Social Media and The Loss of Serendipity

Recently I read a post on the Chrome Chasers‘ blog that got me thinking about social media and the way in which it threatens the unexpected in the things we do and encounter in our lives.

In his post, Keith Allison – owner of Chrome Chasers – observes that social media is one of the biggest threats to steelhead. Where fly fishers used to drive for hours in the hope of finding steelhead – with some incredible trips while others wound up as busts, now people consult social media for up to the minute status, guaranteeing that once quiet lightly peopled rivers are flooded with crowds and boats all wanting to hit the “epic” conditions.

He went on to say that he’s seen out of area guides posting about their success – thus bringing in more people, and in one instance he helped out a guide in trouble who was taking clients down a river the guide had never run before. I guess you can’t blame the guide; after all he was after the epic conditions for his paying clients and didn’t have time to do his homework. I wonder if his clients knew how poorly he served them.

Social media is now omnipresent and here to stay. Some estimates suggest that by 2018, 2.4 billion people will be using social media (up from less than one million in 2010). That expected increase is in spite of the revelations that every communication online eventually winds up in some government big-data store.

And it’s not to say that social media doesn’t have its uses from enabling societal change as happened in Tunisia and Egypt, or being used as a focal point for communication between family or friends during disasters. And it’s handy for being reminded to pick up something from the grocery on the way home.

The problem I see is that social media eliminates the separation between the private and the public. Everything we see, do, think or feel winds up posted, texted or tweeted. There is no pause to reflect on whether what is being done should be closely held or broadcast (literally) to the world.

As individuals, I think we have to own the responsibility for deciding what to post, text, or tweet. And I think we also have to be responsible for deciding what we read in social media.

In fly-fishing or any other activity in nature, it’s often better not to know and just show up and be open to what happens.

There have been mornings spent on Puget Sound where no sea run cutthroat trout were to be found. But then again, on many of those mornings there were eagles overhead and seals just off the beach. One morning, I looked behind me to see a deer looking at me.

I would have lost those opportunities if I had read a post saying there was nothing to catch in the Narrows and then decided not to go or go somewhere else. And I would have deprived someone else of the same random chance if I had been the one doing the posting.

We all need to be responsible for protecting the natural world and what it offers in terms of privacy and solitude. And maybe take a moment to think about what and when before posting or tweeting after landing that steelhead or trout.

You can read the post here.

The Medical Adventure Completed

It has been a long while since my last post, which reflects how long it took for my medical adventure (discussed in my last post) to be finished.

I did have my gall bladder removed in early December and thought that would be the end of it. However, that wasn’t to be the case.

Two days after Christmas, we went in for the two-week followup with my surgeon. After a few errands we stopped in for lunch at Subway. No reflection on Subway, but while standing in line I grew faint and passed out just as my wife got me into a booth.

That resulted in a Medic One ride to the emergency room; riding in their rig was sort of cool.

At the hospital I was diagnosed with another round of e coli; in addition I had an abscess at the site of the surgery. Both resulted in another four-day stay in the hospital and another drain – this time for the abscess.

Two weeks later I went in to have the drain removed, and the radiologist said what they thought to be a side pocket of that abscess was actually a second one. In addition, its location meant another drain would have to be inserted – this time through the liver. Yikes.

That drain was finally pulled on January 26th. Since then I’ve been free of fever or infection with no further complications. The doctors said as there was no infection while I had the last drain in (and being off all antibiotics) odds were more than good I was finally done with this. As it is, that’s the case.

Now comes the effort to rebuild my strength and endurance. During the last three months when I wasn’t looking someone had taken my arms and shoulders and replaced them with the same from some old man. I need to get mine back.

And sometime soon it’s time to get back fly fishing.

Back from the Precipice

I had a recent medical experience that reminded me of how fragile our lives are and how unexpectedly we can face our own mortality. In other words, if things had turned out slightly differently, I wouldn’t be here writing this.

In late October what I thought was the start of the flu turned out to be much more serious. Beginning with eight hours in the emergency room, I then spent five additional days in the hospital battling sepsis (blood infection) and acute kidney failure. My gall bladder had dropped a stone and was in a diseased state.

