Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After Sandy . . . .

After the Storm (circa 1877) by Antoine Vallon
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.   Isaiah 54:11

Monday, October 29, 2012

October Fishing

Wooden boat expert Llewelyn Howland probably said it best.  “Everyday on a fishing boat it’s a little theater.  There’s blood.  It’s a self enclosed world.  It’s womb-like.  Time is different.  Time begins at dawn and ends at sunset.  Here is a perfect time on a boat.  You’ve had a long, hard day, you’ve caught your fish, and now you’re purring home, toward your mooring.”  That describes this past Saturday to a tee as I joined good friends for our fall outing on the Chesapeake Bay in search of rockfish (striped bass).  Our spring outing in early May when we trolled for trophy rocks had been disappointing.  An  early spell of warm weather interrupted the normal biorhythms of the fish. http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2012/05/ning-dreams-of-rockfish.html

Reports so far this fall had been quite promising and anglers were encountering a mix of rockfish and bluefish in a wide variety of fishing situations in the middle region of the Chesapeake below the Bay Bridge linking Annapolis with Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  So with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy just two days away we set out in the early morning hours from Knapps Narrow, on Tilghman Island, and watched the island’s lights dim on the horizon as we navigated south to the expansive mouth of the Eastern Shore’s Choptank River.

Here we paused in almost 30 feet of water and fished bloodworms to catch several dozen 4-7 inch spots - also known locally as croakers - which we would use for bait (although spot are a tasty fish in their own right).   These fish can often be found in shallower inshore waters but recently they had gone deep and begun to migrate south as colder weather approached.  Our first stop was a brief one as we were only catching small 6-10 inch sub-legal (under 18 inches) rockfish.   So we moved a bit south and soon we were situated near buoy #10 [see map] in a patch of water rich in spot feeding right on the bottom.  Before long our bait barrel was brimming with spot.

With the sun beginning to rise we were soon churning out of the mouth of the Choptank River toward a fishing ground east of the main shipping channel known as the Clay Banks [see map] where there were reports of rock mixed with blues.  We were curious how the approaching storm from the south might affect the fishing in the Bay.  There were already a few boats, mostly from the Western Shore, on the grounds when we arrived.  There were trollers, some with outrigged planing boards to keep the lines away from others, while other boats were anchored and live-lining bait.   There were lots of sub-legal rocks mixed in with “chopper” bluefish up to four pounds.  This time of year there is a personal two fish limit for rocks 18 inches and above with only one allowed to be over 26 inches . . . unlike the spring trophy season when one is permitted only one fish over 28 inches.  As the strong flood tide began to ebb we saw more nice rocks in the 18-24 inch range.

Live-lining takes concentration, unlike trolling where you sit around and wait for a fish to hit one of the lines.  This is hands on fishing requiring one to monitor how far out the line is running and at what depth, trying to keep the bait - a live spot - down near the bottom where the fish are feeding.  Once there is a strike, which can be a very subtle tapping, the natural inclination is to strike and set the hook.  Yet given the size of the baitfish, it is necessary to allow the rock to get it all the way in its mouth.  Strike too soon and all you retrieve is a dazed and confused and rather “manhandled” spot.  Patience pays off.  On the other hand, if a bluefish strikes and you wait, all you will have in the end is a well “apple-cored” spot.  So how can you differentiate between rockfish and a bluefish strike?  You can’t.  That’s why it can be so frustrating at times.  And why it is a challenge and why we like to fish the Chesapeake Bay.

This kind of fishing takes concentration.  It is a virtue not to talk unnecessarily.  It is a matter of luck, or superstition.  If you talk too much, you divert attention from more important things.  There is time for talk while en route to and from the fishing grounds.  Some fish outings can become rather competitive; who can catch the most and largest fish.  I and those with whom I choose to fish see it more as a competition with oneself. How can I prove that someone with a postgraduate education can outsmart a fish with the brain the size of a small pea?  It ain’t easy . . . that’s for certain.  This trip we were lucky and by early afternoon we had caught our limit of rockfish and had several nice blues in the cooler, all nestled in a bed of ice diamonds for the trip back to Tilghman Island. 

