Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fishing with Granddad: Joe's Fork

When I was a child, I used to spend a couple of weeks a summer with my grandparents.  I have written a few stories from these summer adventures before.  See "Confessing" and  "Saving Damsels."  This is another story about fishing with my grandfather.  

Joe's Fork in the fall of 2007, a mile up from the old millpond

"Were you able to dig us some worms?” my granddad asked as he got out of his truck. 

“Yes sir,” I said, “some nice ones.” 

He smiled and headed into the house.   Dinner was being served.  At the table, after he said grace, Grandma berated us both to put on plenty of Off™.  We ate quickly and I ran back into my room and put on long pants and strapped my Kabar™ knife to the belt.  Granddaddy collected the rods and placed them in the back of the truck along with tackle boxes and a can of worms.  We crawled into the truck and pulled out onto the highway, heading east.  About a mile later, the road snaked down into a hardwood swamp.  We crossed Joe’s Fork on a small bridge.  We could have waded across without getting our knees wet.  As we began the climb on the other side, granddaddy turned onto a two-track dirt road that led back into the woods.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we bounced in the truck and bushes swished along the sides of the truck. 

"To an old mill pond.”

"What kind of fish will we catch?"

“There should be some nice bream, maybe a jack or a bass.”

“Is the mill still there?"

“No, it burned.” 

“When was that?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.” 

“But the pond is still here?”

“Yeah, the beavers have damned it back up.”

“When you were a boy, did you ever bring grain down here to be milled? 

“No, it was before my time.” 

Realizing I wasn’t going to learn anything about the mill, I thought I might see if there was anything to know about the current residents. “When did the beavers move in here?”

“In the late forties, I think.  Your dad was a boy.”  He paused for a moment as he drove the truck into some brush so he wouldn’t be blocking the road.  It didn’t seem to matter much to me, for the road didn't appear to be well traveled. 

“You sure ask a lot of questions,” my granddad said as he turned the engine off.  Getting out, we sprayed ourselves with Off™, grabbed our rods and stuff and walked back toward the dam which the beavers had restored.  

On the edge of the dam, we dropped our gear.  The vegetation was thick around the pond.  Granddaddy wouldn’t be using a fly rod in here.  We’d both be fishing with worms.  I tied a hook to the line, put a small weight just above it, and attached a bobber about 2 feet high.  The pond was pretty shallow.  Once I had my rod rigged, I stepped out on the edge of the dam and cast into the middle of the pond, just shy of a water moccasin bathing on a log in the waning sun.   Granddaddy headed around the pond and found a place where he could cast his line out and be freed of more questions. 

My bobber floated undisturbed, as I swatted mosquitoes and deer flies which swarmed around my head, pausing occasionally to wipe the sweat from my brow.  It was a hot and stifling in the swamp.  After a few minutes with no action, I was becoming bored.  I slowly reeled in the line, and cast it again, right beside that big snake.  I didn’t faze it, but neither did anything nibble on my worm.  I pulled my line in again. 

“If you don’t leave your line in water, you won’t catch any fish.”  Granddaddy yelled over at me.  He normally didn’t say much when fishing.  He didn't want the fish to be spooked by the talk.  

I cast again, this time dropping the hook just inches in front of that big old moccasin’s head. 
I waited: ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds, a minute.  Nothing was biting.   After a few more minutes, I retrieved my line and made another cast and then another.  The whole time that water moccasin held his position.  I wondered if it was dead, but I knew better.   Maybe it was mocking me.   I could feel the snake getting under my skin.  I retrieved my line again.  Looking in my tackle box, I pulled out a large jitterbug, a top floating lure that works wonders on the bass right around dark.  I tied it on my line, and cast it just short of the moccasin.  I reeled it in, the lure jittering back and forth across the water.  

“What are you doing fishing with that?” my granddad asked.

A Jitterbug
 “Nothing was taking the worms,” I answered as I made another cast, just to the other side of that moccasin.  The snake didn’t move with the line lying across its back.  I slowly reeled, bringing the lure up beside of the log upon which the snake had perched itself.  Then I jerked the rod back hard and snagged the snake in the back with the lure’s treble hook.  The snake snapped around, his cottonmouth angrily exposed.  Then he slipped off the log and started swimming away with my lure.  I let him have some line, but tightened the drag. 

