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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It seems that a case of teh blahs is working its way around the corner of the blogsphere which I am accustomed to haunt.  The lovely and talented Diane mentioned it the other day, and even Ace needs a break.  I confess that I’ve got a tetch of it myself.  I don’t know what the cause is – the approaching solstice, familial sickness (there’s a low-grade bug circulating at Port Swiller Manor), the seemingly endless stream of nooz stories suggesting that Western Civilization is flat-lining – but I certainly feel it.

So what to do? Well, on the larger scale I would simply say keep the faith.  What else is there to do?

On a much smaller scale, however, we should remember to appreciate the little pleasures that come our way from time to time.  This post is about one of those.

troutRegular friends of the decanter will recall a couple weeks ago that I said I had been put in the mood to read Lt. Zebulon Pike’s journals of his exploration of the southwestern part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1806?  Well, I started in on said journals last evening (after weighing through an awful lot of introductory material detailing a rayther nasty feud among historians over why Pike eventually wandered into Spanish territory).   Most of the entries concerning his gradual journey up the Missouri and Osage Rivers are fairly humdrum – distances traveled, weather conditions, game killed and the like.  But in his entry for August 11, 1806, after giving such details, Pike suddenly says this:

“This day, for the first time, I saw trout west of the Allegheny mountains.”

I burst out in a chuckle of delight when I read that line.  Perhaps it’s because I used to cast a pretty decent fly.  Perhaps it’s because of my fondness for geographical references of this sort.  Perhaps it was the sudden fellow-feeling I had for Pike in that he obviously felt the thing important enough to jot down.  Whatever the reason or reasons, the mental image that popped into my head was quite refreshing, almost as if I was splashing about in the waters of the Osage myself.

So there you are.  (I said it was a little pleasure.)

Brett at The Art of Manliness gives pointers on how to drive a stick shift.  Before getting to the actual nuts and bolts of coordinating the hands and feet, he gives some arguments for why one ought to at least know how to do it, some of them practical, some of them more aesthetic.  To me, his final reason eclipses all the others:

Driving stick is simply more fun! If you’ve only driven with an automatic transmission your entire life, you don’t know the fun you’ve been missing. Driving an automatic feels passive and artificial – like you’re merely pointing or steering the car instead of controlling it. With a manual, you actually feel like you’re part of the car, and you’re attuned to its vibrations and noises. Plus, manual transmissions are proactive instead of reactive – you get into the gear you need instead of waiting for the automatic tranny to hunt for the right one.

‘Zactly.

I don’t think I was any older than about twelve when I first learned how to drive a stick.  As I’ve mentioned here a time or two, we had a deer lease on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country.  In order to get around on the roads and trails, the Old Gentleman bought an old VW Bug.  He had the entire shell (including the windows) taken off and also removed the dash and back seat.  He then had installed a wooden platform behind the front seats and a wooden box around the engine (with a pair of handles on the top so we could sit up there if we wanted).  Cap it all off with a simple roll cage (with the spare tire on top), gun rack and over-sized tires and voilá, the “ranch buggy” was born.

The O.G. reasoned that if we were way back in the hills and something happened to him, somebody else had better be able to get us back to civilisation.  So as soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, I started lessons.  (Just as an aside, this is why he taught me basic nautical skills and power-boat driving at an even younger age.)

My first try, I panicked while trying to downshift, forgot all about applying the brakes and rolled straight into a tree.   After that, it was smooth sailing, at least until my brother learned how to drive the buggy, too, at which point the inevitable bickering over “who’s turn it is” kicked in.  Sistah eventually got into the act as well, but since she didn’t go hunting all that often, the competition didn’t get that much worse.

I’ve driven five cars since first being let loose on the public thoroughfares, three of which were stick-shifts.  The first was a ’66 Mustang (a hand-me-down from the O.G.) that I drove all through high school.  It only had three forward speeds, the stick was a first-class beyotch and you practically had to kick the clutch pedal through the floorboards, but I used to love the jack-rabbit starts I could get in her.

I didn’t have a car in college, but when I went to law school the ‘rents gave me a Ford Tempo.  It was an automatic and was a real yawner.  (Actually, a stick shift probably wouldn’t have reduced the yawn-factor by much.)

