A Wedding Message for Kayte and Nate

Last weekend, Terri and I traveled to St. Louis to attend the wedding of my niece Kayte to her fiancé, Nate. While there was no opportunity there to offer them my thoughts on their marriage, I decided to put them here.

Kayte, the first time I saw you I think you were about two to three years old.

You were at your Aunt Sharon’s where she was babysitting you. As I came up to meet you for the first time, you assertively announced that you did not want to be picked up. Sharon saw my disappointment and said it wasn’t me – you did not like to be picked up by anyone (by anyone, I assumed, but your mom and dad).

I guess I knew even then you were going to be someone special.

I know I was only a sporadic presence in your life. I regret that I wasn’t able to see more of you and get to know you better at each stage of your life as you grew into the beautiful woman, and I mean both inside and out, you are today.

Everyone has regrets – the older one gets, the more you have. Anyone who tells you they have none are deceiving themselves; have really not done much living; or else have been dead for 20 years and have forgotten. The secret is to accept regrets as part of the cost of being human.

I always knew you were the greatest gift to your mom and dad. And I followed your growth as they kept me up to date on Nerinx, Loyola, St. Louis U. law school, and protests outside military bases.

Through all of it your increasing commitment to social justice was clear. And as I saw at that first refusal to be picked up, it was clear you were going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Nate, I’ve only talked with you a few times – starting with Matt and Jen’s rehearsal dinner.

I liked you immediately – your honesty and decency were apparent (and after meeting your dad and hearing the words spoken about your mom, I can see the source of those qualities).

You also embody the saying, in its various forms going back as far as Cicero, that the eyes are the window to the soul – yours show both strength and vulnerability.

Life has thrown you some curves with pain and real loss – and sorry to say, there will be more later. But know that pain in life can ultimately bring wisdom; it is the lack of wisdom that results in bitterness.

In academia or industry, you will encounter, if you haven’t already, self-absorbed jerks who will do what they can to crush your spirit. Don’t let the bastards win.

And I guess that’s a good segue to the point I really wanted to make.

John Gierach is a prolific Colorado author of books related to his fly fishing adventures – the latter is of no real importance here, except to those of us who love fly fishing.

His many years experiencing memorable companions and guides, fish caught and lost, as well as his various adventures and mishaps, have given him keen insights into life and people.

One of the comments in his latest book has stayed with me. He said people spend their twenties and thirties reinventing themselves; their forties and beyond are for becoming the best of what they’ve become.

Both of you are incredible people, each possessing an obvious sense of purpose, a commitment to justice and society, and a love of family and friends. You have great careers and bright futures. From where I sit, I think your time for reinvention is about over.

Now as you take your first steps together as a married couple, you each have the ability and power to help each other become the best of what you’ve become. And together, you can live exceptional lives filled with shared accomplishment and joy.

The years will pass quicker than you can imagine – don’t let them without continually remembering to build on the foundation you’ve started with the commitment you made to each other last Saturday.

One other thing.

As you’ve already lived together, you know a shared life can be difficult at times. I think fly fishing can be a source of inspiration for handling those times.

I’m talking about its philosophy – not its technique. At its best, fly fishing is about slowing down and focusing.

Same with those difficult times; slow down and focus on what’s important. And one thing I’ve learned is that you generally won’t go wrong keeping your mouth shut.

I wish you both a happy and long life together. May all your dreams and hopes come true.

With love,

Uncle Tom

Pebble Mine Consortium – the Beast That Will Not Die

McNeil River

I’ve written about the Pebble Mine in a number of posts.

It had seemed that the consortium’s efforts to build an open pit mine that would have threatened Alaska’s Bristol Bay were over after the final major partner pulled out.

However, it appears they’re planning another environmental disaster.

Now the consortium has applied for a permit to mine gold, copper, and molybdenum in land 200 miles south of Anchorage – the sought permit will be in an area as close as several hundred yards from the boundary of the McNeil River State Game Reserve and Sanctuary.

If you’ve not heard of the McNeil River you’ve undoubtedly seen photos of tourists safely watching nearby large Alaskan brown bears hunting and feeding on salmon. For 51 years humans and bears have been able to develop a sense of trust in the other as humans can get very close to bears that would tower over NFL defensive tackles – in all that time no human has been killed or injured by the bears.

Now this proposal, if approved, could destroy the sanctuary as the mining and roads will destroy habitat, increase pressure for legal hunting and certainly increase poaching.

There is still time to fight this. The Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comment until June 29th.

You, or I, may never visit the McNeil River sanctuary. But as Wallace Stegner noted, knowing that wild places exist – whole and untamed and apart from us, is sometimes just enough.

You can read more here.

