Thursday, June 29, 2017

Greek music by Borges


Alex Waterhouse-Hayward gives us a poem of Borges for which no English translation exists. I did not know there was such a thing.

Música griega – Jorge Luís Borges
    
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos del amor de Helena de Troya.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos de haber muerto en Arbela.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     creeremos en el libre albedrío,
     esa ilusión de cada instante.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     sabremos que la nave de Ulises volverá a Itaca.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos la palabra y la espada.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos del cristal y de la caoba,
     de la nieve y del mármol.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos dignos de las cosas comunes,
     que ahora no lo son.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     seremos en el aire la flecha.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     creeremos en la misericordia del lobo
     y en la justicia de los justos.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     mereceremos tu gran voz Walt Whitman.
     Mientras dure esta música,
     mereceremos haber visto, desde una cumbre,
     la tierra prometida.

Digging around finds jbrignone in .ar with some background, 
(Published in the newspaper Clarín on April 11, 1985)
(It should be noted that at this time Borges frequented not only the office of the Greek Orthodox Church, but also the taverna of Takis Delénikas and accompanied his partner to the classes of Greek dance of Jorge Dermitzákis. Although this is not one of the best of Borges, nevertheless it gives a good account of the climate of enthusiasm that permeated these eternal philhellenes in those evenings. JB)

I have always found Greek dance tremendously moving and powerful though I cannot dance. Alex likes to quote his grandmother, Nadie te quita lo bailado, which is approximately, no-one can take away from you the dances you have danced. In the case of no dances, perhaps the memory of watching dancers is enough. There is a fragment of a poem I wrote for my wife after watching her dancing with her eleven girl cousins, written down somewhere.

In the meantime here is a rough translation of the poem - shoved the música through Google Translate and tinkered a bit around the edges, to produce a sort of Tom Waits cover version, all rough growls and sounds made by hitting something metal with a stick. The tinkering is based on my understanding of Borges which is itself dependent on translations by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, W.S. Merwin, Alastair Reid, and others: to whom my debt is great.

I did not know why we might have died in Arbela. That was the Battle of Gaugamela, where Alexander with vastly inferior forces and a brilliant dangerous strategy, defeated Darius of Persia and ended the Achaemenid empire. Though the Greeks did not know mahogany or Whitman or a promised land, and our unworthiness of the common things is a very Borgesian idea, for me these only strengthen the message of eternal philhellenism.

Musica Griega - Jorge Luis Borges

While this music lasts,
we will be worthy of the love of Helen of Troy.
While this music lasts,
we will be worthy to have died in Arbela.
While this music lasts,
we can believe in free will,
that illusion of each moment.
While this music lasts,
we will know that Ulysses' ship returns to Ithaca.
While this music lasts,
we will be the word and the sword.
While this music lasts,
we will be worthy of crystal and mahogany,
snow and marble.
While this music lasts,
we will be worthy of the common things,
which now are not deserved.
While this music lasts,
we will be in the air the arrow.
While this music lasts,
we can believe in the mercy of the wolf
and in the justice of the righteous.
While this music lasts,
we will deserve your great voice Walt Whitman.
While this music lasts,
we merit a view, from a summit,
of the promised land.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

bluegills !

Please to excuse the excitable post. Bluegill fishing according to myth and legend is easy, and they spawn prolifically. By these lights, it is one of the few fish species remaining where you can catch and kill a mess of 'em for a fish fry, guilt-free. In twenty-seven years of living in the US this would be the first time I've found bluegill as described in these foundational myths of US fly-fishing. So yes, I am excited, sufficiently to put up a post to commemorate this possibly singular occurrence.


John Gierach, himself something of a legend, got his start in paid writing with the aid of bluegill.
"I wrote a story about fly-fishing. I think it was about bluegills, because I used to go out to the ponds and catch bluegills for food. And I sold it, and I remember it was like, $75, which was huge money back then. And I just thought, “Well, maybe I can do this to finance my ‘real’ writing career instead of driving a garbage truck.” "
Paid writing is of course very different from writing, as witness this. An opportunity for gratitude, since I have derived tremendous pleasure and consolation from John's books over the years: thank you the bluegill.


