Friday, April 24, 2020

We are still here.

I watched a YouTube video yesterday from one of my favorite vloggers, Thomas Heaton. He is a landscape photographer and his channel centers around his adventures in capturing great landscapes around the world.

He is based in the UK, and just like the United States, he is under a mandate to self-isolate at home.
This week’s episode had him set up a tent in his garden, which is what they call the backyard there I guess, light a fire using a fire starter, and capturing sunset images with five trees in his neighbor’s yard as the subject of the image.

If you are a consistent reader of this column, I mentioned camping out in the back yard a few weeks ago regarding things to do at home that can keep our sanity while also adding a bit of adventure.
We are limited on things we can do, even outside, at this point in our new dailies. For me, life has continued to be an adventure, and I am grateful for that. It has also meant doing some things I wouldn’t normally do.

I was on a two-week excursion that carried me across the country for instance. I decided driving would be best rather than flying considering all that was going on. From Carolina to California. That is a long haul. I also had to take every precaution possible in this business trip, which included using paper towels or gloves at every gas stop, figuring out bathroom scenarios, eating, and of course, make sleeping arrangements.
Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park at sunset. (Photo/Bill Howard)

Since I was headed west, I decided to find every park I could possibly find to be my nightly stops. I could stay in the truck or tent or hammock, and avoid hotels as well as truck stops and Walmarts.
And or the most part, I was very successful in doing so. I stayed in one Walmart parking lot out of 13 nights. Once I stayed outside a convenient store somewhere in the heart of Nevada. The rest of the time I was able to stay in places such as Saguaro National Park, Death Valley National Park, or Great Sand Dunes National Park.

These were places I always wanted to visit anyway, and life just happened so that I could.
It was interesting for many factors as well.

Many parks were either closed prior to my departure or changed their policies and closed while I was in transit. Parks such Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Joshua Tree not only closed facilities, but they didn’t even allow entrance via vehicle, bike or foot. Fortunately, Death Valley remained accessible during the time I was in that particular area.

Arches National Park was closed, but Capital Reef, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Bryce Canyon were open other than for facilities. I got my work done, kept my distance from people and made it throughout the trip without catching anything.

I witnessed some incredible sunrises and sunsets, ate plenty of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee meals under the shade of some fantastic landmasses, and made the most of what I could in such a difficult time.
Despite all of the hardships and tribulations we are going through, God showed me he still rotated the earth and it still orbited the sun.

We should not take that for granted. The world may seem like it is falling apart, but it isn’t. Only our limited view of the world is being affected. The real natural world is still moving along in a real natural path. I remember one night, as the temperature dropped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit while I was sleeping in the back of my pickup inside a zero degree bag, I woke to pull a blanket over my head and arm that were outside of the bag, and gazed through my foggy slumbering vision a bright white streak of light in the sky. I blinked several times and wiped my eyes, and realized the bright white streak wasn’t a cloud in early morning sunlight, but it was the stars in heaven that consisted of the Milky Way.

It was still there, just as it has been since the dawn of time. And it was still as beautiful as those generations that gazed upon it well before such things as electricity and lights hampered our vision and altered our place here.

Everything isn’t in chaos, it is still there. And we should be thankful.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Social distancing.

Just three weeks ago, I headed to a lake that I do well with when targeting crappie. I thought to myself, and explained to my wife before my departure, that one, it was a week day, and secondly, it was supposed to rain, so therefore the pressure would likely be light in regards to other people even being at the lake.

I was wrong. Every parking spot at the ramp was in use. Every single one. And this wasn’t some small launch area; three full sized ramps and parking for roughly 120 trucks with trailers are there for use. If it wasn’t for one spot that was reduced in size due to some fallen tree material that still allowed me to pull in and out of the way, as well as two kayak/canoe ramps separate from the main three boat ramps, I would not have been able to hit the water from there.

Confinement and closures of businesses meant people were looking other opportunities to keep their sanity it seemed.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recently revealed guidelines regarding outdoors activities in relation to the governor’s executive order on the stay-at-home proclamation. And it is a change to how things usually are, as everything about the COVID-19 fight has been.

While individual activities and seasons have not been banned or closed, social distancing and immediate household members remain the only permissible opportunities to do things with others. At every NCWRC run boat launch area, signs have been placed explaining what you can do and cannot do, for instance.

No tethering boats together. No gathering of people outside the immediate household. Extra avoidance procedures when using the boat launches. I mean, it is simple to understand what you have to do as it is the same in all other life activities of the moment.

The annual coastal river reports detailing creels from wildlife biologists and agents from our four main river flows in regards to American and hickory shad and striped bass, was suspended on March 26. This is when the information gets really handy in detailing how far up the rivers each species have spawned.

Hatchery supported trout waters opened April 4th, but warned some stockings may be delayed or suspended at various times. Warnings were also issued that all things may come to a halt if people do not adhere to the proclamation from the governor regarding social distancing.

Turkey season begins, and youth-only season began a week prior, but no hunting with someone outside of the household is in effect. No, grandpa won’t be able to call in a gobbler for his little outdoorsy granddaughter unless they live in the same house.