EWA Fly Fest

Last Saturday I drove to Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle for the Emerald Water Anglers (EWA) Fly Fest. This was the first time I’ve attended – and wound up driving as waiting for the ferry up in Port Orchard would have taken longer than driving.

Me-Kwa-Mooks, meaning “shaped like a bear’s head” was what the Duwamish tribe called the West Seattle peninsula when the first European-American settlers landed at Alki in 1851.

Park

The park is across the street from Puget Sound – the view from the beach is incredible. While it’s an undeveloped park with only a porta-potty, it was enough for a group of enthusiastic fly fishers.

The EWA Fly Fest is about seminars, casting fly rods, and a guide’s cook-off. For me, the main thing was to cast fly rods. A number of fly-rod companies had their reps there with rods for casting: Hardy, Loomis (Tom Larrimer), Reddington, Sage,Scott, Thomas & Thomas (Jon Covich), and Winston.

Casting

I got to cast a number of rods, including the one I was very interested in: the T&T Exocett. While much more powerful than the Avantt (which I really like, as can be read in my previous posts), it was still easy to cast while having tremendous line speed.

One of the best things about events where there is shared interest is that everyone is friendly. While waiting to get some lemonade, a young father in front of me was filling a glass for his very young daughter. He turned and asked if I’d like my glass filled.

I had to leave before the guide cook-off, and all the free food. While I hadn’t gotten to attend all the seminars I wanted or sample the free food, it was a fun and worthwhile trip. I’ll add it to my calendar for next year.

And hopefully with a bit of better planning I will be able to cut down on the driving by riding the ferries.

A Belated Remembrance

Doug Volgenau

Everyone we know or have known, at least for more than just a casual acquaintance, touches us in ways that we may not always understand at the time. Memories of those we have known fade into dim recesses, remaining forgotten until an event or circumstance triggers a flood of memories of an earlier time.

Today I had such a flood of memories.

I was doing a search on Google and found myself looking up the name of my first commanding officer in the Navy. I found his obituary and learned that he had died four years ago. More troubling to me was learning that he died of complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Douglas Volgenau was his name. Born outside of Buffalo, New York in 1937, he graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1959.

I first met him at Navy Nuclear Power School at Mare Island, California in 1975 where he was commanding officer of the school. He was little seen after he met with our class for a question and answer session, except by those unfortunates who wound at academic review boards for failed courses; given the nuclear Navy, all I knew who went to those boards wound up doing something else.

After further nuclear power training and submarine school, I reported to the USS Billfish (SSN 676) in April 1976. By coincidence, he had reported earlier to the same boat where he was to be the commanding officer.

As he took command I started my journey on learning what it really meant to be an officer. The journey was not easy as I was full of myself and had a great deal to learn. Needless to say, the education came in the form of being yelled at a lot – many times by him.

He was a big man, having been a heavy-weight wrestler at the Naval Academy. He had a dark complexion and when he was pointing his big finger in my face I knew I was in trouble.

But to his credit, he gave me time to grow and over time I learned to keep my mouth shut and become what I had been commissioned to be.

I still recall the first watch I stood after I was qualified as officer of the deck (OOD). The boat was scheduled to go to periscope depth at night, which can always be a dangerous evolution due to risk of collision if there are nearby surface vessels, and more so at night due to reduced visibility.

I made my preparations, called down to the wardroom where he was at dinner, reported the status, and requested permission to go to periscope depth. He gave me permission and remained at the wardroom table – trusting me to do my job without him needing to oversee what I was doing – something he had done for other new officers of the deck.

It may not seem like much, but at that moment I learned what trust really meant: if I had made a mistake he would have been held responsible and his naval career would have been ruined.

His and my time on the boat wasn’t as happy as it probably could have been. There was a decided chill between the senior officers and the junior officers. Many officers in our wardroom left the Navy, and when I was younger I thought a great deal of it had to do with him, given his sometimes overbearing personality. He wasn’t a perfect man by any means as none of us are.

But as I grew older and more reflective, I started to understand he had been a victim of his predecessor who had burned out the officers and crew in a brutal shipyard period. The resentments and hostility toward the Navy were passed on to those who reported onboard over the next year – including me. Of the many regrets I have, one is that I wasn’t mature enough at the time to understand the interpersonal dynamics.

After my tour on the Billfish, as I was getting to go to my next command, he told me something I have always treasured: “I wouldn’t have said this to you two years ago, but I’d be glad to have you as an OOD on any mission.”

I knew even at the time that he was a decent man – loving and proud of his children and tolerant of their teasing even when we officers were in his house, and in love with his wife Sue who he remained married to for 53 years.

