Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hunting Dog

My friend Mike had a dog he wanted to train to hunt.  On the surface, this sounds reasonable, but when one considers Mike and I were only some 10 years on this earth, and the dog was a freebie from a bin of puppies in front of Buddie’s Hardware, one must reconsider the word ‘reasonable.’
Mike and I liked to think we were hunters.  We had made bows from willow sticks, bowstrings from kite string, and arrows from a pile of old bent dowel rods we found in the trash behind the hardware store.  We sharpened the dowel rods and cut notches in the other end and called them ‘arrows.’  Good enough.
The hunting instinct runs deep in some dogs and people.  In others, well, it just isn’t there.  Mike and I were hunter wannabees, and over time we became real hunters, but this dog had no concept of hunting anything more than his feed bowl and a place to nap.  This dog knew the difference between opening a can of dog food and a can of corned beef hash.  Essentially they look and smell the same, but the dog knew the difference by sound.  What a dog.
This dog had a name.  It was ‘Mutt’, and we usually called him that, but he answered only the to sound of a can opener.  He was big, shaggy (probably a sheepdog mix), and was about 3 years old when Mike decided to train him to hunt, and he had never done anything but eat and sleep.  We borrowed some books on dog training from the local library, and in a few days had fashioned Mutt a dog collar and leash from a long piece of old rope we picked up somewhere.  Neither one made Mutt very happy.
We took turns trying to get Mutt to ‘heel, sit, come, and stay.’  ‘Stay’ was the only command Mutt would obey, and only because he was too lazy to get up to do anything at all.  Finally Mike tied the rope to his bicycle handlebars to take Mutt for a walk.  The ride was a short one.  In fact Mutt never moved.  Mike reached the end of the rope, and the rope tightened as Mutt was still lying down.  Mutt never moved in the slightest, but the handlebars on the bike were twisted to the side, and Mike took a hard fall.  End of the first training lesson.
Over a few weeks, we managed to get Mutt to understand that when the rope was tied to the bicycle, it was time for a walk.  Slowly Mutt would get to his feet, and slowly he would walk behind the bike, and slowly the bike would be peddled, because if the rope grew tight, Mutt would lie down and not move until he heard the sound of a can opener.  This was working well enough until the day Mutt crossed paths with a cat.
It was my turn to walk Mutt.  I had learned to tie the rope to my seat post rather than my handlebars since this gave me a bit more stability if Mutt suddenly stopped.  We had gone about two houses distance down the sidewalk when a big fuzzy white cat walked in front of us.  I heard a hiss from the cat, a whimper from the dog, and the next thing I knew I was lying in someone’s yard.  I sat up to see that the cat was still where I remembered it, but Mutt and my bike were not to be seen.
I looked down the sidewalk and saw Mike chasing Mutt while my bicycle was bouncing along behind him as though he didn’t know it was there.  The chase ended when Mutt jumped a low fence and the bike didn’t make it over.  Mike caught up with his dog and untied the rope from his neck.  Then he picked up my bicycle and started to carry it back to me, but Mutt picked up the rope dangling from the seat and took the lead in returning my bike.  Mike and I just stared at the dog for a moment simply not believing he actually did something on his own.  Maybe something had changed.  We were going to find out.
The next day Mike had the honors of taking Mutt for a walk, besides, my bike needed some repair.  It was nothing serious, but the handlebars and seat were twisted, and the rear fender was smashed.  When Mike tried to tie the rope onto Mutt’s collar, Mutt growled and bared his teeth.  Wisely Mike backed off, but when he got on his bike to ride over to where I lived, Mutt followed along on his own.  Unbelievable.
We decided it was time for Mutt to go hunting.  When my bike was repaired enough to ride, we gathered up our bows and arrows and rode over to the field near the railroad tracks where cottontail rabbits were everywhere.  Mutt just followed along.  We rode at our normal speed, and the dog kept up with us.  When we reached the field, we dropped our bikes, grabbed our bows, and began our hunt.  Rabbits were jumping everywhere, arrows were flying everywhere, and Mutt was guarding our bikes and watching the show.
Mutt was right.  He didn’t need to be trained to be a hunting dog.  It was Mike and I who needed to be trained as hunters.  We gathered our arrows and tried again.  The rabbits had nothing to worry about.  Our unfletched crooked dowel rods couldn’t shoot straight under any circumstances.  I don’t remember how many times we gathered up our arrows and tried to hit a rabbit.  It must have been at least seven or eight times and could easily have been many more.  But no rabbit went home with us that day—or for several more years.
Mutt sat patiently as we gathered up our arrows one last time.  The ride home was hot and dusty, and when we got to Mike’s home, we sat for a while on his front lawn and cooled off with a Big Red.  Mutt found a cool drink of water and came over to join us.  Mike reached out to pet his dog, but Mutt just backed away a few feet.  When Mike told him he’d never have to go hunting again, Mutt stood up, walked over to Mike and lay down with his head in Mike’s lap.  I commented that I just might like to try it again.  Mutt’s response was a low growl, bared teeth, and a stare that made me take back my words.  That dog was a whole lot smarter than I had ever given him credit for.  What a dog.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Super Bowl