“What did you do that for?”  My grandfather yell, as he beat a path over to me.  “That snake wasn’t bothering you.” 

The snake turned around.  Instead of fighting the line, it started swimming toward me.

“What are you going to do now?”  He asked.

I pulled out my Kabar knife and held it along with my rod.

“What are you going to do with that?” he asked.

“I’ll stick him,” I said.

“Put that knife away,” he yelled as he picked up a stick what was maybe five feet long.  “Use this,” he said handing it to me.  “You hooked him, you take care of him.”  

It had seemed like a good idea, but now I wasn't so sure of it as this was one large angry and deadly poisonous snake.  Thankfully, when about twenty feet away, the snake shook the lure free, then turned and swam in another direction.  I reeled my lure in.  I’d been saved from an angry snake, but now I had to contend with an angry grandfather.

“We’re done fishing,” he said, packing up his gear.

As we walked back to the truck, I heard distant thunder.  A cloud was building that would bring an end to this hot day.  I crawled into the passenger side of the truck.  I knew better than to ask any more questions and my granddad maintained silence for the drive home. 

I was pretty sure there would be no ice cream and Pepsi float before bed.   At least the wind from the approaching stormed would cool the house.  


Friday, June 24, 2016


My last couple of posts were written and posted while I was on a trip back to Michigan.  I got home a week ago, but things have been pretty busy.  This is an account of a drive I did on Monday, June 13….

From the Internet
It was a wet dreary morning as I leave Grand Rapids.  It’s six thirty and my sights are set north as I rush up US 131.  At this time of the morning, the traffic is all coming into the city, so I make good time.  This is all familiar country.  I cross over the Rouge River and recall a fall paddle down this river.  At Big Rapids, I cross over the Muskegon River, the longest river in the state.  Another fall, I’d done a solo trip on this river, with just my dog.  A little before eight, I’m in Cadillac.  I stop for gas and breakfast: coffee and a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin.   It begins to rain harder as I head further north, but the air feels good as the forest has now changed.  Birch intermingle with the hardwood forest.  I’m in the north woods!  Up here, summer is slower in arriving and the black locust are in full bloom, with many trees covered what appears to be popcorn balls.  I make my way, through the rain to Traverse City, where just blocks from the bay, I turn left on M-22.  I follow this beloved road up along the west side of Traverse Bay, to the town of Sutton’s Bay.  I stop at the Inland Seas Educational Association (ISEA), park my rental car, and go inside.
Saying Goodbye 

My last piece of business from my years in Michigan is to get rid of a sailboat.  I thought I had it sold twice, but it never worked out so I began to look for a place to donate it.  A friend suggested this place and they agreed to accept the boat as a donation.  He had a boat that was being worked in Sutton Bay, so he hauled my boat up when he picked his up.  Outside of the ISEA’s building, with a handful of other boats, sits mine.  I get to see it one last time.  They will sell these boats which helps them fund their work of teaching about the Great Lakes.  They maintain a classroom schooner, “The Inland Sea” which is used to give students a unique experience on the lakes.  I sign over the boat’s title and receive a tour of the facility.  They have science lavatories and wood working shop where they teach boat building.  Tied up in their docks is someone’s restored steam tug.  Although I prefer boats propelled by paddles or sails, if I was to go into a powerboat, this boat would be a joy to own.  The small upright boiler looked as if it could have come off the African Queen. 
The Schooner "Inland Seas"
"Steam powered tug"
Leaving Sutton Bay, I drive across the Lelanaeu Peninsula to “Fish Town” in Leland.  The place has become a tourist hub.  I was first here back in the summer of 2003, where I took a ferry out to the Manitou Islands where I spent the fourth of July weekend camping.  The center of “Fish Town” is Carlson’s, a fish market that’s been in business since 1904.  I purchase a couple of smoked whitefish fillets as a gift for Jack, whom I am staying with in Grand Rapids.  Leaving Leland, I head south on scenic M-22, as it hugs the lakeshore.  After having rushed up to Sutton’s Bay, I plan to take my time traveling back to Grand Rapids.   Mostly I will take M-22, but I plan a detour that will cause me to miss the beautiful town of Glen Arbor on the shores of Lake Glen, but will take me through Maple City where I plan to stop at Gabes, to pick up some sausage for Jack.  The drive through these familiar woods is relaxing.  After Maple City, I get a bit lost (my only map is my iPad) and head too far south, but this allows me a chance to drive through the village Benzonia, which is where Bruce Catton’s memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train, is set.  Catton, who is mostly known for his Civil War studies, grew up in Northern Michigan early in the 20th Century and is a freshman at the University of Michigan when World War I began. 
North from Inspiration Point