An unusually strong tide due to an almost full moon coupled with the approaching storm and the water levels throughout the Bay were much higher than usual.  The developing offshore low pressure system associated with Hurricane Sandy (still almost 600 miles to the south) brought ever stronger winds from the north throughout the day and we had heavy rolling seas smacking our bow square on as we labored our way back to Tilghman Island.  We noticed several crabbing boats gathering their pots.  Everyone is taking Hurricane Sandy very seriously.

Last night I smoked the bluefish and today I am fixing the rockfish for lunch.  And now that the predicted and promised tropical storm winds and rains have reach us here in Maryland, I would not want to be out on Chesapeake Bay this week.  The rockfish and the bluefish (even the spot) can rest easy for a few days.  But once the storm passes, the boats will be out and about until the season ends in mid December.  Then it will be a long winter until the trophy season arrives again in April. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shelter From the Storm

The US National Hurricane Center is presently forecasting giant Hurricane Sandy - the so-called “Frankenstorm” - to track to the northeast from its current  position well off the North Carolina coast.  It should then shift to the northwest and make landfall along the southern New Jersey coastline tomorrow and through the following day.   The National Weather Service in Baltimore has issued a High Wind Warning for the Mid Atlantic States, including Maryland and the metropolitan Baltimore and Washington, DC areas, beginning at 8am on Monday (October 29) and extending into late Tuesday at the earliest.  Wind gusts over 45 mph are expected by early Monday,  and up to 60 mph on Monday afternoon and into Tuesday.  We are being advised to expect a prolonged 24-to-36 hour high wind event coupled with heavy rains leading  to significant tree damage and widespread power and communication outages. 

I will post a full report on the storm once it has passed and the power has been restored.  In the meantime I am battening down the hatches.  Stay safe everybody!  Steve

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Two New Poems from the Heartland

My two latest poems - "Along the Dry Line" and "Listening to Black Elk" - are now posted at www.ruesansregret.blogspot.com I read them for the first time last night at the Iota Club and Cafe, in Arlington, Virginia.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What's In a Name?

Just passed the 68,000 hit benchmark.  I am so pleased that so many of you have been visiting "Looking Toward Portugal."  Let me hear from you!

The National Weather Service has gone on record that this winter is going to be one of the more bitter ones in recent years.  That said, I am somewhat perplexed by the unilateral decision by the Weather Channel, beginning this year, to name the major winter storms much in the manner that hurricanes have received proper sobriquets since 1953.

Not to be outdone, the Weather Channel has come up with a rather interesting list of names for this winter: Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyr, Gandolf, Helen, Iago, Jove, Khan, Luna, Magnus, Nemo, Orko, Plato, Q, Rocky, Saturn. Triton, Ukka, Virgil, Wanda, Xerxes, Yogi, and Zeus.

The Weather Channel claims that by providing severe winter storms and blizzards with an identity, it will be better able to track them and provide important information in a more cogent manner.  I do not see how this is possible when it is only the Weather Channel who will use this system which has yet to be recognized by the National Weather Service, the arbiter of all that is meteorological in the United States.  And what constitutes a severe winter storm?  Honestly, I think the whole idea is goofy from the get go and will only lead to confusion and distraction.  It is nothing more than whimsey, a way to spice up otherwise dull weather reports.

Just look at the names that have been selected.  I am somewhat curious how “Helen” (storm warnings issued as Helen approaches Troy, New York) and Wanda (a storm called Wanda???)” were slipped in there; they do not seem to fit in this otherwise eclectic list of names?  And “Q”?  What about “Quantus” (a flying kangaroo), or better yet “Quetzalxochitl,” or even the more urbane “Quincy”?  Three names are associated with the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Masters of the Universe franchises: “Draco,” the evil little wizard and Potter nemesis; “Gandalf” (sorry Weather Channel, but you misspelled the name), the wise old wizard of Middle Earth; and “Orko,” a so-called Trollan who always dresses for winter.   Why these names were selected for winter storms?  Ask the Weather Channel because I haven’t the faintest idea.

I am also somewhat confused about the choice of “Freyr,” the Norse god who is, among other things, associated with sunshine and fair weather, two conditions not normally concomitant with severe winter storms.  Then there is “Jove” (Jupiter), the Roman god of sky and thunder.  A little closer to the mark, but not quite.  “Saturn,” another Roman god, is associated with the winter solstice.  Three storms will be named for Greek gods - “Athena,” “Triton” and “Zeus” - none of whose mythology is closely associated with weather, particularly winter, although Zeus did possess thunder and lightning.  The other names?  “Brutus” was a Roman politician who killed a “Caesar,” “Plato” was a Greek philosopher, “Virgil” a Roman poet, and “Xerxes” a Persian king.  The significance of these names?  Perhaps they add some panache to this list, but that is about it.  Ukka?  I don’t even know what that is. 