An elderly fisherman needs elderly gear, a 1941 Heddon cane rod, and an English reel from the 50s, JW Young Landex. For me there is a small but constant pleasure to be found in fishing this outfit. The reel is nicely engineered and solidly built, long outlasting its owners. I confidently expect it to outlive me and hope that my sons will sell it on through ebay, to another eccentric. There is an element of pity and terror in this new enthusiasm for old fishing gear - like Frodo speaking of Gollum, "I have to believe he can come back." - if I can save these oddments from the teeth of time, perhaps I too may yet be saved. Perhaps not, but at least the fishing has been fine meantime.


The biggest bluegill I ever caught, some 9" or so. That's not large enough to qualify as a 'bull' bluegill which is 10-12" but quite big enough for who it's for. Bull bluegill indeed, it is impressive how fishermen can find a way to be macho even about little fish.


This is not a bluegill but some other representative of the glorious panoply of sunfish native to the US. First guess was a punkinseed but those have orange markers on their black ears (the little black tab at the top of the gill cover or operculum). 


I was standing in the shade, casting to fish in the shade. Upon hooking one it would dart out to deeper water, flashing in the sun, suspended in clear water above the dense green weeds. That much I remember.


The original plan was to catch bass, some hawgs as we fishermen like to say, but did not manage that. The bass were all fun-size like this one.

OK back to the bluegill, I may have been wandering a bit. It turns out that killing a mess of 'em is most likely counterproductive. An enterprising fisheries biologist in Wisconsin questioned the conventional wisdom than overpopulation produces stunted fish. Andrew Rypel set up a study using the ponds under his management. More restrictive size and number limits allow the 'stunted' populations to start growing again. Not only that, but the limit reductions will produce more fish flesh. As the bluegill get bigger in length, they get exponentially bigger in weight, so a few bigger fish weigh more than many small ones. The next step is a ten-year study in Wisconsin using varied regulations across many different ponds.

Later found another study which gets into the deep weeds of bluegill sexuality. The tale of big bull bluegill getting the babes is simple, clear, and wrong. There are two approaches to spawning. The second one is the sneaker or satellite male, who puts his efforts into growing massive gonads instead of simply growing massive. Then he waits for the rapture of the breeding pair, darts in and spreads his seed across the eggs, and escapes before the bull notices. These males are smaller but tend to produce larger offspring. The sneak then runs off to enjoy life, while the bull is left guarding his (and other fishes') progeny. Once the sneaker gets too big to sneak, he starts cross-dressing, and becomes a satellite breeder. These imitate the female colouring and hang around the breeding pair. The bull probably thinks he's getting some hot two-girl-fish action and feels all manly/bullish/bluegillish. Nature is always weirder than I imagined, it's wonderful.



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Malibamatso river, Lesotho 1987



Two out of three donkeys find me quite interesting.

Brother Charles the water engineer used to hear about all kinds of fish opportunities. At this point the Lesotho Highlands water project was still a speculation under feasibility study. The plan was to put a damn on the river, Katse dam, and siphon off Lesotho's water for the conurbation of Gauteng. We thought we'd better go check on the river before anything happened.

For some reason that escapes me after thirty years, Charles had to bail on the trip. Girlfriend, work or room-mate problems, something trivial but no doubt it was important at the time. Access to the river in those days was either a couple of days' hike, or a two-track donkey path up the mountains. My little hatchback Mazda 323 - the Mazderati, also known as Tarzan car (tree to tree) - was not up for that kind of rock crawling. Another engineer acquaintance whom Charles had included, called me up and proposed we go anyway, with the assistance of a kindly hippie he knew in Ficksburg and his bakkie. No decision necessary, the only certainty in my life is to always accept when asked on a trip where fishing might be possible.

Ficksburg is a small farming town in the Free State, with a leavening of poor artists and hippies who like the low cost of living, fine climate, mountains and plains. I travelled there once to run the 23km Ficksburg Cherry Race. The race started early to beat the heat which allowed us to start drinking at 9am under the cherry trees. That's all I can remember about that.

Let us call the engineer Harry, not his name but I don't care to recall it. His girlfriend Annie and kindly hippie friend Riaan completed the expedition. Halfway up the mountains the bakkie was staggering up between the rocks while everyone not driving walked up next to it in the rain, pushing from time to time when the mud seized the bald old tires. Harry looked at me and said, "this is Mazda country !" which was funny at the time.