The details of the time in the hospital need not be detailed – except to say two things. I can only say how humbling it is to have a team of medical professionals working to save your life. The other is that being catheterized is an extremely unpleasant experience.

I was also humbled by the visits and thoughts of many people who were concerned about me. I had visitors I never thought would come by. My sister and my mother-in-law had prayer circles underway. I know many others were concerned and worried about me.

Through the week, I never felt really sick – except for when the catheter was put in and a very long second night in the hospital when I had delusions due to a combination of a drug and sepsis; that was a night of horror I want to forget.

But I got an understanding of how close this had been when my hospital doctor visited on the fourth day and said I was “back from precipice” and that it “had been a very near thing.” That was an eye opener and I finally realized how easily this could have gone the other way.

I’ve been out almost three weeks now and am slowly regaining strength. I am walking up to two miles, but I still feel weak at times. Sleep is the biggest problem; I still have difficulty getting a full night’s sleep. I have a percutaneous drain for bile; hopefully I will have outpatient surgery in early December to remove the gall bladder. These are issues, but I believe and hope they will soon be overcome and then just be memories.

It’s good to be alive.

Grace Under Pressure

Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1926, first used the phrase “grace under pressure.” Often repeated, the phrase is meant to define the meaning of courage or guts.

We live in an age where the word hero is used for everyone from all members of the military to professional athletes to everyone who volunteers for something. And courage is implied in everything associated with the word hero. No doubt there are various types of courage displayed in anyone who faces physical harm.

But there is another form of courage and that is the personal moral kind. Quiet without fanfare or publicity it may be even more profound than the physical. For it is the very notion of grace under pressure.

I had the opportunity to see this latter form last month.

My daughter Katherine married her beloved Ryan.

The day was sunny and warm and matched the gorgeous location. Friends and relatives from both near and far were in attendance. Katherine was radiant, and we both shed a few tears at our “first look” and father / daughter dance.

Long anticipated and planned, it was likely the best day of her life to this point.

Then as life often does, the high of that day was replaced by the extreme low of the next.

Ryan tearfully called me the next day to tell me that Katherine’s beloved Annabelle, her eight and a half year old Aussie, had died the previous morning – the day of her wedding. They had only found out that morning from Ryan’s parents.

Helen and Greg, Ryan’s parents, had decided to take care of Annabelle and Ryan’s dog Oakley so the kids would not have to worry about a dog sitter.

As they prepared to leave for the wedding, Annabelle came up to one of them, looked up and collapsed. Though rushed to a vet, with the assistance of a family friend who had flown in for the wedding and who performed CPR on the way, Annabelle died. (The vet’s suspicion was that she suffered an aneurysm.)

Greg and Helen (and their friend Sharon) faced a crisis. Though devastated by the death of Annabelle, they determined they would not ruin the wedding day of Katherine and Ryan.

They stoically kept it to themselves through a very long day, keeping their grief private for the greater good of all in attendance at the wedding.

There are many tragedies in life – some big some small. And death lurks in the future of all of us and everyone we know. We all face it and other losses through our lives.

But the key thing, it seems to me, is the way in which we deal with all the pain and loss a life lived brings.

Helen, Sharon, and Greg – on a day when so many were happy – displayed grace under pressure in a way I’ve not seen in a long time. For that, and the way they gave Katherine and Ryan their day, they have my eternal admiration.

Thinking about the National Anthem and Protests

The din that arose concerning Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand during the national anthem at the start of an NFL game, has not abated. Indeed, he has been joined by other professional athletes, as well as athletes at the collegiate and high school levels. All have stated they are protesting the lack of racial progress in this country and in particular the numbers of young black men killed by police.

The most common response to the phenomenon is they are “disrespecting” the country – and by extension all police and members of the military – by refusing to stand for a song. One commentator went so far as to say that Colin Kaepernick was supporting ISIS by refusing to stand for the anthem.

First, before anything else, I want to protest the lack of respect given the noun disrespect. Yes, the Oxford English Dictionary cites its use as a verb as far back as 1614 and in North America it has gained increasing use – beginning in urban street culture, it has moved into the mainstream. But to me, it makes someone seem too lazy to search for a better sentence. Sorry if I showed disdain for its use; didn’t mean to disrespect you.

On to the main issue – what is the responsibility of a citizen to stand at the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance?