I remember the day he was to take command. He arrived in his dress blues with his rows of ribbons. It was only when he showed up that he learned the uniform of the day was dress blues with medals. As I was the most junior officer present, he asked for my single medal and hurriedly took off his ribbons – to be replaced by my single medal. Sue laughed the whole time, and I liked her immediately; I saw the strength of their marriage in that silly moment.

Life is fragile as I learned last year and we all face our mortality. Learning of his death was sad, but learning how he died made it so much more difficult.

I can’t imagine what his last two years were like as ALS took his strength and he lost all movement. I have to believe he would have endured it, with Sue and his children beside him, as he did with life – face the problems and do the best he could.

So, while it’s four years late in coming, Admiral – you had a profound impact on me, and on who I became. I will never forget you.

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar. – Tennyson

His obituary is here.

Thank You for Your Service

Today is Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has its roots in a time before the American Civil War. Families in the rural south conducted religious services and picnics in family graveyards, where the graves were decorated with flowers.

The first ceremony related to the Civil War occurred in June 1861 in Warrenton, Viriginia where Confederate graves where so honored. The practice spread after the Civil War with both Union and Confederate graves decorated in the following decades. As in much else in American history, there is controversy as to how the holiday we now call Memorial Day evolved to become a formal holiday.

Memorial Day, in any case, is now a formal holiday to honor the dead service members of America’s wars. And those families, who have lost family members, certainly and rightfully grieve for their losses. There are some losses that can never be overcome, even if they believe the sacrifice was for a worthy cause.

Unfortunately, as in much else in this country, Memorial Day has become another tool used by politicians of both parties to manipulate and twist real sacrifice to the service of the empire.

This country has been in an increasing number of wars since 2001. Eighteen years of wars. Who would have thought the land of the free and the home of the brave would engage in an expanding set of wars with no clear definitions of victory or the means to achieve it? Who would have thought war would become so much background noise?

If we were to be honest, we would have to acknowledge a few things about these wars – that would be the best way to honor the dead.

First, many of these men and women were wasted on no-win battlefields, where “surges” were used to provide political cover.

Second, the men and women who died, while there were certainly exceptions, were victims of a poverty draft – think about how many of those you heard interviewed said they joined the military so they could go to college.

Now ask yourself about how many upper-class children had to face the prospects of being blown up by an IED in Afghanistan? More than that, ask yourself how many protests you’ve heard on college campuses against the wars – or from the parents of these college students? None is the answer to both questions.

The truth is this country’s latest round of wars have been borne by a tiny percentage of the population. For the rest it’s just been life as usual.

George W Bush’s cynical admonition, at the start of the wars, to support the country by going shopping was the height of political cynicism. He should be ashamed of having said that.

Solemn speeches will be given today – paying tribute to the fallen. Pious words will be spoken by politicians and military leaders of sacrifice and preserving freedom. While intentionally unstated, the reality behind those words mean someone else’s sacrifice will continue to be required for dubious goals of empire.

That will require billions more for war, ongoing death and injury for a very few, and back to shopping, movies, and the NFL for the majority. Where is the shared sacrifice in what’s supposedly a democracy?

And I guess that brings me to me my main point – the use of the expression “thank you for your service”, which seems to be a way for civilians to handle the awkward situation of actually talking to an active duty or former service member.

Whether out of guilt or misguided patriotism – in either case, likely well-meaning, it serves to preclude any opportunity for discussion or question of the causes and goals for which that service is rendered.

What if honest and sincere service is given in various countries to causes that do not serve freedom and democracy as the owners want us to believe?

The reality is the military was and is, filled with individuals who have their own perspectives about where they served and what they did. Further, all of who served, whether in war or peace, have mixed feelings about their time in the military. They should be treated as individuals and asked about how they feel rather than being dismissed with a casual thank you.

It would be better to ask someone about how he or she felt about their time in service – and in the case of our Afghanistan and Iraq veterans how they feel about the war; the same should be said about the older population of Vietnam veterans.

They all live with what they’ve done and the losses they’ve suffered. And the truth is a very many suffer from PTSD. Reliving daily their traumas and being thanked “for their service” creates further stress, and I think isolates them from the country and population they thought they went overseas to support.

But if you do ask – and you better mean it, be prepared to hear what they have to say. They have seen all the falsehoods, the real blood, and savagery that exist behind the flags, parades, and pious words.

Honor the dead and their families for their loss and suffering. But do not confuse their deaths and sacrifice with the faux patriotism spouted by today’s speakers.

Pebble Mine Update: Another Major Player Drops Out

No Pebble Mine

Another major mining company has dropped out of the proposed Pebble Mine project. First Quantum Minerals joins the list of Mitsubishi Corporation, Anglo American, and Rio Tinto who determined the project is a bad investment. Only one small exploration company remains: Northern Dynasty Minerals.

