Friday, October 9, 2009

Stories from the Road -- Table Rock Lake, MO

A blue heron stands at the edge of the water, silently hungry. A small breeze makes the water sparkle with the waves in the sunlight. The heron does not move, not even a little bit. The bird stands there, like a doomed statue, waiting for the right moment.

I stand in a boat. The sun is piercing hot, and the small breeze is doing little to help alleviate the stillness of the blaze. Even the water looks warm. The depth is about ten feet, estimated from the depth finder and the translucent browns of the dirty lake floor in a small cove on the north side of the lake. I have been casting and retrieving for several minutes, beads of sweat running down my face. Each droplet seems as if it is on a mission to hit the lake water first. My shirt is soaked, my eyes are ablaze from the fire of perspiration, and the riff-raff of water gently touching the shoreline is almost a nuisance to the ears. All of my senses are annoyed.

The heron remains motionless. Not even the added waves from the increased traffic on the lake have stirred the heron. One movement, and the heron's lunch will be lost. Incentive enough to live in the extremely uncomfortable summer air entrenched over the area.

I cast in the same spot, again. Nothing. I change the tube bait. Maybe a monotone color would be better. Clear water. Fish do not like colorful bait in clear water. Change the color. Cast again. Surely, there is a fish there.

An old fishing adage, used by generations of people throughout the fishing world, is that if you cannot see the fish, you look for the birds. The heron, in particular, is an expert fisherman. Where there are birds, there are fish. Casting all day in the same spot is useless if the fish are not there.

I begin to wonder if the heron is alive. The heron is just sitting there, not reacting to my nearby casts. Why is the heron unmoved by the splash of bait on a hook hitting the water? Why does it not cool itself by flying effortlessly in the air? Will it move if I hit it with my fishing line?

The only sounds are of dribbles of sweat hitting the water, the whir of jet skis in the distance, and the subtle shoreline wave crashes. The sun is almost directly overhead. Shadows are virtually nonexistent. The heat is relentless. I am disturbingly uncomfortable. I reach for the cold water. It is almost painful as it gushes down my throat, chilling it excruciatingly.

The heron takes a step.

Immediately, I stop moving. Strangely, the bird and I have switched roles. The bird is now creeping to its right on the shoreline. I am completely still. I could hear almost every step the bird was taking, even though a pin drop on the shoreline would be louder. I could sense the bird's anticipation of lunch now. The heron's neck leaned closer to the water, sensing an approaching meal.

A wildlife dilemma crossed my mind. Should I cast? Would I be stealing this innocent bird's lunch if I cast near his location, and the fish decided to take the bait? Or, would I be saving the life of an even more innocent fish, since I had no plans of eating the fish after hooking it? The bird could theoretically find another meal, no? The fish could not live another life.

After this silent debate, I finally moved. I made a new cast. Really hard. Too hard, really. And it hit a tree branch on the shore. Efforts to retrieve the fishing line and bait were futile. A hard reality had set in. I was snagged. Sheepishly, I asked my father to troll the boat near the shoreline. With a fatherly sigh, he did so.

My father slowly trolled the boat inward. I was on the back side of the boat, sitting there in the endless sun, watching the distant boats motor by in the main channel. I could hear the "yee haws" of water skiers. I could hear a cardinal sing a distinctively different tune than the one he just chirped.

Suddenly, a loud noise came from the front of the boat. Dad had somehow retreated to the middle of the boat in mere seconds. He then quickly trolled the boat away from the snag-worthy branch without a word. His face was almost a color of red I could see, and the beads of sweat were profusely beading down his face. I asked what was going on, and he said nothing initially. Soon, we were many feet away from the branch, and my rod and reel did not like this course of action.

Why are we moving away? I'm still snagged!

Finally, after Dad had taken a few long breaths, he muttered, "There's a water moccasin in that tree."

Yikes. Poisonous snakes. Talk about the worst of the worst kind of wildlife. A slithering, scary-looking, creepy-crawly creature who has venom that can make an already bad day much, much worse. No thanks.

These thoughts were going through my young head when I realized we were approaching the tree again. Before I could ask why, we were on a fast track to a snake encounter. The front of the boat was already under the tree, and suddenly the water looked much more inviting than it had a few minutes beforehand.

Dad was near the front of the boat again, trying very hard to get my bait out of the tree branch. It was a fruitless endeavor. Now, I could see the snake. With a simple use of gravity, the snake could fall right into our boat and make for an extremely unpleasant next few minutes.

"Dad, let's go!"

I didn't have to tell him twice. One snip of the fishing line, a quick dash to the ignition, and a few more beads of sweat later, we were off. The snake remained in the tree the whole time.

I looked back to where the heron was. It was gone. I figured we had caused enough of a raucous to ruin his lunch. The decision I had made was instead made for me. The fish had lived.

Then, something from above caught my eye. It was a heron in flight. Oh, yes. The bird had a fish in its mouth.

There is another proverb involving birds. "People live like birds in the woods. When the time comes, each must take flight." I believe I was still in the woods that day.
Beautiful Table Rock Lake.
A shot of the lake in January 2008.
A heron on the lake shore. Not the same bird as the one told in the story, but it sure brought back memories.
A shot of one of the coves of Table Rock in September 2008.
The Shell Knob Bridge over Table Rock in September 2008.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pictures from the Road -- Wichita Mountains, OK

Photos from my hike with friends to the Wichita Mountains in February 2009.