These are treasured symbols of American democracy and I understand that.

From the earliest days of elementary school, I recall standing at attention with my right hand over my heart and my raised left hand pointing to the flag as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. And while serving as a Naval Officer, I stood at attention with pride in numerous domestic and foreign locations as the national anthem played.

The US flag and national anthem both add to the “mystic chords of memory” for US citizens, to borrow the last majestic line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

But they are symbols intended to remind us of something more transcendent; and that is the system of government and our individual rights as formalized by the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I will refrain, but only a bit, from George Carlin’s pun that they are symbols and symbols should be left to the symbol-minded.

The point is that revering a symbol while separating it from its deeper meaning does not represent the same thing as revering the deeper meaning. Beyond that, one can not pick and choose the rights we have as citizens.

During the 1980s, the Republican party, cynically but brilliantly, co-opted the US flag as its own; the subtle message was to say that only it represented American values. Others, in order to protest policies undertaken by the Reagan administration – particularly in Central America, burned the flag. There were the same screams about “anti-American” we hear today.

It seemed to me then as it seems to me now that political protest is a profound right of citizenry as articulated and protected in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. One can not pick and choose in which forum free speech is permissible.

Or consider the ongoing uproar over the Second Amendment. Without arguing the merits or demerits of their arguments, to listen to gun lobby one would think it is the most sacred right enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

At the same, the holy warriors of the Second Amendment do not raise the same howling protests over the ongoing violations of the First, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eight Amendments that are flouted by successive Presidential administration since the passing of the PATRIOT act and the “war on terror.”

Finally, the indignation over seeing young black men exercise their rights to freedom of speech must be seen in the following way – disrespect is appropriate only when it is not accompanied by political speech.

Think that’s absurd?

Let’s start with Title 36 of the US Code. Section 301 states that during the playing of the national anthem all individuals (not in the military and in uniform) should stand at attention with their right hands over their hearts, and men not in uniform should remove their headgear and hold it over their left shoulder (their right hand being over their heart).

I’ve watched many NFL games over the years and I’ve watched plenty of people standing casually during the national anthem – men and women wearing silly hats; talking with their neighbors; holding a beer in one hand; or eyeing the cheerleaders. I never heard one instance of protest over any of them “disrespecting” the police and military – or giving aid and comfort to ISIS.

Apparently we are democracy only when its convenient, and only when it doesn’t interfere with sports entertainment. And not to put too fine point on it – only when it is practiced by a majority that acts in accord with what the political elites want.

There is Hope for The Future

Lily Tomlin once said, “no matter cynical you are, it’s never enough to keep up.”

Looking around, it’s not hard to agree with that sentiment. Particularly in this election year, with the two corrupt and despised apparent candidates for President; with promises and threats made to various ethnic and interest groups, where bathroom use and walls push aside issues of war and peace, climate change, and economic inequality; and with mass media that promotes conformity, fear, and sensationalism for profit – all of it is enough to result in a deep cynicism and pessimism about the future.

But then there are moments, or in this case three hours, where hope for the future can be restored.

Last night, my wife and I attended Peninsula High School’s presentation of the musical, Les Misérables and I came away from it renewed with an understanding that youth always brings the promise of a brighter future.

Watching those bright eager faces as they portrayed characters experiencing the injustices, cruelty, and idealism of revolutionary France brought laughter and tears. But beyond that was an understanding of the amount of work these actors, musicians, and technicians put into the effort that was all left on the stage. They held nothing back.

And meeting and congratulating them after the musical, up close after they shed their on-stage makeup and roles, they were proud but still self conscious teenagers.

They are all from what’s been called Generation Z (born 1995-2012), and if the backdrop of their lives – (perpetual war, hyper consumerism, breakdown of economic fairness and opportunity, fracturing of society along political and social identity, and intrusive media and government) – has seemed remote or irrelevant except to their parents and teachers, perhaps this musical has opened the door to them understanding what’s beyond their classrooms and homes.

We heard from a friend that at rehearsals their faculty director coached them that they needed to move with wretchedness and despair; playing prostitutes or idealists facing their own deaths on the barricades are not occasions for levity. From what they put on the stage they learned their lesson well.