Pitched camp with Riaan's capacious old canvas tent above the river, a few feet from the road, which enjoyed no traffic at all in the time we were there. We could have pitched on the road itself. That would have been flatter. Some people brought folding stretchers which looked pretty comfortable from my viewpoint on a thin foam gaper pad.

No pictures at all from this trip, only a few clear images in memory. The rain was off and on all weekend, wind and clouds driving over the high peaks. Fish were sparse but perfectly gorgeous when found, deep black-backed bodies and bright ruddy-streaked silver sides. The biggest was 3lb or so, grabbed the fly as a veil of rain swept over the pool, and ran thirty yards downstream before I realized what was going on. Returned with thanks. I wish I could share that picture. Kept two smaller but still decent-sized fish to feed the camp.

Harry had brought a rod but no trout flies so I gave him some of mine. These did not meet his high standards - "give me some of your good flies, these lousy ones keep unraveling". Unwisely I observed that his backcast was pounding the (perfectly good) flies into the unrelenting rocks, several times on each cast. In the end what can you do, offered up a few more sacrificial flies and resolved not to go on any more trips with Harry. This resolution kept, though I do regret losing touch with Riaan.

In the evening Harry and Annie were jumping each other's bones in the tent. Riaan and I took ourselves off to sit in companionable silence at the cherry-wood fire, wood imported from Ficksburg by bakkie at some expense of time and spirit. It was worth it. The rain flurried by as we listened to the music of river and fire.

The next time Charles and I could synchronize our schedules was deep into winter. We had doubts about finding the fish under winter conditions, but as always the best time to go fishing is when you can, so we went. The river was showing its bones.


This time we abandoned the car at the road and backpacked further downstream each day, finding no fish. In a few of the deep pools there were cruising shadows like submarines which seemed impossibly big for trout. They weren't actively feeding, just hanging in the current, roundly ignoring everything we had in our fly boxes. Eventually they would tire of being pestered and fade down into the deep green water and rocks.



Another day down the river. This was the first and only tent we owned, a good twenty-five pounds of somewhat portable shelter. Each morning the blue flysheet was stiff with frost, in this picture removed to dry somewhat on a bush. No fires this time as there is no wood in the sub-alpine (cf pictures).  The camping was chilly. Morning oatmeal made with boiling water would be frozen to the bowl before it could all be eaten, not much of a loss it is true.

There were herdsboys and flocks of sheep in the hills, sleeping in little stone rondavels. In the morning a thin thread of smoke would emerge first, then as the sun rose the bodies would pile out. We speculated that everyone slept in one promiscuous pile for warmth. The boys were clad in blankets with rubber gumboots. One boy had a pair of fine German leather hiking boots, probably considerably warmer than the standard issue. They were interested and deeply puzzled by us.


Since we couldn't catch the submarines in the big pools, we tried stalking quietly the smaller pools. No fish seen or surmised.


Perhaps they are hiding under the faster water  ? nope.


Yet further downriver, still cold and fishless.  Really the trip was excellent but the lack of fish does remove a possible source of happiness, of which there are few enough in all conscience.


Not here either.


A very blurry photo but that's all there is - I won the fishing, with one fish.. handsome healthy fellow, where are his friends ?

This whole post was prompted by an inquiry from Rex Fey, who went up to the Malibamatso this year on the new smooth roads the Water Project built, and found a seemingly fishless river in winter as well. Yet other reports from warmer times earlier in the year showed quantities of fish. Just what do they do in winter ? Apparently they have been doing it for thirty years now, before and since the dam. 

Go to Rex's weblog and read the whole thing, to see more stories and pictures from the high Drakensberg trout streams, so beautiful it could break your fisherman's heart. This trip was the last time I fished the Malibamatso. We left SA in 1990 as my biannual Army camps sent me to doing police work in the townships, roadblocks and chasing gunrunners, couldn’t stand it. Always wanted to fish the Berg streams once more, still dream about them.



In a big country
dreams stay with you



Saturday, March 11, 2017

retreat to Encampment


What water and sun are to the body, prayer is to the soul.
 - St John Chrysostom


outside in the light
the river prays without ceasing
trout rise and offer metanoias
to change without ceasing


In late summer last year, clergy and laity of the Metropolis of Denver beat a retreat to the Encampment river in WY, at a quiet conference center by the edge of the smallest wilderness. That starts in the hills beyond the lake.


