Monday, November 26, 2012

A Good Week of Hunting

I try hard as I can each year to get a week away from my Washington office over the Thanksgiving holiday to turn my attention to hunting. The first part of the week is usually spent on waterfowl, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been the traditional 'opening day' for chasing deer with a firearm in Maryland for as long as I can remember.

Lately, though, there hasn't been much in the way of waterfowl around these here parts during what we hunters refer to as 'the early split.' It just isn't cold enough in middle November to bring birds to our region; so mostly we sit around in shirtsleeves in duck blinds, looking out at an altogether too bright and too warm sun, set high in a bluebird sky.

The 2012 goose opener was much the same as we've come to expect, what few birds had arrived to the Chesapeake were content to hug the small creeks where they roost overnight, and left those friendly confines only to loaf around on the Chester River or other such larger bodies of water as they might find amenable. On days like these, 60 degree temps and not a cloud in the sky, hunters might see plenty of birds, but getting them into the decoys, or even getting them to feign interest in your hopeful spread, is a tall order.

Things looked up on Tuesday, when a slight front rolled through, making for a cloudy dawn. The birds left the creek and worked our field early, and before the three guys in the blind could run out of things to talk about we had a limit and fellow blogger Kirk Mantay from over at River Mud and myself were enjoying a hearty breakfast and more conversation at Higgy's, a Church Hill diner that specializes in the kind of stick-with-you-for-the-day grub that hunters prefer. It was the best day of goose hunting, something I do probably more frequently than all the other hobbies I have combined, I've had in fully two years.

Thursday morning the guests in my home slept as I put my turkey in its brine and threw my shotgun into my truck, I saw hundreds of starts twinkling down on me; a crystal clear night that promised more of the same during the day. Sure enough, the day broke blue and the sun shone brightly as we watched early birds cruise far over our heads. I was able to harvest a single before I had to leave the pit for some time in the kitchen.

On Saturday morning, I turned my camo hat in for a blaze orange model and waterfowl season for deer season. I headed out into a stiff 20 mile per hour wind, that thankfully for me was blowing out of the northwest, blowing my scent away from the field I was hunting. Early in the morning, before legal shooting time, I saw a dark figure working its way across the field and knew it was a deer. Wind and cold temperatures seem to become an afterthought when you can watch animals cruise around without any knowledge of your presence in a tree 15 feet above them.

I had no intention of harvesting any but the most mature deer, and knew instintively that any animal walking across a field that early in the morning, and alone besides, was anything but a mature animal. I watched the doe through my binoculars until she slipped through some cover at the edge of the field, and on to wherever she would hang out for the rest of the day.

There were other deer, a four-point buck that crossed in front of me broadside at what would have been archery range, and six does crowded the field right before the end of legal shooting time, any of which would have been harvested easily enough. But with the commitment to only harvest mature deer front and center in my mind, I was content to watch these deer through my Minox binoculars, getting a sense for what the deer were doing, and when they were doing it.

It was a great week afield, there were plenty of geese and deer around, and as always lots of good conversation in the goose pit and duck blind. Deer hunting is a solitary affair, almost entirely quiet and still, which is why I prefer the conviviality of the waterfowl hunt; but the time I spend in the stand gives me time to think, and for that alone it has tremendous value. Here's to a successful 2012-2013 season to all those folks who still rise early and find good fortunes up in the sky.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kline Online's Annual Thanksgiving Post 2012

Ah yes, time for my annual Thanksgiving post. For me, Thanksgiving is a holiday, and November a time of year, steeped in meaning. I was born on Thanksgiving, married my wonderful wife in November of 2007, all meaningful hunting for me begins in November, and it is also when I enjoy the first fires in my woodstove. It is an altogether wholesome time of year, spent with family and friends in goose pits, duck blinds, and around the dinner table.  