I pick M-22 back up at Frankfort, another beautiful little lakeside town.  I stop at a diner on the edge of town for lunch, but they’ve closed their kitchen early for cleaning so I keep traveling. The road snakes around and up and down large sand dunes that line the lakeshore.  I stop at Inspiration Point, where stairs lead to the top of a sand dune where I feast on beautiful views north and south along the lakeshore.  I continue on driving south, enjoying the view of the City of Milwaukee, an old steam ferry that could haul passengers and a train across the lakes.  This ship was built in the early 30s and was operated by the Grand Trunk Railroad and later the Ann Arbor Railroad.  The ship was retired in 1982.  Today, on the weekend, the ship sits just north of Manistee and serves as a museum and bed and breakfast, allowing the guest to stay in the old staterooms.  Sadly, it was only open on weekends so I’m not able to tour it.

South from Inspiration Point
The City of Milwaukee 
I’m hungry and it is way after lunchtime, so I head into downtown Manistee to find a restaurant.  I pick out “The Boathouse,” which is located right on the Manistee River.  When I lived in Michigan, I did a three day canoe trip on the upper Manistee.  Of all the great rivers I’ve paddled in this state (Pere Marquette, Au Sable, Two-Hearted, Fox, etc), the Manistee was my favorite.  I had considered doing a longer trip that would end at the river’s mouth into Lake Michigan, but I was never able to come up with the ten days to make the paddle.  Alyssa is my waitress and seats me by the window where I watch the boats while enjoying a tasty blacken chicken salad.

Town of Manistee
The Spartan
(shouldn't it be painted the colors of MSU: green and white)
M-22 officially ends at Manistee.   This is a beautiful drive and on this trip, I missed two of the highways more beautiful parts (the section through Glen Arbor and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes and the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, both which I have travelled before).  I continue driving south and stop and walk around in Ludington, before driving back to Grand Rapids. I had been here a number of times when living in Michigan, staying in B&Bs and camping at the state park.  In Ludington, one can still take a ferry, The Badger, across Lake Michigan.  The ship is out on the lake, but mothballed at the harbor is another old ferry, the Spartan.   Back in the fifties, there were ferries that ran all over the lakes, hauling people, cars and trains.  But with faster highways and airplanes, most of those ships have become scrap metal.   

I’m back in Grand Rapids by 9 PM. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey

Edward Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Great Game (New York: PublicAffairs, 2014), 259 pages of text and another 59 pages with statistics, notes and index.  A few photos and drawings scattered throughout the book.   

This was a delightful read!  Baseball in 1883 wasn't quite the game we know today.  Although pitchers were no longer pitching strictly underhand, as in the early days of the game, they were required to release the ball below the shoulder.  Pitchers usually stayed on the mound (which wasn’t yet a mound) the entire nine innings,  Will White, who played for the Cincinnati Reds during the '83 season, pitched in 401 major league games during his career and finished all but seven of them. (249)  A batter had to take seven balls to be walked and they used the same ball throughout the game.  By the end, it was often soft and harder to hit hard.  Outside of the catcher, few wore gloves.  Rules were often made up at the day of the game, such as times when the number of fans crowded into the outfield, the teams agreeing to count a hit into the fans as a ground-rule double.  At this time, there was only one umpire, which made it easier for players to cheat.  Even then players were known by nicknames such as Jumping Jack Jones (a pitcher who jumped with his release), Chicken Wolf (the only meat he'd eat was chicken of which he had 4 servings a day), Long John Reilly, and Old Hoss Radbourn.   Achorn brings these characters to life as he tells the story of an exciting season.