There was some praying thinking teaching and learning done. However the real point was of course to go whistling and fishing..
Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven.
We head into the wilderness for meditation, carrying only water
(and the knowledge that the staff at the conference center is cooking a fine dinner for us).


Long reaches of thin water in the wild canyon, real pretty but not much cover for fish. We found a few handsome fellows even so.


I was fishing my $20 outfit, a South Bend 359 cane rod and Langley Riffle reel from the same era, each $10 off ebay. We won't count the hours of semi-skilled work I spent to recover them to fishable condition, since that was in any case another form of prayer.
I have rescued what I could of the past from the teeth of time.
- John Aubrey, 1697

At closing we talked about what Orthodox Christianity can mean after some thousands of years. I suspect it had not before occurred to the cradle Orthodox to think much about it. The converts like me however mustered tirades of eloquence. We had each spent years or decades thinking about it and had plenty to say.

On the way back, Fr Lou, Fr Dimitri, Greg and I had not had enough fishing yet, so stopped at Meeboer lake near Laramie. Brilliantly clear water over vividly green weeds produces bright silver dark-backed rainbow trout, we caught a few. I walked downwind to where the Wyoming breeze had raised 2-foot white cresting riffles.

There was a pod of huge trout feeding over the weeds in a little sheltered bay. Threw damselfly nymphs nada, Peter Ross nada, dragonfly nymph nada, caddis in all 3 stages nada, scuds nada, assorted desperation flies nada. The Hare's Ear emerger finally tempted one about 25", and the hook pulled out straight after 2-3 lumbering great jumps. Never seen that before except on the cheapest nastiest hooks. All the HE emergers I had were tied on that same hook, tried another and had another take hooked briefly and lost the same way.

Even after all these years and all the fish that have passed through my hands, I find it is still possible to be blinded by big fish lust. Pray harder, dammit. Even so going fishing is always a holiday and high day: the mistakes I make here don't matter and the sun and water are enough.
Fishing was fine, but fishing comes to an end
I'm coming down the mountain again. 


Saturday, January 7, 2017

snow days

Last week I achieved an ambition of twenty years' standing, to ski to the top of the Blue Ridge forest road.


This starts from the valley at 8 500 ft, goes up an old forest road to 10 600 ft, a good pull. Twenty years ago when we arrived in CO, I could not ski more than half a mile without falling over. At that point it was more a fantasy than a goal as such. Then we had small children and I never had time to ski all the way up, though there was some excellent training to be had pulling them in a pulk.  Then I started getting up early in the morning to make my attempt, but those efforts were stopped a couple of times by bad snow conditions, deep wet heavy snow, like skiing through congealing concrete. Another memorable time I made it almost two hours up, then hit a whiteout blizzard. That was decided in favor of prudence (that delightful girl, who grows increasingly attractive as I grow older), and turned back.

There are probably only a few years left that I'll be physically capable of this trip. When a day of opportunity opened up on the Christmas week trip up to Snow Mountain Ranch, I seized it.

The first few miles were well packed and good going. The snow gradually got deeper and softer and less stable, with fewer tracks. After two hours I was on my own, breaking trail up the hill in 3-6" of fresh, real pretty but hard going. The skinny track skis would sink in, compress the snow, then slide off to the left or right into the soft stuff. The way down was even worse, couldn't control my edges at all, fell 6-8 times which is more than I've fallen in the past five years or more. Good exercise for the humility muscles though a tad bruising.

Making tracks:


Tracks to be made:


Somewhere up in the forests a couple of blue grouse exploded out of the spruce in a whirring of wings, like pheasants in camouflage feathers. I have hunted the elusive grouse many times over many miles, but never yet saw one while hunting. These looked plump and healthy, more strength to their wings. Above 10 000ft or so and over 2 hours it became necessary to take the occasional panting photo break.


Finally made it up and took the second selfie of my life. The road did not in fact go to the high point. Next time I'll bring a backpack and snowshoes, to buck up the last few feet.


Here is an attempt at the video vista.


A good day. Three hours up, two hours down, followed by total collapse of stout party. I'd taken only an expired Clif Bar and water with me, expecting to be up in 2-3 hours and down in one. The Clif bar was marked best before six months ago. Apart from being frozen solid so I had to smash off chunks and suck them until chewable, it tasted fine. One of the chunks fell into the snow. I grovelled shamelessly to find it, digging like my dog Artie in the snowfields. By the end I was well and truly bonked.