In 2012 there is much to be thankful for. Over the holiday season, a bad case of persistent bronchitis had Kim coughing so violently that she cracked a rib; the Emergency Room's attempt to administer powerful painkillers intravenously worked to dull the pain of the cracked rib, but a few days later the pain in Kim's arm proved symptomatic of a much bigger problem, a blood clot had formed in her arm, just upstream from where the IV had been placed. For the next month, Kim was thought by some of her doctors to be in a fair amount of danger; there was obvious concern that something tragic might occur if the clot were to break off. Kim was placed on Coumadin, a blood thinning drug that requires frequent blood tests. She had to giver herself nightly injections for a few weeks. There were more visits to the emergency room, and several ultrasounds, things were touch and go for longer than anyone hoped. Until finally a trip to a hematologist in Annapolis indicated that Kim's clot occurred in a redundant vein, that this type of thing wasn't particularly rare, and was nothing to be terribly worried about. He advised her to come off the Coumadin immediately, and "get back to your normal life." I remember at that appointment, we were so shocked by the good news that we kept rephrasing the same question in different ways, something along the lines of: "are you sure this isn't dangerous?"

The doctor replied, "you can keep asking me the same question, and I am going to keep giving you the same answer. I see two of these a month. Go home." 

Also in 2012, I had the good fortune to meet a few new hunting buddies, Tim Kizer, who hosted me on his farm in Arkansas for a memorable January duck hunt, and fellow blogger and co-conspirator on Chesapeake conservation issues Kirk Mantay, who I look forward to hunting and fishing with much more in the not-too-distant future. Good friends sharing a blind or a shoreline are hard to beat; glad I found these two.

Kim also found a great new job in 2012, at the Mid Atlantic Cat Hospital. Everyone who knows Kim knows how much she loves cats, and this new opportunity to work with Dr. R. and the team over at MACH has been great for Kim. I can see just how much more happy she is when she gets home from work each evening. A miserable job situation has a way of rubbing off on everyone, really coloring the home life and much else, besides, so I am thrilled for Kim that she was able to go to work at the Cat Hospital, it is a fantastic fit.

Here at Kline Online, it has been a great year, as well. Another record year for visits, and the blog now has sustained visitation coming from a variety of sources. People are searching for the blog more than ever before, and I hope that as long as I can think of something to say, people will continue to come back and check it out from time to time. I also made some time in 2012 for writing outside of what I do here for the blog, and wrote somewhat regularly for the Queen Anne's County Spy, and was published in several other places as well. It is my hope in 2013 that I can perhaps sell my first story to a major publishing outlet. 

Father's Day was great for me and my family in 2012, as well. My sister Jennifer and I bought my dad a John Deere tractor for his home in the mountains, and I think we surprised him and filled him with happiness. He loves his tractor. I also won Filson's Father's Day Writing Contest, with my story Made of Steel, which you can read again here.

Late last year Kim and I decided to bring home a long-haired orange tabby cat from Talbot Humane Society. We have cats at home, and Kim often fosters kittens, but this would be the first of our cats that we got together, a kitten that would be hanging around for awhile. I named him George, after all kinds of great Georges in American history, George Washington, George Meade, George Bird Grinnell, George Marshall. It's just a regal sounding name for a regal looking cat. He is a handsome handful, and the only of our cats that will actually kill mice and crickets.

For the first time since I was able to vote, I decided to sit out an election as an activist and a volunteer, although I wrote extensively about two Queen Anne's County ballot questions here at Kline Online. I supported Jon Huntsman in the early going of the presidential race, but he was out by the time Maryland voted, and never had more than a lame dark horse's chance of getting to the top. My vote on Election Day was cast, more or less at every level, for candidates who I felt no passion for; an epidemic that I fear has spread to the American electorate writ large. Throughout the campaign season, whenever I saw a car with an Obama or Romney sticker, I would always think to myself, how could you be that excited to vote for either of these guys?

Two weeks ago, this country was full of vitriol, and I fear that it has not waned. Fifty percent of the country thought, and likely still thinks, that their beliefs are the only ones worth believing, and that the other fifty percent is abjectly stupid. I wonder how we can move forward together when we are so divided.

But two big wins here in Queen Anne's County gave me enough to be thankful for on election night, and sufficient inspiration to continue to work on the most pressing issues in the place I call home.