Once I drove the Tempo into the ground I was already out and earning a living for myself.  So I leased my first Wrangler – a ’93, I think.  I was a tad apprehensive about driving a stick again, given that it had been ten years or so, but the old skills came right back as soon as I got on the road.

The lease on that Wrangler ran out just as the second gel was coming along.  Feeling that we were going to need two baby-friendly cars, I did the Responsible Thing and leased a Camry.  It was an automatic (I don’t think they even make one with stick) and while safe and dependable, drove me to tears of boredom, too.

Once that lease ran out and the gels were a bit older, I thought to myself, “Self, it’s time to go back to Jeep.”  Which I did, as regular friends of the decanter will know from my occasional postings about her.  (Of course she’s a stick-shift.  I know you can get a Wrangler with automatic drive, but somehow that just doesn’t seem right.)

I may at some point give up Jeeps, but I certainly won’t give up a stick-shift again.

On a related note, the eldest gel will be eligible to get a learner’s permit in about a year.  You may be wondering whether I will pass on my stick preference to her.  I tell you truly that I don’t know.  I’m so horrified of the idea of her driving at all that I haven’t given it any thought yet.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention this earlier, but one of the points in the article that struck me was where the author comes down on the proper technique for slowing down/stopping.  He states that it’s better to put the car in neutral and ride the brake to a stop than it is to downshift to reduce speed.  I’d always been told the opposite.   (Actually, I take a sort of hybrid approach – downshift first, coast just above stall-speed.)  Anybody have an opinion one way or the other?

The fishing metaphor in the post immediately below brought this front and center:

Because it was too damned stupid not to……

A plan to allow a group of Australia’s emus to safely cross busy highways via purpose-built tunnels has been rejected because the native birds have “little brains” and are incapable of learning to use the crossings.

I suppose I shouldn’t laugh, since this is An Important Environmental Issue, but somehow the idea of an emu wandering around making little Mortimer Snerd-like “yup, yup, yup” noises amuses me.

The state’s Roads and Maritime Service has proposed underground tunnels to help protect the emus – a measure which has been used to save koalas and reptiles. Elsewhere in Australia, authorities have built suspension rope bridges for others animals such as possums.

However, environmentalists believe underpasses will not save the emus, which lack the intelligence to use them. The population in the area is now numbered at around 120.

“Emus are big birds with little brains,” Mr Whale said.

“There is no evidence that emus have ever gone through an underpass … Farmers open their gate to try and encourage them to go out. Five meters away the emu is butting at a five-strand fence, but can’t work out that there is an opening there that it can get through.”

The Roads and Maritime Service denied the highway would split the emu population, saying officials would ensure the group was left entirely on one side of the new road.

“There’s a lot of effort we’ve put in with our own experts to try to get these emus to move under or over the new highway,” said a spokesman.

Maybe they should try reverse psychology, standing about and saying things like, “G’day, emu mate!  Don’t go in that tunnel, now, it’d be fair dinkum bad on ya’!”

Heh.

I’m reminded of a little throwaway bit by the late, great, Edgar Bergen:

Edger:  Mortimer, just how did you get to be so stupid?

Mortimer Snerd:  Shear determination, Mr. Bergen.   Shear determination.

This is what’s wrong with Western Civilization.  When real men can’t even be real men, then God help us all:

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Some Minnesota hunters are upgrading their deer stands, trading the traditional nailed-together hunks of wood for what one official calls “mansions” in trees on public property.

St. Louis County officials are seeing deer stands — platforms perched in trees to help hunters more easily spot deer — with stairways, decks, shingled roofs, commercial windows, insulation, propane heaters, carpeting, lounge chairs, tables and even the occasional generator, the Duluth News Tribune reported Sunday.

Some hunters have even planted crops near their stands in hopes of attracting deer, said St. Louis County Land Commissioner Bob Krepps. He said hunters have also cut down trees near their stand to improve sight lines.

“We’re getting overbuilt,” Krepps said. “We’re seeing mansions out there — basically hunting shacks on stilts.”

The article is actually about whether constructing such hunting McMansions on public land constitutes an inappropriate, er, appropriation.  What concerns me more is the fact of such abominations, not where they’re put.