Last week there was an accidental snow run, a couple days before this scene.


Hectic day at work and did not check weather before heading out for a late lunchtime run. Foolish me believed the forecast which had said 28 for the high, fine for a run when properly dressed. It looked sorta foggy grey and cold out the office window, plus I was feeling tired and unwilling to tolerate the first few miles running cold until reaching operating temperature, so added a windbreaker over the 100wt fleece. Tights are the same Pearl Izumi Amphib used for x-c skiing, good down to zero or so. It was certainly not 28, nor anything near that balmy. I regretted not having a hat and buff as all that skin was burning cold for several miles. No gloves either, so had to pull the fleece over my fists and run like a prizefighter, indulging the Rocky fantasy. Actually as an effete skinny pseudo-intellectual my fantasies are more on the George Plimpton side. Grey low skies with swirls of snow, nothing much sticking but in the air with the fog and mist. Checked the weather after the 5 miles and 40min or so, this is what it actually was:



Notice the wind chill at -12.. that might be the coldest I've ever run in. The windbreaker was running with sweat on the inside, but the fleece kept me warm and only slightly damp.

#1 son is at school in Minnesota. He easily aced my cold-weather story. One morning returning from 5-7am swim practice, the wind chill was -44. Between the pool and the cafeteria his hair froze hard enough that some of it broke off. We are mere pikers in CO I guess. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

here at the end of all things

no Sam to keep me company, no MacGuffin to destroy thereby simply eliminating the armies of trolls and goblins, no Skywalker training in monastic isolation. The eagles are not coming to save us, though in fairness they tried.

Summer Brennan wrote
No one person can defend everything in America that will need defending in the age of Trump. What we must do, instead, is to find our particular hills to defend, and then to defend them as if our freedom depended on it. Even if these battles are lost, the very act of writing down the progression of that loss, as Winston did, is an act of resistance.
I'm having trouble picking a hill to die on, all look good, all are indefensible with my poor weapons.
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in
- Auden
I grew up in and studied the history of a police state run by white supremacist racists. It took some time after the election of the unreconstructed Nazis in 1948 for martial law to be imposed. That happened after the massacre of the Sharpeville protestors in 1960. It was called a State of Emergency, under which I was born. There was detention without trial and all the apparatus of the police state.

In the modern world everything happens faster, including the deconstruction of democratic republics once the neo-Nazis win an election. It has happened in Hungary, where Orbán is proclaiming and building an illiberal state. It has happened in Turkey, where Erdogan has dismantled democracy.

In Hungary Orbán won in 2010 with 52% of the vote, but a two-thirds majority of seats, which allowed changes to the Constitution and redistricting of parliamentary seats, ensuring a permanent majority for Fidesz. This is straight out of the Nationalist Party playbook in South Africa. Then of course the usual sequence of events,
"an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the packing of courts with political loyalists, a wholesale political purge of the civil service and the chief prosecutor’s office, new election rules that advantage the governing coalition and the intimidation of the news organizations (who can be issued crippling fines for content deemed “not politically balanced” by a government-appointed panel.)"

We don't even need fines for the US media, which has been constructing narratives of false equivalency all by itself for decades now. Even so, the Republican House has sneaked in an amendment to turn the Voice of America into a propaganda arm of the Trump administration.

In Turkey, an election in 2007 won by AKP with 47% of the vote, slightly more than Trump's 46%, started the ball rolling. Erdogan is now planning to change the Constitution to permit him to rule as an autocrat. Truth is lost.

I don't have much hope that resistance can be effective.
It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. - George Orwell
My father's best friend from high school worked with the SA trade unions. He was thrown off a sixth-floor balcony by the police - in this case BOSS, Bureau of State Security. The murder was covered up as a 'suicide'. Working with trade unions under white supremacist rule turns out to be a form of suicide.
My father's best friend from college had a mother living in East Berlin through no fault of her own. In the late 60s after Sharpeville he visited his mother, and came back to be disappeared under suspicion of being a Communist. After a week of his wife and child not knowing where he was, he was released, luckily only slightly bruised and bloodied. They emigrated to Canada. I should have learned from that.