Today I will start the day, as I do every year, hunting with my dad. I am thankful for every year we can still hunt and fish together. When we are done, I will come home to a house that is full of family: Kim, her grandparents, and of course my dad and step-mom. The woodstove will be cranking, music will be playing, and conversation will most assuredly be wide-ranging. I do all of the cooking on Thanksgiving, a stressful chore for some, but a task I enjoy immensely. Something about putting a wholesome meal on the table for the people you care about most is very satisfying to me, and I gather it is what the holiday is supposed to be all about.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Field Test: Black Diamond Storm headlamp

Lights have become something of a fetish among hunters, anglers, and other outdoor types. We can't seem to have enough. They accumulate in blind bags, they roll around on the floor of our trucks, they surprise us with their presence in fishing vests, unseen and forgotten since last season. When I was in Boy Scouts the Mag Lite was the thing to have; a heavy bruiser of a flashlight, more than a foot long that doubled as a side arm for police officers when teenage Boy Scouts weren't lugging it around. Lights have changed since then, getting ever-smaller. Of course, the smaller they are, the easier they get lost; I know of a few little camouflage models that were dropped from treestands into the leaves below, never to be seen again.

In my hometown there are a lot of flashlights hanging around in kitchen junk drawers or Chevrolet glove boxes that have company names like Bethlehem Steel and Western Electric etched into the side. They are durable things, heavier than they should be. Their scarred yellow tubes hold C batteries, and when you throw the switch you can imagine their strong beams hope to fall on a revival of the blue collar spirit that now seems lost in the dark. Many of these lights have outlasted the companies on their sides.   

These days though, small and bright are the measures of a flashlight. Brushed metal housings, a team of LED lights tucked into something not much bigger than a 3.5 inch shotgun shell.  You can spend a ridiculous sum on a flashlight, some of the brightest, tiniest, models stretch north of a hundred dollars. Where I come from, if a flashlight costs $150, you would be well advised to simply wait for the sun to rise or to take your chances in the dark.

But waterfowlers can't wait for the sun to rise. The best duck hunting is often found within a few minutes of dawn, and decoys need to be set in anticipation of sunrise. Setting decoys is most definitely a two-handed job, and as such, a flashlight just won't work. So in advance of the 2012-2013 hunting season, I was in the market for a new headlamp.

In the past I had relied on models that clipped on to my hat's brim. They were inexpensive, less than $15 dollars, tolerably bright, and served the purpose. But their cost was reflected in their flimsy construction and one model broke like a matchstick as I made a fairly normal adjustment to my hat's brim. It fell 20 feet to the ground from the tree I was in, and sent a cheerful beam of light off into the woods.

So I was prepared to spend some more cash this time around and was familiar enough with the Black Diamond brand from some of my rock climbing and camping-oriented friends. I knew they made a quality light, and after perusing the Pro Guide Direct website I decided that the Black Diamond Storm headlamp was the one for me.

Pro Guide Direct appears only to carry the Storm in its most flashy outfit, a bright green (one might say neon) head strap and a white housing for the light. It also comes in a matte black finish, and a mango finish. The matte black might be the presumptive choice for hunting applications, but color doesn't much matter when the light's main use occurs before the sun comes up.

It takes four AAA batteries, but the light avoids being uncomfortably weighty and doesn't slip down while being worn. The head strap is a wide and strong elastic, easily adjusted to stretch over a hat, knit beanie, or your bare dome. The light itself can be tilted, and even with a hat brim in the way, the light illuminates the gear I am working with.

Most hunting applications will require the two white light settings, one of which is a triple power LED light that appears to have the intensity of a luxury car headlight and the other comprises two single power LED lights and is best used for close-in operations (unwrapping decoy weights, fishing for the granola bar you know you put into your blind bag). There is also a strobe light for emergency situations and surprise party applications, and a pair of red LEDs for maintaining your night vision once you turn the light off.

One particularly good attribute of the the Black Diamond Storm is that the triple power LED light can be dimmed on the fly, to save battery power and to custom tailor the brightness of the light for your needs. You don't always need to illuminate a wheat field, and sometimes when working around others, your light can be too bright. By holding in the power button on top of your Storm light while in triple power LED mode, the light will dim, simply let go of the button when the lighting is sufficient.

This is a great light that wears comfortably and gives you incredible brilliance while keeping your hands completely free. Whether bringing in firewood from the woodpile, finding your treestand, or wading through a flooded corn impoundment, the Black Diamond Storm comes highly recommended from Kline Online.

Item: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp in Ultra White
Price: $49.95
Purchased from Pro Guide Direct
Score: Highly Recommended  

**Review Update: I took my hat off after I got up into my tree stand on December 2, and the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp slid off and fell about 20 feet to the ground with a thud. However, after I got out of my stand around lunch time and inspected the light, the Storm still looked brand new, and worked fine. The small screw on the battery cover kept the batteries from scattering, which was very helpful.  


