not to believe we will. The issue is simple in the following way: what did we do, beginning with the Scientific Revolution 400 years ago and subsequent technology? We discovered much of nature's order, to challenge nature's dominance over us. OK. Very well, kudos to success all around, but now nature will challenge us in turn. Rise to it. It's just a classic situation of hubris resulting in a firm bite on the ass. As human beings, we can get over the likes. We have intelligence and will, which, for example, a deer brought down by a wolf and chewed on the posterior (to begin with) doesn't have to save itself. For the time being, as we rapidly sink into the witch's cauldron of the Anthropocene, businesses like Stanton General Store are available to anyone on a pretty low budget. Don't I know that. County roads, state highways, U.S. highways, towns, have establishments of unique individual character interrelating as a sort of spread-out collage of possibilities. I'm not saying blueberry muffins are much to live for, but all told, when you think about opportunities in the Big Picture frame, little things do matter. There's no picture without details.

I promised Mike on Messenger we would catch fish. I promised him more than that, but I'll get to that point in moment. I caught a 13-inch or better smallmouth on the first cast, Mike losing another on his first cast. Then the hole--it gets about 10 feet deep--sort of gave us the glass eye. Here the river's running pretty high, since apparently Spruce Run Reservoir is delivering water, and the river is running somewhat off color; this state of affairs tends to put the bass off bait and lures, in my experience. We used those shiners weighted by split shots to get them down, but no matter what we cast, action just wasn't going to amount to a fervid day in memory years from now.

I went downstream some 25 yards, got snagged, snapped off, retied and re-baited. I went back down, this time warming like a fanned coal to a wide, slow eddy in casting range. The split shot must have just touched down when the bass took the bait. I felt the loping pull, swung back like a batter to a ball, and said, "Woah." Mike must have heard me by the reception of an ear reaching a moment's perfection, I asked for his audience, but having turned to watch, he might have pictured a comedy. Moments before my big hookup, I had chided myself for forgetting my chest wader belt, but I never thought--did I--that maybe I was forgetting something else. No doubt about it, this bass I had on was somewhere around three to four pounds. If not larger. It's a big bass and still in there! And during the two seconds it lugged on the line, I became aware the drag was too tight. It's going to run. Of course it would. As I began to reach for the drag knob, it began that run, snapping my six-pound test monofilament almost immediately. I always know better than to fish with a drag set too tight.

I told Mike we would catch some serious fish. He knows how much I chastised myself.

Mike caught a smallmouth. I wanted to wade way down to a special spot I know about near the long stretch's tailout, and so I departed. By the time I got there, fishing as I waded, the shiner was almost dead, but I curved a beautiful sling of a cast, owing to the heavy split shot, slicing surface by that weight right on my target, spotting at least a dime with this exchange, who knows, maybe better.

I don't know how deep it is there. I've tried counting the sink, but never with any precision to report back, not to you or to my own mind. I was up to my waist and a good 20 yards from underneath the overhanging tree. I imagine it's five feet. Maybe it's six. Big bass like to hang there in summer.

The split shot clicked stone, I hopped it and the bait, paused, and then I felt the pick up, allowing the fish--that fish making sure that shiner was dead--some slack. And then I tightened the line and set the hook. I soon lipped a nice bass of about two pounds. One of those rare humpbacked smallmouths that weigh more per inch than the usual fish of sleek form. Fifteen or sixteen of those inches from nose to tail.

We ran out of time after an hour total, packed it in to my Honda, and drove a short distance to a stocked destination, not that trout can't swim upstream to where we fished in the first place, but surely more trout exist near where they got released on Monday. First cast, I lost a largemouth on a shiner, and further attempts--using large and smaller split shots, and also no weight at all--yielded no interest until my last cast, when I caught a small smallmouth. Before that final take of the day, Mike hooked a nice trout on a salmon egg, but although he had his drag set loose, the leader snapped in the middle. Two-pound test.

Maybe the line was nicked. Always more happens out there that I don't know, than what I do know. But sometimes it seems easier to forget what I know, than to take my mind off what I can't fully fathom.