It is likely there will be a major terrorist attack in 2017. Even without the inflammatory rhetoric, the simple fact that Trump and his administration are not taking security briefings nor paying attention to national security, is enough to make this probable. Similar behaviour in the Bush administration gave us 9/11. 9/11 begat a second Bush term, the second Bush term begat the Great Recession, the Great Recession begat 11/9. Even if the attack does not materialize, I would not be surprised by a false flag operation, mounted to allow for declaration of martial law. For these purposes, an attack on a Trump property outside the US would probably work just as well. 
The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation
Here are some members of the Trump administration.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, opposes the provision of health services to the undeserving poor. He also opposes vaccination like Mr Trump, believes that tobacco taxes harm public health, and that Medicare and Medicaid are evil and immoral.
Head of the EPA, Scott Pruit, is a stenographer for the oil and gas industry, and a climate change denialist, who opposes environmental protection regulations.
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, opposes public education and has used her money to destroy Detroit public schools. That money came from the Amway pyramid scheme, which seems to have been one of the models for the Trump University fraud. Ms DeVos also supports the Acton Institute, which advocates for the return of child labor, so the kids can learn skills on the job in Walmart and McDonalds.
Head of the FDA is currently expected to be Jim O’Neill, who opposes FDA regulation of drugs.
Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, the vampire squid company, will lead the National Economic Council.
The proposed Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will lead the department that oversees public lands. Rep. Rodgers plans to sell off the public lands.
Rick Perry is proposed to head up the Department of Energy. During the Republican debates in 2011, Mr Perry would have suggested eliminating the Department of Energy as being an exemplar of unnecessary 'big government', except that he couldn't remember what the Department was called. 

There are no exceptions to this iron law of opposition in the Trump administration. We await only the appointment of the horseman Famine as Secretary of Agriculture.

He's been clocked at 71 lph (lies per hour). It's impossible to combat this. The new censorship is to overwhelm your attention with a farrago of lies and misdirection, until truth lies full fathom five. As Dahlia Lithwick says about Trumps Tweets, "It’s irrelevant whether these tweets are the work of a cunning chess master or a damp TV-watching toddler who can’t control himself when his aides leave his side".

Fact-checking and struggling to maintain the meaning of words are irrelevant too. Karl Rove who informed journalists "we create our own reality" was a mere piker. The new truth is that facts don't matter because they can be drowned like helpless puppies in a flood of verbiage. Scottie Nell Hughes told us this, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” Ms Hughes is both a Trump operative and a CNN commentator, illuminating her own dictum nicely.
When conscripted into the armies of apartheid, I had the choice of jail, exile, or serving my time. Jail didn't seem reasonable at the time. As a white South African, exile would have required illegal immigration somewhere, and resources beyond my means. I chose to serve my time and consequentially to serve apartheid. My naive foolishness reasoned that maybe I could ameliorate the system by working within it and sabotaging it where possible. One midnight murky, at a roadblock looking for gunrunners bringing weapons in for Umkhonto we Sizwe, I found myself holding a rifle on two terrified little girls in the back seat of their father's car. There were also some insights into torture.  I realized then, and now, that I was a quisling. Masha Gessen writes about their great-grandfather who tried to work with the Nazis as a member of the Judenrat, to get his village fed. The end was "the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed."

Sarah Kendzior knows what it is like:
Authoritarianism is not merely a matter of state control, it is something that eats away at who you are. It makes you afraid, and fear can make you cruel. It compels you to conform and to comply and accept things that you would never accept, to do things you never thought you would do.
You do it because everyone else is doing it, because the institutions you trust are doing it and telling you to do it, because you are afraid of what will happen if you do not do it, and because the voice in your head crying out that something is wrong grows fainter and fainter until it dies.
The only way to survive a police state is to acquiesce in evil, or fight so ineffectually that they don't notice you. The police state notices a lot. My brother spent a year in the US in the late 70s. Upon returning he was interviewed by BOSS (them again). They knew the substance of conversations he'd had with NAACP members in New York. We suspected CIA involvement. During military service I worked with the CIA, defending against our common enemy Soviet Russia.

Eventually I emigrated to the US, when I couldn't stand it anymore. Peter Beinart writes about his father, who took the same path some years before I did - "What he found in America was not a culture he understood, but a state he did not fear and revile."