In the early 1880s, baseball appear to be fading away.  In the 1870s, a series of gambling scandals had rocked the game.  The National League (the main league of the day) reacted by cracking down on gambling, but also beer sales at ballparks.  With the hopes of attracting a more affluent crowd, they raised ticket prices to fifty cents (a lot for a working man).  No games were played on Sunday.  Then, in 1883, a new league was formed (American Association, not to be confused with the American League), which set ticket prices at twenty-five cents, allowed games on Sunday, and sold beer at the ball parks.  Achorn makes the case that this league (known as the Beer and Whiskey League) helped save baseball.   The tight pennant race of 1883, between Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Browns, caught the public's attention.  At the end of the season, fans were gathering at empty ballparks to watch the scores being posted on the scoreboard as the results were telegraphed in.  Achorn tells the story of the race in a way that brings it to life, capturing the excitement of the fans along with the personality of the players and coaches.  Philadelphia won the pennant by one game, but they were floundering at the end of the season with worn-out pitchers.  They were so beaten that they declined to play a series against the Boston Red Stockings, the winner of the National League pennant, which would have been the first "World Series."  They were welcomed home with a parade that rivaled the welcome given to veterans returning from the Civil War.

One of the key personalities in the story was the owner of the St. Louis Browns, Chris Von der Ahe.  He was a German immigrant who owned a grocery store, then a beer garden. He risked it all on establishing a team, and made a fortune but later lost it.  He is portrayed as impulsive, overbearing, but extremely generous.  Interestingly, one of the players he recruited was Charlie Comiskey, who later founded the Chicago White Sox and who was remembered on their ball field (Comiskey Park) until 2003 when they changed the name to a corporate sponsor.  Von der Ahe died in 1913.  At his funeral, the "Reverend Frederick H. Craft wove baseball imagery into his homily: 

“'First base is enlightenment; second base is repentance; third base is faith, and the home plate is the heavenly goal!' He declared.  'Don't fail to touch second base, for it leads you onward toward third.  All of us finally reach home plate, though some may be called out when they slide Home.'" (259)

Weaving into the larger story is the account of race relations at this stage of the game.  There are two other African American ball players who played in the majors long before Jackie Robinson was born.  Fleet Walker played for Toledo, a team that joined the American Association in 1884, and even before then William Edward White played for the National League's Providence Grays.  However, segregationist ideals were to win out and it wouldn't be until 1947 when Jackie Robinson was called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers that the racial barrier was broken.  

The American Association lasted only a decade.  In 1892, the league's top four teams joined the National League.  These include the St. Louis Cardinals (formerly the Browns), the Cincinnati Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates (formerly the Alleghenys) and the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers (who joined the league in 1884 and are now the Los Angeles Dodgers).  Achorn tells the story of how the Pittsburgh Pirates earned their name (given to them by sportswriters) after the "Alleghenys" tried to "steal" two ball players who had committed to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. (245). The Athletics eventually folded, but when a new team was organized in the city (which by then already had the Phillies), they adopted the name Athletics (which left Philadelphia for Kansas City and now are in Oakland). Another American Association team that must have had a similar reincarnation is the Baltimore Orioles.  

I enjoyed this book.  My only suggestion is that I would have liked to have seen the year put more into context of what was happening outside of baseball.  Achorn does this a little, such as referring to a joke about a player who, the year before upon President Garfield's assassination, was asked about the event.  The ballplayer responded by asking what position Garfield played.  He also mentions the shooting of Jesse James, in connection to the governor of Missouri attending a ball game.  The governor had made it a priority to wipe out the James Gang and had recruited members of the gang to shoot Jesse.  When Robert Ford was convicted of the murder of Jessie James, the governor pardoned him two hours after the trial and then sent him $10,000 in reward money.