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Thrill of the Early Season

It's that first morning alarm of the 2012 waterfowl season, a 5 AM interjection of country music that on most mornings, when another day of work is all we have to look forward to, is most unwelcome. But on days that promise decoys and sunrises, cackling geese lifting off the river in a dance of wing beats, and camaraderie, the alarm clock doesn't seem quite as daunting a foe.

This won't be a morning that requires base layers, under layers, middle layers and outer layers. It's early in the season yet, and those mornings are becoming rare here on the Chesapeake Bay anyway. I tuck a fleece into my waders, and with my companion we trudge off to the flooded corn and the smallish a-frame blind therein. The curly-coated retriever that will hunt with us today serves as a better literal illustration of our own excitement, she paces far ahead of those of us held back from walking too quickly by gun cases, blind bags, and the fit of our waders. It is these early season hunts, where little is expected except warm weather, that don't require much preparation. We toss less than a dozen cork decoys out kicking up a group of Canada geese in the process. Watching them lift off noisily in the light of the pre-dawn moon is the reason many of us do this; after they leave the only noise to be heard is the splash! of the decoys hitting the water.

On many mornings this season the task of setting decoys will be much more challenging, and take much longer. As the season gets longer, and the birds get wiser, decoy spreads grow and grow; and likewise the conditions under which they multiply are often colder, wetter, windier; all medicine for the soul of waterfowl hunters, whose sanity is not terribly well established. But today the stars give way to a pink morning, with not a cloud in sight. The forecasted temperatures for the day are north of 60, but I find myself regretting dressing for later in the day when the morning still hovers in the mid-30s.

The whistle of Mallard wings floats by overhead before legal shooting time, and magically the chill of the early morning evaporates with anticipation. You could do this a thousand times, and those first birds that buzz the blind always get the heart rate moving. When that stops happening, I guess its time to stay in bed.

Loading three Federal waterfowl loads into my shotgun, Jordy, the curly-coated retriever comes over to my side of the blind, sniffs the shells as if to wish them good luck. Knowing that her fulfillment on this day is dependent upon our shooting.

In a utilitarian sense, Jordy was unfulfilled. As were her duck hunters. A few Mallards gave us a look, but we waited for a third turn by the blind that never came. Such is life as a waterfowl hunter. We wait on a cold blast of air to our north that might push birds southward, and know that when that happens, we are in a spot as likely as any other. And if like last year, that cold blast never comes, we know that the company is good, the view is beautiful, and that it isn't the pull of the trigger that brings us out here.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Post Mortem for Questions A and B

On Tuesday, the voters of Queen Anne's County wisely rejected two ballot questions that would have opened the county to a level of development that we can now clearly say is not supported by the vast majority of those who live in our county.

Since 2010, all I have heard about was how the commissioners had a mandate for growth, since pro-growth commissioners had won a majority of the seats on the Board. It is difficult in an election, particularly at the local level, to discern precisely why people make the selections they do for county leadership, but seeing as how the county also elected "keep it rural" champions like David Dunmyer and Robert Simmons, it never jibed for me that the county was too gung-ho for growth; rather, they were gung-ho for Republicans and did not really use the 2010 General Election as a barometer for their feelings on local growth.

But Questions A and B were clearly questions about growth, which is why both sides of this debate took these questions so seriously. The result of these questions would have serious impacts on how this set of commissioners move forward for the second half of their term, and of course on the long-term outlook of our community. The results on both questions illustrate that the people of our county realize what we stand to lose by adopting growth policies that in some instances are even more aggressive than those counties that surround us.

By drawing comparisons to Easton and Middletown in relation to Question B, Business Queen Anne's did more to help the cause of opposition than perhaps they will ever realize. BQA's advertisements presented Easton in a "look what we are missing!" light, and the results of the election prove that the citizens of our county don't think that is the kind of thing they are missing. People know that they don't want the place they call home to look like those places; that is not why they moved here or stay here, and no amount of so-called convenience would get them to vote for a question that might put Queen Anne's County on the fast-track to Easton style development.

I take even greater comfort in the wide margin of Question A. By a 60-40% tally, voters declined to buy the argument that more houses in Queen Anne's County will solve any problem. They declined to believe that by crowding the schools and putting more cars on the road, by accepting a lower standard of service in education and transportation, that the county would benefit.