And again, deviation from these rules come with a warning that these activities can and will be suspended not just for those that don’t follow the rules, but for everyone, if enforcement becomes an issue and great task.

Such is the time we are in.  Our actions will dictate our freedoms, even if those freedoms are not quite the freedoms we used to enjoy and take for granted.

As for turkey season, I personally shouldn’t need to worry though. If you have ever read one of my past early to mid-April columns you will know that turkey know how to socially distant themselves from me whenever I go to a turkey blind on a hunt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


Do people collect things anymore? And by people, I mean the younger generations.

Collecting things were a huge part of my generation’s childhood and early adulthood. We had some things that were more for play such as collecting Star Wars figures after the original movie came out. We also were very adept at collecting both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Every Friday when my mom would go to town to shop for groceries and such, if I was a good boy, I could pick out a new car or Star Wars figure.

My dad had a large collection of marbles. And as any parent would do when their child reached certain ages, the marbles became mine for me to add even more marbles to. We had two one-gallon jugs where we kept the marbles, and when I would play with friends, I always made sure to pick out the ugly ones to play with just in case I lost.

But we had collections for show and not play as well. One of my best friends when I was growing up had a massive collection of beer cans. Don’t worry, the cans were empty of course. One Christmas his parents gave him special hangers to display the cans in his room.

While we all collected baseball and football cards (basketball cards weren’t really a big thing back then), and we would willingly trade to help each other collect the entire sets.

But one of the unusual things I collected, I guess you could say it was unusual, were rocks from each state. My grandfather traveled on hunting trips throughout the country and the world, and would make sure to return with rocks from each state he was in. My grandparents on the other side of the family also traveled, mostly east of the Mississippi River, but they too knew how fascinated I was with my rock collection, and they each kept list of states I did not have yet.

My step-grandmother also collected things. She actually had two very large collections. One collection consisted of a large number of dolls. Some were mass produced. Some were very rare. Some had eyes that would open and shut; some were just painted on the face. She even had some action figure dolls such as the Lee Majors Six Million Dollar Man figurine.

Her other collection was pressed butterflies and moths. She had caught them for years and would press them in a book. Afterwards, they would go side by side in a case for display. I have seen many museum displays over the years that were not much different than her butterfly collection.

One collection that fascinated everyone that saw it was my grandfather’s trophy room. Of course, a proper trophy room is considered a collection, as it has numbers of wild beasts on display representing the best and strongest of their species.

And Papa had just that. There were over 90 trophy animals on display, and it was better than a zoo. You didn’t have to wonder if the creature was napping or behind the scenes in a cage. They were right there, in arm’s length, and you could see every minor detail of the magnificence of the creature.

And that brings me back to my original question. Does the younger generation have collections they focus large amounts of time and research on in order to build it? Not video game collections, but actual display and show type?

Maybe this extra time we have right now would be a good time to get the family together and start one.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Backyard camping.

COVID-19 can cause sore throats, hacking dry coughs, and headaches as some of its symptoms. It can cause anxiety, anger, loneliness, concern, and a bit of stir-craziness, especially if kids are stuck in the home as well.

When I was a wee bit of a young’un, I think around three years old or so, I stayed at my Aunt Sue’s house overnight. I was the oldest of the cousins on that side of the family, and Sue hadn’t sprouted any offspring as of yet, so I was kind of the family novelty. At least, that is the way I like to remember it.

Sue had a train track that ran behind the house, and I was fascinated with the rumble of the ground, the low-pitched horn, and the massive size of the long locomotives hauling various goods. 

That night, Aunt Sue pitched a tent in her back yard. To the best of my memory, and anyone trying to remember just a few weeks back can attest to this, my memory may not have all the details correct, but as said, to the best of it, we had peanut butter sandwiches while sitting in the tent. We probably drank some sort of Kool-Aid, cherry, strawberry or grape in all likelihood.

I also thing we had some type of snack as well. Maybe some Nabs as we called them back then. But whatever it was, it was memorable and exciting enough for me to still think back on it some 47 years later.

We had a flashlight and would shine it around the yard, looking for bears and tigers I am sure. Every now and then a lightning bug would flicker its little yellow/green beacon as if it were responding to our light.

And then I felt the rumble. I heard the metal on metal of the train on the tracks. The horn blasted. Yes, as a three-year-old, I was pretty much in Heaven for toddlers.

I bring this short story up for a reason. We are all mostly in some type of lockdown. Yes, the type of confinement varies county to county and town to town, but we have all been asked to stay put, with little public interaction.

Remember those kids I mentioned in the opening to this column? Now is the time to make some memories such as the one that stuck with me so long.

Take a tent and pitch it in the yard. Boredom for a youngster will go away immediately! Take a coupe of hot dogs and some chips and a lantern or flashlight. Roast the hot dogs over an open flame. East them by hand with no bun. Take the lights and sweep through the tree branches and leaves looking for squirrels, or even bears and tigers.

Don’t have kids? It doesn’t matter. Break the routine. You don’t have to go to some vast wilderness to create your own mini adventure.

And while you are out there, share a few ghost stories, or maybe reminisce about your first-time camping, even if it was in the backyard.