Tomorrow: One of many tales I have from Table Rock.


Chad's Takes

Well, I'm home. For about 84 hours. Another weekend out of town coming up, followed by another one in two weeks. So, as has been the trend this semester, I will not be writing notes on the weekend. And, as usual, that means I'll be doing my weekly-themed posts on unusual days to compensate.

I'm beginning another one today, inspired by writer Ken Levine's blog posts called "Misc-takes", essentially short blurbs about a lot of things in the news. My installment will feature fewer of these "takes" but more written on each one. I'll try to post this every Tuesday, unless there are absences or overriding subjects I want to discuss.

And so we begin...


The big news story this week, which may be more telling of journalism than of the subjects involved, was the David Letterman sex scandal. In an odd and extremely unpleasant Thursday night show, David Letterman explained the situation. It was fascinating to listen to the audience as the story became clearer and clearer. Today, I finally listened to the whole taping, and two things are clear to me. Letterman is a master PR man, and Letterman declared war on CBS producer Halderman.

On the first, the audience was a clear gauge of Letterman's master plan to manipulate public reaction to his otherwise highly embarrassing scenario. At times, the audience was clearly uncomfortable with what was being explained. This was obvious when the laughs occurred at points that made no sense, such as when he was discussing his meetings with Halderman's lawyers. At one point, Letterman even asks the audience what was so funny. Normally, Letterman has a clearly sarcastic or deadpan tone when he interrogates audience reaction. This was missing on Thursday, I imagine (in part) because of nerves. However, I think this was Letterman's vulnerable portion of the discussion. He needed to do a better job of coming clean from the get-go that the topic was going to be primarily serious. (His obvious jokes of self-deprecation, such as the "embarrassing for the women" line, are exceptions.)

However, the audience gradually caught on, and Letterman gained some momentum in telling the story. By the end, the audience roared with applause...applause! In a matter of ten minutes, Letterman had sold his audience on the story, and created a national discussion that was not focused solely on the substance of the criminal and ethical manner. Immediately, the attitude toward Halderman was negative, clearly the PR intentions of Letterman. He cleverly and convincingly owned the discussion from the beginning, and Halderman and his lawyers have been fighting this ever since.

Letterman's strategy since his disclosure has been one of self-deprecation. The plan is risky for a comedian, because a comedian's job is to make jokes, even if the jokes have to be on himself/herself. The problem, of course, is that the issue is no laughing matter. A man has been arrested, a news corporation is potentially under serious fire, and a wife and child are dealing with an all-out media assault of which they are completely innocent (and outside) of. It's hard to tread on thin ice here. So far, it appears to be working. However, every single joke, every one, Letterman uses against politicians, entertainers, and other celebrities will be scrutinized, and rightly so. And, as Letterman's monologue last night showed, his comedic jurisdiction has been severely diminished. For now, that works in the perspective of self-deprecation. This will wear itself out, though, and Letterman's true genius will be if he can find a life after this scandal that will exist with his more limited comedic purview.

Letterman has weathered many storms, but this one will be his hardest and his most important. So far, his brilliant vision has allowed him to move along with little long-lasting effect. I'm not sure if it will stay that way.


Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has declared that a legitimate health care bill would have 65% of the votes in Congress. Based on this completely arbitrary percentage, we haven't had a legitimate President in years, and a certain senator from Nebraska has not been elected legitimately, either. Nelson faces reelection in a very red state soon. He knows it. And, as many other conservative Democrats are discovering, they are becoming the targets of both the right and the left. The left has been particularly effective recently, running a large number of ads suggesting that people who can't afford health care premiums are wondering why these representatives are protecting the health care industry.

You know, it becomes startlingly obvious how twisted political debate has become in this country when health insurance is defended. Do you know anyone who has had health problems who has been happy with their health insurance? I don't, and I've known a lot of sick people in my relatively short lifetime. It becomes startlingly obvious how ignorant many of our representatives are on just how complex and how convoluted our health care system is. Especially when you have health care victims, time after time, complain to their government representatives how desperate their situation is, then hearing responses such as "You can get free care in the emergency room" or "My office will look into it" or "Why can't your neighbors help out?" Well, if the health industry is to be defended (for reasons completely not logical to me), why can't the health industry help out? Or, perhaps as a corollary, how is public health care different than "Why can't your neighbors help out?" or "My office (presumably, government) will look into it."


But perhaps something more obvious about how devolved the political discourse in this country has become is the glee with which (some) staunch conservatives have celebrated the US losing its bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Funny, President George W. Bush (R) ... wait, what's that (R) doing after his name? ... stated that the US (that's the entire country of the United States) would be a great place to host the Olympics, and he couldn't think of a better city than Chicago.

You know, conservatives wrapping their bodies around the flag of the United States one year then celebrating the nation's loss of an Olympics bid the next, staunchly fighting for a flag burning amendment then providing images of a tarnished flag as some sort of political symbolism, of basically telling us they are for America as long as their leader is their choice and not a lot of other people's choices...

There's a joke about ignorance and apathy. Someone asks another what the difference is between the two terms, and the reply is "I don't know, and I don't care." When I look at the Olympics issue and at the status of discourse in this nation in general, I no longer view this as a joke.


Tomorrow: Pictures from the Road takes on the Wichitas.
Thursday: Stories from the Road takes on Table Rock Lake.
Monday: Growing Up takes on swimming lessons.
Tuesday: Chad's Takes (takes) on global warming, or mourning, or something.