Now what I wonder. Resolved: try to remain patient and cheerful and help where I can.
The best way to avenge yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer.
- Marcus Aurelius
In any case all this agonizing is irrelevant at best. Trump's plan for global warming is apparently to initiate nuclear winter.  Most likely this will take only one bomb. Mathematician and previous Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, with decades of studying nuclear war, thinks "Even a single nuclear explosion in a major city would represent an abrupt and possibly irreversible turn in modern life, upending the global economy, forcing every open society to suspend traditional liberties and remake itself into a security state."

Jan 26: It is now two and a half minutes to midnight.  For the first time in the 70-year history of the Doomsday Clock, the Atomic Scientist's Board has moved the hands of the iconic clock 30 seconds closer to midnight. In another first, the Board has decided to act, in part, based on the words of a single person:  Donald Trump, the new President of the United States. 

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodontic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
"Cheer up, sad world," he said, and winked—
"It's kind of fun to be extinct."

- Ogden Nash, Fossils, for Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

happy hour

One evening last week I had a happy hour. The timing was much the same as normal though the place was not. This is happy hour for introverts - alone, up to your waist in cool lake water, with bats beginning to flitter overhead. I don't try to be eccentric, it just seems to pan out that way.


The smoke hangs over water as it usually does here in the Western US late summers, since we broke the weather. There's always a wild land fire burning somewhere by September, and typically more than one.

The hours started unhappy. I've been slowly catching and transferring some carp trapped in a pond by receding waters, over the summer. This is the same pond as the last carp rescue of 2014.  The carp fly-fishing forum used to rally the troops for that rescue is now defunct, so had no way to roust anyone else to help. On Monday evening there were more carp than water in the pool, netted four out on my way home after walking the dog. Then life got in the way and I didn't make it back until Thursday which was too late. There were four alive with their backs showing dry above the water. Those were retrieved and transferred to the main lake.


Being of a neurotic tendency, waded back through the ooze and counted 26 dead. Previously had caught eight on fly through the summer while the pond was high, so sixteen saved, twenty-six not. On the other hand the great blue herons were happy. Two of them were feasting on the remains when I arrived, and circled back down when I left.



After that I was a bit downcast. Drove around to one of the inlets hoping for carp or maybe a stray bass or walleye, waded through weedbeds out to rib-deep in the main lake.  A couple of little bass took the carp fly, so switched to a big Gurgler fly with foam and hair and lots of legs, just for the fun of watching the bass attack it on the surface. Every cast after that got a take.



Missed quite a few big splashy aggressive takes as their handsome broad green backs broke the water around the fly. Hooking these surface takes can be tricky, as the fish will hit the fly hard just to cripple it, rather than take it into their mouths. A variety of theories did not help - tried an immediate strike (well not 'tried' frankly, just reacted and yanked back on the first few, in blind frenzied excitement); tried waiting for a pull but never got one; tried counting one before striking, then count for two, then count for three. Eventually just kept a slow steady retrieve continued until the fish was felt. This required the difficult exercise of impulse control, adding an element of virtuous smug self-satisfaction when it actually worked. The bass were attacking shoals of shad on the surface, plop Gurgler near that and someone would immediately show up. At dark was still getting hits on that fly,



but switched to a big white streamer hoping for a walleye. A couple more bass, biggest of the day at 14", then quiet for a while with only a few little 'uns. 

An astonishing evening until then - fastest fishing I've ever experienced, first time ever catching Chatfield bass in the fall, first time in my fishing life of several decades to see the aggressive bass of myth and legend. Guess that's why we go fishing, to see what happens. As John Buchan wrote,
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.


Tried again last night and got the skunk. The problem with big water is the same as with sea fishing – with all that water, most of it is empty, most of the time. Usually I come home from a big water skunk with the sneaking feeling that I might as well have been soaking flies in the bathtub, for all the fish that saw them. The consequence of this is that it’s impossible to be a successful casual big water fisher. It takes large investments of money – for the boat, depthfinder, gas money for outboards, guides etc – and time, to figure out where and when the water will actually be holding fish.

This day showed the typical fall pattern for this lake. That is the shallows pullulating, thrumming, and seething with small young of the year shad minnows, with none of the predatory fish feeding on them. The best theory I have is there are so many shad, the predators only need to swim around with their mouths open for an hour or so, to fill themselves to satiety. The trick is to be on the water in those few unforgiving minutes.

In the gathering dark two great horned owls flew a pattern overhead for which there must have been a purpose and reason, though I could not understand it. Between the harvest moon rising and the sunset it was almost worth it.