If you love history and baseball, I recommend this book.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Solo Paddle to Wassaw Island

There was a lot I needed to do last Friday morning which made me an hour later than I was hoping for when I launched my kayak.  It was already hot and humid.  11:45 AM.  The tide was still running out, but not nearly as strongly as it would have been an hour earlier.  I had hoped to use the tide to make the paddling easier, especially since there was already a light offshore wind blowing in my face.  My wish was to get close enough to the island before the tide started running against me.  Further compounding my fear was knowing the off-shore breeze would intensify with the afternoon heat.  I paddle rapidly through the turns of Delegal Creek.  Last year, there was an osprey on the navigation marker at the first turn, but no birds used that nest this year.  On the marker just before entering Ossabaw Sound, I hear an osprey.  It’s a chirping sound begins slowly but becomes more rapid and higher pitched as I move closer to the nest.  When fifty yards away, the magnificent bird takes to flight, circling over its nest.  It continues to sound the alarm until I am well past the next.  The bird then lands but keeps, but keeps an eye on me as I paddle out into the sound.  
Osprey at mouth of Delegal Creek
Daddy's Boy
As I enter the open waters of the sound, mullet jump all around.  Occasionally, I spot a flash underwater of a larger fish feeding and scaring this smaller specie.  Since the tide is so low, I have to move further out into the sound as the water near the marsh is shallow.  I set a course for a distant clump of pines, four and a half miles away.   I paddle steadily for the next hour, only occasionally stopping to take a sip of water.  Just south of the south end of Wassaw, a shrimp trawler stands idly by.  As I come closer, I realize there are no birds present and even though his booms are extended, his nets have been hung to dry.  The pelicans and gulls that would usually be in flight around the boat, hoping to catch a snack as they cull through their catch, throwing back unwanted fish, are now up on the sandbar watching among the sand pipers and oystercatchers.  When I am about a half mile from the island, the boat begins to move inland toward its home up the Ogeechee River.  I take this to mean the tide has turned and now rising, making it easier for him to navigate the channel.  If he grounded, the rising waters would so float him free.  The boat is named Daddy’s Boy.   I have to paddle harder to make headway as I aim for the backside of the island, in a beach off Wassaw Creek.  There are two groups of people with powerboats already on the beach, hanging out under canopies.  I am not going to have the beach to myself.  
Approaching Wassaw Island

Lunch Spot
Coming ashore, it has taken me a little less than an hour and a half.  I didn’t feel the heat on the water, but the sandy beach is hot.  I pull my boat high on the beach and take my lunch and a book and head into the pines.  There are a series of two-track roads on the island and down one of them I find a shady place to sit down and eat and rest.  After lunch, I walk around a bit, watching bottle nose porpoise’s play just offshore.   

Add caption
Wassaw Island as well as the other islands between it and Skidaway Island are a part of the Wassaw Wildlife Refuge, one of a number of refugees in the area.  The island was purchased by the George Parson, a wealthy businessman from the north, the year after the Civil War.  Georgia coastal islands seemed to be in strong demand as many of them were purchased by wealthy families in the late 19th and early 20th century.  In 1969, the Parson family sold their holdings to the Nature Conservancy, retaining a 180 acre section which they still own and use today.  The land and marsh was later deeded over to the Department of Interior for a National Wildlife Refuge.
Looking Southeast into the Atlantic.
Ossabaw Island is to the left
Clouds building and tide rising
Time to head back
When I realizing that the tide is rising fast and clouds are building in the west, I launch and begin to paddle back to the Delegal Marina.  The first chore is to cross the mouth of Delegal Creek where the water wants to push me inside with the rising tide.  I set a course out into the sound to avoid the breakers forming along the shallow areas off Pine Island and the marsh to the east.  The offshore wind has increased, but is coming out of the Southeast, which means I have to paddle at a diagonal to the waves in order not to be sweep toward the edge of the land.  A number of waves break across the boat, but I stay dry with the spray skirt.  When I reach Delegal Creek, my osprey who serves as a sentinel over the mouth of the creek again expresses her displeasure, but I am soon past her nest with the fast rising tide.  It has taken me a little over an hour to make the return trip.   As I take my kayak out of the water, I hear the first sounds of thunder.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Catching Up with a Lost Friend

Self-portrait for Phil's class, 1980
 One of the blessings of social media and the internet is that we can reconnect with people.  Last week, I re-connected with my first photography teacher.  I was right out of college and took a class with Phil Morgan.  One of our assignments was to photograph our day.  I was working nights at the bakery and remember taking a photo of my day beginning with me making oatmeal and tea before heading into the plant at 1 A.M.  Not allowed to take a camera into the bakery, I had a shot of me in my white white uniform (I am not sure where those photos went) and another of me at my desk that morning(an "iPhone" copy is posted here).  Even though I had graduated from college, I was still taking some economic classes and maybe that's what I was working on.  I miss that curly hair!