As they move beyond this musical and high school, they will each in turn enter the next stages of their lives. As with all previous generations they will find happiness and sorrow, comedy and tragedy, and some measure of success and some measure of failure.

But that is all in the future. For in that bright crescendo moment last night, they all showed they have the power and opportunity to change the world and be something bigger then themselves. By starting with what they gave us last night they can make this a better world by embracing the best and rejecting the worst of the human experience.

And if I could wish one thing for each of them for reminding me again that the promise of the young offers hope for a better world, it would be that all their hopes and dreams come true.

Smolts, Safe Journey

Today was a reminder of why fly-fishing in Puget Sound can be a source of awe and perspective.

I had gone down to fish the beach at Purdy. The large falling tide meant strong ebb current and a good chance to find a cutthroat trout. I got one strike. Unfortunately, it felt like the fish spit it out or couldn’t get a strong bite in the heavy current.

But that wasn’t the reason today was a day of wonder. The Coho smolts were heading out to the ocean.

Everywhere, there were small salmon jumping as they moved out of Burley lagoon into Carr Inlet and then on into Puget Sound on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Most I saw looked to be three to four inches in length, with a few somewhat larger.

Near and far, they were jumping seemingly for joy as their big life adventure had begun. While I continued to cast and strip line, I found myself doing it just for the chance to share my small bit of water with these magnificent fish.

Their future lives started in late summer or early autumn of 2014, when their parents returned through Burley lagoon to Burley Creek or Purdy Creek, which are the natal streams for Coho. Their parents in their final act of life deposited and fertilized the eggs in the creek gravel.

This generation of Coho then emerged as fry in late winter or early spring of 2015. They spent all of last year in the slow moving water of their natal creeks. Then sometime this spring they began the process of smoltification, where their physiology changed from living in fresh water to living in salt water.

And now they are on their way to spending the majority of their lives in the Pacific Ocean. Most will stay out for two to three years before returning to their birth streams to start another generation of Coho salmon on their way before ending their lives.

The majority of smolts I saw today likely will be returning in 2018 or 2019.

In all that time, they will live their lives forgotten or unknown by the majority of people who live around the shores of Puget Sound.

And the concerns of these same people over these two to three years – the 2016 election, football seasons, urgency manufactured by marketers and bosses, the daily drudgery of life and work, and the minor tragedies and comedy of being human – will for the most part be forgotten by the time these fish return to Burley lagoon.

The fish will have a much more real urgency and that will be to propagate the next generation of their species and then finish their life cycle.

And maybe their departure today is a chance for us to remind ourselves that our great life cycle should be focused on the important things.

Squatter’s Rights

I went down to my nearby beach the other day. A falling seven-foot tide meant strong ebb current, which meant – hopefully – I’d find searun cutthroat trout. This beach fishes best on an ebb current.

Putting on my waders I noticed my favorite spot near the point that was below the outfall was already occupied. Not a big deal I thought as everyone knows it’s a proven spot.

I grabbed my Sage SALT and walked further north and accessed the beach below the bridge. Casting in a fan pattern and then taking a few steps after each fan I worked my way down the beach toward my spot and the other angler.

He noticed me as I started fishing. A bit later he left the beach and I thought I’d get to my spot in about 15 more minutes. But it wasn’t even ten minutes later that he quickly returned to the beach in exactly the same spot he’d been, and which would have been my destination.

I was a bit annoyed as he went back to fishing. I know I didn’t have any rights to the spot and he was there first. He had seen moving down the beach and it was evident I was moving in his direction. But it was apparent he wasn’t going anywhere and was unwilling to share that part of the beach with me or the other fly fishers that had come down to the beach.

As I got closer, I decided a confrontation that might arise wasn’t worth spoiling a nice sunny morning; I left the water and made my way along the back end of the beach to the other side of him. He sort of looked at me as I did. I nodded and he just stared.

A bit later, I met a fly fisher coming back up the beach who commented on the squatter. He had wanted to move to the point too, but seeing the squatter moved off to the south. It worked out for him as he said he had caught a nice 16 inch resident Coho.

He questioned whether the other guy had caught anything – I said to that point I’d seen him catch only one fish. He just shook his head and we parted company.