I can see it now.  “The East Coast is being pounded by a storm of Euclidean geometry.” Later in the winter the Great Plains will suffer the “wrath of Khan” after “Iago proved quite unpredictable.” It is follow by a “Magnus opus with a foot of new snow.”  The next storm will peter out and meteorologists will have difficulty “finding Nemo” on the weather map.”  And “Rocky” ? . . . “gonna snow now, it’s so hard now.”  And after a long and relentless winter, we will suffer through “Yogi” which is “stronger than the average storm.  Guess it is deja vu all over again.”  You get the idea.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Great Debate?

OK, I try hard to keep politics out of this blog.  So I am going to say this once and leave it at that.  

A number of people have asked me if I am going to watch the debate tonight.  My answer is no.  Maybe I would if it was going to be a true debate at which candidates would have to think on their feet and answer the tough questions so many of us are asking.  Instead, they are fed the general themes of the questioning beforehand and their responses are scripted well in advance.  We are not going to hear anything we have not  already heard many time before.  These days debates are no longer opportunities for candidates to address at length their positions on the major issues facing the nation, much like Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas did back in 1858 when they spoke for hours extemporaneously.  More often than not the debates now offer the chance for the candidates to put their foot (or both feet as he case may be) in their mouths when forced to go off script.

Also, it is not a true debate unless all legitimate candidates are allowed to participate.  The Democrats and the Republicans have fought long and hard to exclude Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico who is the Libertarian party's candidate for President and who will be on the ballot in almost every state in the union (after fighting to have his name placed on that ballot).  Johnson was permitted to debate during the primaries when he was running as a Republican.  Now that he is a Libertarian he has nothing to contribute to the discourse on the future of our nation?  You may not support him or his platform, but he has every right to say his piece.  What are the Democrats and Republicans afraid of that they try so hard to exclude Johnson and keep his message from the American people?  If this is a true democracy, as we claim, let the legitimate candidates . . . all of them . . . state their position and then let the American people go to the polls and make up their own minds. 

So this is a just one more in a series of random thoughts I like to share with you from time to time.  Take it for what it is worth.  I won't bring it up again.  I just believe we deserve a lot better than what we are getting. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Back Home in Maryland

After a three month hiatus in Maine, we have returned home to Maryland . . .  twelve hours and 550 miles through 8 states.

We endured heavy rain and ground fog from the cottage in New Gloucester all the way down through Worcester, Massachusetts.  The traffic was particularly thick going around Boston and west on the Mass Pike, but we had some much appreciated clearing (even a few minutes of actual sunshine) as we continued down and across Connecticut.

We stopped for a late lunch in Bethel before making our way across New York’s Westchester County and the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson where the traffic once again grew thick and at time threatening.  Despite a brief yet needless detour, the drive down the length of New Jersey was actually quite a pleasant one with relatively little traffic, at least in the direction we were headed which was opposite the long line of traffic slogging toward New York City.

We picked up more rain as we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge at Wilmington, Delaware and had it with us all the way back to Washington, DC. The drive through the rural landscapes of northern Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore was an opportunity to relax and catch my breath.  This changed when we encountered the massive convoy of NASCAR 18 wheelers and luxury RVs and busses clogging US 301 and the approach to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge after departing the day’s Sprint Cup Series race in Dover destined for Talladega.  Once over the Bay it was clear sailing from Annapolis and we made it home safely but not just a little bit road weary.  

It is strange to be home and in these familiar surroundings again after three months away.  There are the ambient morning city sounds, and I miss not stepping out each morning with Sabbathday Lake at my feet, enjoying the breezes of the water and the resident loons’ cries as I sip my morning coffee.  Each summer's end is a hard come down. Yes, this is going to take some getting use to.

Slowly, gradually, we are moving back into chez Rogers in Maryland. I’ll be honest.  I hated to leave Maine. I hated even more being in between Maine and Maryland. But now we are home again and it’s time to look to the future. I leave for Oklahoma in less than a week.