During the class, Phil and I stuck up a friendship.  At the time, his wife, Sandy, was dying of cancer.  She was the first hospice patient in Wilmington.  I remember a one person show he had shortly after her death, at St. John’s Gallery in Wilmington.   He had documented their sad journey. A few years later, he had another show titled “Behold the Woman” at the Front Street Gallery.  I was able to find the program in my old journals  (I had written notes of the exhibit on the back), Click here to see some of Phil's work.  His black and white "environmental portraits" (people in their work or living surroundings) captures the human element.  Having worked for the Charlotte Observer, Phil documented the Civil Rights movement and has a collection of photos from Appalachia before the mountains were gentrified.

Over the years, we have both moved around and lost contact.  The last time I saw Phil was before the adoption of a son or the birth of a daughter.  I was living in Utah at the time and was back visiting my parents in Wilmington during the Azalea Festival.  It’s been nearly 20 years but I hope to see and catch up with him the next time I'm back in Wilmington.
My photo of Phil on the Waccamaw

 I don’t remember if it was 81 or 82, but I was going with a group of folks down the Waccamaw River.  I invited Phil. There were a half dozen canoes.  We put in at where the  river begins at the outflow of Lake Wacamaw, paddling through the cypress, hardwoods and pines of the Green Swamp.  We stopped at lunch on Crusoe Island where Dodo showed us how to carve out cypress canoes,  We also got to see the snake collection of Dodo's neighbor.  That evening, we camped along a high bank of the river, built a fire and talked late into the night.   Phil went to bed first and called me from our tent.  A mouse had invaded and was scared and pressing up against the rear trying to get away. After watching him for a moment, we backed off and the mouse took off.  The next morning, if I have the right trip in mind (I took a couple down the Waccamaw), we fixed eggs in half of oranges wrapped in tin foil and baked in the coals of a fire (try it, it’s good).  Then we paddled down to Highway 130, where we pulled off the river south of the town of Old Dock.  After connecting this week, Phil sent me the photo below, taken at the end of that river trip.  I’d forgotten about that shirt (Kudzu Alliance, which was an anti-nuke organization) and that hat (I wonder where it went?).   The canoe in the front is mine.  I had purchased it when I was sixteen.  A few years later, it was stolen. I then brought the Mad River that I still have.  It was exciting to look at this photo and remember.  
That's me in my mid-20s, just coming off the Waccamaw River
Last year I reviewed The River Home, a book by a man who grew up on the Waccamaw in South Carolina and, as an adult, came back and paddled the entire length of the river from the lake to Georgetown.  

Friday, June 03, 2016

Last Week

  I'm going to break one of my blog rules and talk a bit about my family as I share with you some photos from last week.  It was a lovely and crazy week as my daughter graduated from high school on Wednesday, in a very impressive service.  It was one of three evening events that started on Monday night, when we gathered in the gym for honors night.  She received a number of awards and accolades including a special honor for her achievements in history and government.  She also received one of the two music awards and honors as the top student in AP statistics.  She also received her cord for having an "A" average throughout high school.  She attended a Catholic all-girl's high school operated by the Sisters of Mercy.   On Tuesday evening was baccalaureate which, like graduation, was held in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  The photo from the left was taken by the school photographer as I was sitting to the right in the crowd.
Coming into town for graduation was her brother and his family from Utah.  It was great to see them.  The oldest of their boys had several things he wanted to do:  see an alligator, see a turtle, see "my fire trucks," see the railroad museum and sail.  We accomplished it all.  The week was a lot of fun!

Heading out of the harbor
Photo by daughter-in-law as I'm at the helm
Little Sage
A future sailor?
Have a good weekend.  Any exciting plans?