Never having been where the Coho had been caught, I decided to check it out. I had missed the main part of the ebb and caught nothing. But it was worth the effort to see a new part of the beach – a place I had seen other fly fishers in the past. Next time, I’ll be heading there.

As for the squatter, in the nearly three hours I was there, I only saw him catch the one fish.

Who says there’s no karma in fly fishing?

Serendipity

A few days before a trip to Montana to see my son and his family (more on that in a later post), and now being retired with time to do what I want when I want, I made a quick unplanned jaunt down into the Narrows for an hour of fly fishing.

There was a slight ebb and I thought I might find something. Working the point near the park, I was skunked – no hits and definitely no takes. Still, it was a nice day – partly sunny and cool. There were seals in the center of the Narrows, barges being moved up the Sound, and lots of birds.

I decided it would just be time for some casting practice so I moved off the point (in which direction will be my secret) and away from the park area.

I was getting hungry and decided to call it a day. But there was time for more cast.

I made about a 40-foot cast and started to strip in. Immediately there was a strike and a blur as a fish jumped.

I had brought my eight-weight just in case there were any Cohos still moving past, and this fish was strong and provided a good fight.

Backing onto the beach as I reeled in, and slowly landed a 16-inch Sea Run Cutthroat Trout. Keeping it in the water, I gave it one admiring glance and then released it. It shot back into the deeper water, ready to be taken by another fly on another day.

By far that was the biggest SRC I’d ever caught and the most fun. I thought afterward about how much more fun it would have been to have caught it on a five or six weight rod, but that really was asking for the cherry on top of the cake.

Life is really about finding the best in everything, whether that means turning a day’s fishing into casting practice or landing a trout on a eight-weight rod.

The Slaughterhouse

Another mass shooting – this time, leaving nine victims dead at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg Oregon – is a reminder of the culture of violence of American society. Make no mistake – this will not be the last. As selfish as it is to say, I only hope future shootings don’t affect anyone I know or love.

I sincerely thought after the slaughter of children in Sandy Hook that the so-called leaders would respond to the grief of the nation and take action. But the NRA acting for the gun manufacturers pushed back with at least $10 million in lobbying dollars and closed off all meaningful dialogue that could lead to thoughtful action.

That dialogue needs to happen if we are going to survive as a society because guns are the most visible symbol of the violence that pervades American society.

As President Obama said in his comments after this latest shooting, it’s become routine. What he left unsaid is how routine violence in all its forms has become (and a good deal of the organized form of international violence arising from his decisions). From campus rape to campus shootings to the slaughter of young black men on American streets to the NFL to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (including Syria and eventually Iran) to the secretive special operations and drone strikes in innumerable countries, the American psyche is absorbed with violence.

The response to everything appears to be more guns and more violence, with an increasingly militarization of all aspects of American society. All foreign policy, including diplomacy, increasingly looks like its controlled by the Department of Defense.

Politicians and some segments of the electorate attack others for not being “strong” on defense and use of military force; the increasing irony is that many of those pushing for violent action never fought in a war or even served; it almost goes without saying that no one they know will ever be involved in the wars they champion.

The military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against has grown larger than he could ever have imagined in his worst nightmare with trillions of dollars diverted into business, government agencies, military contractors, and other firms. At the same time, the commons – schools, public space, and the essential infrastructure – decay with an ever larger bill coming due at some point.

And don’t get me started on Junior ROTC in the high schools. They did this in another country to poor result – but if you see films about it you won’t understand what’s being said unless you speak German.

Some police departments increasingly look like military units with camouflaged web gear and uniforms, body armor, heavy weapons, and armored vehicles. The meaning is unmistakable: they consider themselves at war with the communities they patrol and are supposed to be protecting.

Individual citizens are increasingly arming themselves for offensive action. Revolvers, bolt action rifles and shotguns are for home defense and hunting. M4 carbines and semi automatic pistols are for offensive urban combat. At least one gun dealer in Puget Sound offers Barrett sniper rifles for sale to the public. A Barrett fires a .50 caliber round out to an effective range of approximately 1,800 meters (over one mile). Killing a deer in the next county doesn’t really appear to be its intended use.

Is it any wonder then that poorly socialized young men (and they all are young men) strike out at a society that informed them that violence solves everything?

Remember the victims. Of this, and the next, shootings.