This is a great development that may soon bring an end to the controversial project that threatens Bristol Bay, Alaska.

You can read more here.

Thomas & Thomas Avantt – First Fishing Report

T&T Avantt

I’ve been fishing the Avantt on local beaches over the last month and I wanted to provide a first report on actually fishing the rod.

I knew this was a phenomenal rod from the casting I did at Emerald Water Anglers and in my extended casting in my backyard (read here).

There are rods that are excellent casting rods in the parking lot but do not always meet expectations as an actual fishing rod. I am happy to say the Avantt was exceptional as a fishing rod.

The Avantt has a very light swing weight. In addition, the shaped grip felt very comfortable in my hand. Together, they made it easy to forget about the rod and focus on the line and where I wanted to cast it; that’s not true of every rod I’ve cast even in light trout rods. The Avantt is remarkable.

I was getting the same tight loops I had gotten in the backyard, even on some windy days where I was getting winds from both and up down beach.

At the distances I was fishing (30 – 60 feet), the rod provided great feedback on the casts I was making. It definitely has a stiff tip but that didn’t prevent it from letting me feel connected to the line. I was using both clouser flies and chum baby flies; both types were primarily sizes 6 and 8.

I’d like to say I caught a big cutthroat that allowed me to assess the rods fish-fighting ability, but that wouldn’t be true. The fish were all small cutthroat and few baitfish that were easily brought to the net before release.

So I’ll continue fishing the rod and hopefully the next report will be on the big one that tested the rod.

Land of the Free

Buffalo Skins Pile

I’ve lived and traveled in the western United States for over 40 years. In that time, I’ve traveled parts of the Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail. I’ve been to the areas where Indian wars were fought and the mountain men trapped for beaver. And along the way, I’ve learned a good deal of history of the region – mostly from reading.

The West is the mythos of the land of the rugged individualist. Whether it is the free trapper working alone in the high mountains to trap beaver; the small rancher struggling against both hostile nature and hostile humans; or the miner digging deep or working a stream to strike it rich – all were supposedly able to take just enough from the land to give them the freedom and independence they sought.

However, those myths are mostly false. The true story of the West is one of big government and big business, with individuals reduced to economic pawns supporting a much darker reality: one about destruction of land; extermination of wildlife and native peoples; and the poisoning of rivers and streams.

And by the end of the nineteenth century, before the myths had been developed and enabled by popular culture, the truth of what had been done in the West drove the American people to demand that lands and streams be protected as public lands.

Unfortunately, cynical politicians of today, working for the modern versions of those corporate interests, are trying use the myths to undo the protections put in place so long ago. In doing so, they want to return lands once held in the public trust to private ownership where exploitation becomes inevitable.

Hatch Magazine has a well-written article that details the movement to protect our natural heritage and the threats they face.

You can read the article here.

Montana FWC Rejects Madison River Proposal

In a recent post, I wrote of a proposal to limit the number of commercial guiding operations on the Madison river as well as limiting use of boats on some segments of the river.

Yesterday, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-0 to reject the proposal.

The outfitters who would be impacted were most outspoken in speaking against the proposal. One of the valid points made by the outfitters was that the majority of fly fishers on the Madison are non-commercial anglers who would not have been impacted by the proposed rule changes.

In addition, at least one of the commissioners noted that the proposed plan was not fully vetted as other rivers’ plans had been.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks will watch for public reaction to the decision before deciding on how to proceed with a revised plan.

You can read more here.

Save Bristol Bay…Again

Bristol Bay Salmon

Bristol Bay is the easternmost part of the Bering Sea, and is north of the Alaskan Peninsula. It is home the world’s largest salmon run, and includes all five species of Pacific salmon (King, Coho, Sockeye, Pink, and Chum). And it is again threatened by the Pebble Mine proposal.

The Pebble Mine is an exploratory project in the Bristol Bay watershed. The project is funded by the Rio Tinto Group and Mitsubishi. The ore deposit of the proposed mine is rich in copper, molybdenum, and gold, and is thought to be the second-largest deposit of its kind in the world.

Due to the size of the required operation, there has been opposition due to the downstream risks to the watershed, salmon, and other fisheries. Much of the efforts to stop the mine has been through grass-roots efforts, including members of recognized Native American tribal councils in Alaska.

Every apparent victory in stopping the mine is met by a new challenge. And now the mine has filed for one of the permits needed to proceed with mining. Public comments are now being accepted.

You can read more about the Pebble Mine project here.

You can submit comments on the latest proposal here.