A couple of weeks ago was Super Bowl XLVII.   Each year I try to watch this game, and some years I succeed, and some years I don’t succeed.  This year I succeeded.
Television team sports don’t have much attraction to me, but playoffs or finals in baseball, football, or basketball are something I will watch if given the opportunity.  Mostly I’m just trying to understand why these sports have such a huge following, while hunting and fishing do not.
Already I can’t remember which team won.  In fact, I can hardly remember which teams played.  I do know I had fun because I was with a few members of my fishing club at the clubhouse.  The main topic of the day was usually football, but there was just as much excitement over several of the upcoming club activities, and, at least to me, that was far more important than the game on the television.
Even though there were only five or six of us, the gathering included more food than we could possible eat, but we did manage to eat most of it.  Chips, dips, cheese balls, and just good ol’ stuff.  Since there were only a handful of us to bring snacks, the diversity was lacking a bit; however, the fun was not diminished because of it.
Next year we will try it again, and maybe there will be a few more gathered at the clubhouse for the game, and maybe there will be a bigger selection of snacks.  Already I’m planning what I will bring, and I’m not planning to skimp on anything.  After all, doesn’t ‘Super Bowl’ refer to a dish?
This year my contribution was a relative of the cheese enchilada.  I call it Chile con Queso, although it is basically cheese enchilada filling scooped up with tortilla chips or Fritos.  It’s really quick and simple to make, and it can be used as a dip or as a topping for nachos.  Sometimes a bowl and spoon are all that I use, but it is always a hit at ‘man gatherings.’
Chile con Queso
    2 pounds Velveeta Cheese
    1 pound shredded Mexican Four Cheese Blend
    3 (15-ounce) cans no-bean chili (I prefer Wolf Brand or Hormel)
    3 (10-ounce) cans Ro-Tel Tomatoes with Chiles
    ½ cup Crema or sour cream
    1 bunch green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    ½ bunch cilantro, chopped
    Chopped jalapeno peppers to taste
Stir all of the ingredients together in a slow cooker, cover, and turn to HIGH for one hour.  Stir all of the ingredients and turn to LOW for 2 hours.  Stir again and serve warm.
There are thousands of variations on this recipe, and most of them are pretty good.  Feel free to adjust or change the ingredients to your taste.  Sometimes I’ll throw in a cup or so of roasted corn kernels just because I have them in the freezer.  Also, this recipe can easily be cut in half, but since that isn’t enough for me, I always make the full amount.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Life on the Casting Pond

The Long Beach Casting Club has a cement casting pond that is the delight of every dog and child in Long Beach, not to mention the walkers.  Oh, boy—the walkers.  They somehow discovered the perimeter of the pond is about 1/8 of a mile around, so they can know just how far they have walked just by counting the laps.  And they are going to walk no matter what happens.  I mention these walkers because they can take you into your backing before they know they’ve been caught.  Dogs and children seem to know that a back cast may have consequences, besides they are usually playing in the water in front of the casters where they can be seen.  Not so the walkers.
The casting club, and almost every fly caster, uses a hookless fly, an indicator, or a plug to monitor their casts in practice.  Unfortunately, the lack of hooks makes it more difficult to get the attention of a walker.  The indicator wraps around their fanny pack or water bottle, and they have no idea of the situation.  True the hook just might wrap itself around these things also, but maybe not…  Well, maybe it would be better just to train the dogs to...
The club is located in an old mature city park where soccer games are regularly played, picnics are part of daily life, and children and dogs regularly come to play.  The spacious dog park just north of the club is well used, but many dog owners opt for the green grass of the park rather than the dirt of the dog park.  The clubhouse and pond are not separated from the rest of the park in any overtly identifying manner, and indeed the grounds are a public park even though the club leases the property.
The openness of the park makes it easy for anyone to observe the club’s activities, and many members joined just because they were able to stroll up to the pond and talk to someone about fly casting.  But the walkers never stop to talk, except to shout “move aside” while they are walking the perimeter of the pond.  (Sorry, I’m trying to get past the walkers.)  After my neighbor Clark introduced me to the pond, I began to make appearances at the club in the evenings just to observe the activities on the water under the lights, and the number of people who would help each other with their techniques quickly impressed me.
I bought my first rod.  It was a 5-weight kit from the local fly shop, and it cost a big chunk of change as far as I was concerned.  It was a name brand, but it wasn’t in the class of a “Holy Grail” or anything even close.  I brought it to the pond knowing from my observations that all I had to do was look pathetic (wait, I already look pathetic) and someone would help me.  I put the rod together, made one toss of the line, and Bert, George, Mick, Bill, and Joe surrounded me before I could make the second attempt.  My first thought was, “am I really that bad?”, but while the answer is a definite ‘yes’ these men didn’t care.  All they wanted to do was show me how to improve. 
For months I came to the casting pond at least once or twice a week to practice casting, and to learn how to work around obstructions (walkers).  My technique has improved a little over time, and still Bert, George, Mick, Bill, Joe, and countless others do not hesitate to help.  And I repeat the word ‘help.’  Never once have I been lectured or made to feel inadequate as a caster, although I am inadequate as a caster. 
It’s strange how what goes around comes around (and this time I don’t mean the walkers).  A few weeks ago I was on the pond by myself and a young lady came up to me and started asking questions about what I was doing.  I explained that I was practicing my casting techniques before going out to fish.  Her response was, “This looks like how fishing should be.”  I couldn’t have agreed more.
I handed her the 5-weight I was using and helped her to make a few simple casts.  Then she mentioned that she was going home to San Francisco in a few days, but she wanted to learn more about this.  It was fun.  She had fished all her life and always had a desire to know how to fly fish.  She was glad someone had taken a few minutes time to show her a little about it.  She promised me she would look up some of the clubs in her area and pursue this.  I hope she does.
Well, time moves forward whether we want it to or not.  Bert is gone now, and Gary has joined the club.  In a few years he will graduate high school.  All ages are represented at the club, and this is essential to the life of any organization.
Many things happen on the pond.  The spey casters throw their long rolls, the master casters practice accuracy, the beginners practice false casts, the dogs and children play in the water (where are their owners?), and the walkers walk.  But most of all, an unbroken fellowship of more than three-quarters of a century continues.  Thanks to everyone for passing on the instructions.  And thanks to every club that keeps this knowledge alive.