Throughout the lead up to this election, it struck me that none of the interest groups or people who supported Question A were being very honest in their potrayal of what the question would actually do. In their email supporting a "For" vote on Question A, the Queen Anne's County Central Committee stated that the question would "revise the APFO to previous levels." Seems harmless right? And in their ads, Business Queen Anne's never once mentioned the actual impact of the Question, but rather just recommended a "For" vote, and on their Facebook page said that Question A would "help farmers sell their land." I suppose that they found it helpful for their purposes to steer away from what Question A actually would have done, crowd schools and roads, and increase the need for costly government services.

And now that the election is over, and the development interests were soundly defeated, those same interests are left to define their loss, which largely means they are seeking ways to downplay its importance, and/or to place blame. They immediately started to complain that the voters somehow did not understand the questions, did not understand just what was at stake. Of course, coming to that conclusion requires one to assume that voters are uninformed, and intellectually ill-equipped to understand important ballot questions. The leaders of BQA are constitutionally incapable of realizing that when they pretend as though we need to crowd the schools to fix them, or when they contend that, despite what the Department of Education says, the schools aren't really at capacity, they make it remarkably easy for people to understand the issues, and subsequently to reject these asinine arguments.

It was a good night in Queen Anne's County, as I sat in the Board of Elections building in Centreville as the precincts reported, and saw just how favorable the totals looked as they came in. I don't assume this will be the last fight we have with this Board of Commissioners, three of whom appear unlikely to let something like clearly illustrated public will stand in the way of their agenda. But its nice to savor a win on two battlefields, even while the war is sure to continue.

Friday, November 02, 2012

High Responsibility

Voting has been made incredibly convenient, something you can do on your way to the grocery store, or to pick up a pair of pants you are having hemmed. In this way we have made voting almost an afterthought, an errand, something that takes only a few minutes to be done with for another two years.

Unfortunately, the act of voting is something that should take us much longer, and I don't mean the time we spend staring at the touch screen.

Every election it seems that the partisan rancor gets a little harsher, the shouting a little louder, the self-righteousness a little more shrill. We boil incredibly complex problems down to simple talking points, which means that nothing will ever change.

Some suggest term limits, but like the Founders, I agree that the best term limit is a well informed electorate. We should hold our politicians more accountable for the things they say or don't say, the things they do or don't do. As voters we often bemoan that politicians run to the right or left during a primary campaign, and then pivot to the middle during the general, but as voters we are guilty for letting them do it, guilty of rewarding such intellectual dishonesty.

As voters we are guilty, too, of letting politicians tell us what we want to hear, and cheering them on for saying it, but then we look the other way when the message changes in front of a different audience, or when the vagaries of campaign season compel it. The latest version of this was Mitt Romney's Hurricane Sandy-induced about-face on the issue of FEMA funding; several months ago FEMA was on Governor Romney's list of federal agencies he would privatize, but in a statement he said that as President FEMA would get the funding it required. It happens on both sides, and voters from both sides let their man (or woman) get away with it, while seeking to eviscerate the other side's man for doing the same thing.

The only way we will get more out of our elected leaders is by expecting more from them. By not wearing partisan blinders voters can hold politicians accountable, but when we dismiss even the most egregiously inconsistent message from politicians as "politics as usual", we are bound to get more politics as usual, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reasonable voters can't let the screamers and the shouters determine who runs our country. When this happens, as it generally does, reasonable voters head to the polls with the now-cliched feeling of voting for the best of two evils. Issues become defined by black and white soundbites proclaiming something to be great or evil.

We struggle to find the real facts, to find the real numbers, to understand the legislative language. It is unfortunate that there is not one trusted source for all of us to at least begin our political soul searching on the same solid ground of information. The press used to perform that role, but because we have self-selected our media based on the fact that some stations and outlets tell us what we want to hear, we have largely lost a press that questions or investigates in any but the most partisan of tones.

It is too late for this election, another in which it seems many of the nation's moderate thinkers go to the polls with no enthusiasm. But for future elections, it is imperative that voters know more about the issues so as to avoid being used only as a means to an end by hopeful candidates. The voters are the boss, the elected officials are supposed to be the representatives. But as the popular saying goes around the office, when the cat is away, the mice will play. And for too long now, the voters have been away. Our national debate has suffered for it, and it's time to start paying attention.