Ol’ Robbo spent many hours of his misspent yoot in various deer blinds, and he knows of what he speaks.

I remember two in particular, both located on a ranch in the far northwestern corner of Bexar County, Texas where we had a hunting lease.  One was called Flag Top Road.  (Flag Top was, and so far as I know still is, the tallest hill in the county.)  It was an open-topped tree house with sides high enough that I really couldn’t see over them when sitting down on the bench that ran along the back wall (the only seating, I might add).  I still remember the way it creaked when the wind blew, and how it always seemed to take forever for me to rise up and get my rifle onto the edge in preparation for taking a shot.

The other was known as Tower.  (All the blinds on the ranch had names.)  It was, as its name suggests, a box set up on four legs.  Memory is hazy, but it must have been a good 20-25 feet high.  Even though I personally helped to rebuild the thing one summah, it terrified me.  Tower stood near the edge of another hill a few miles away from Flag Top.  When you sat in the thing, you had an immense view of a canyon off to one side, with a lake in the far, far distance.   Even though it was a physical impossibility, I used to worry that the Tower would one day not only topple over, but somehow contrive to get all the way to the edge of the canyon before doing so, thereby spilling its hapless occupant (i.e., me) into the void.

Anyhoo, these and the other blinds of my experience were strictly plywood and two-by-four affairs and certainly not equipped with all these modern and, in my humble opinion, enervating conweniences.   It was sitting in them and in various duck blinds, usually freezing my extremities off, that I learned the wisdom of my Scots heritage that one isn’t really having fun unless one is miserable.

What’s funny is that what I recall mostly from those days is the smell:  When the Old Gentleman and I went hunting, we always took a thermos of coffee and another one of hot chocolate.  Further, the Old Boy was a confirmed chain-smoker in those days, so was constantly lighting up.  Even now, whenever I smell one of those odors, and especially when I smell some combination thereof, I’m instantly transported back to sitting in one of those blinds, waiting for the deer to come in.

Our Maximum Leader notes that he will shortly be off on a cruise.   Not that I think he won’t enjoy himself padding about the Lido deck, discoing the night away, sipping adult beverages with little umbrellas in them and hitting on Julie the Cruise Director, but I’ve got to say – this is a real cruise!

I was having an out-of-body experience. There I was, 100ft in the air, clinging like a rat to the rigging of a tall ship. “What are you doing?” I asked myself.

The rigging I was climbing – or, to use the proper term, the shrouds – was on the mast of the Stavros S Niarchos, a handsome tall ship docked in the port of Southampton. The Stavros is a brig, a type of double-masted vessel that was popular during the Age of Sail, the 16th century to mid 19th century, because of its manoeuvrability. She is one of just 200 functioning tall ships in the world, which are used for racing, education and pleasure, and are still operated almost exactly as they were 300 years ago. Which includes climbing the shrouds to release the sails.

From time to time Mrs. R and I discuss the possibility of a cruise ourselves.  I almost inevitably say that, were I to go out on the water, I’d much prefer to do so as a hand on a sailing ship than as a guest of one of those floating hotel-cum-casinos.   (Although how I’d get up the shrouds with my fear of heights is a problem I’ve not untangled yet.)  And if I could find a berth on a ship that carried, say, a row of 12 or 18 pounders?  So much the better!

Mrs. R thinks I’m daft.  (Well, she thinks that anyway, but this is one more prosecutor’s exhibit.)

Perhaps it is because he’s been mulling on the heyday of the British Empire compared to the state of things now.  Perhaps it’s because he’s been rereading the Flashman series.  No doubt it’s a combination.

At any rate, Robbo was suddenly seized with the desire to hear how Flashy’s favorite tune, “Drink, Puppy, Drink” goes.   Catchy tune, ain’t it?

The lyrics seem to be harder to find on these here Intertoobs.  Here’s one verse and the refrain:

Here’s to the fox In his earth below the rocks!

And here’s to the line that we follow,

And here’s to the hound With his nose upon the ground,

Though merrily we whoop and we hollow.

– – –

Then drink puppy drink, And let every puppy drink

That is old enough to lap and to swallow;

For he’ll grow into a hound,

So we’ll pass the bottle ’round,

And merrily we’ll whoop and we’ll hollow. (Repeat refrain)

From what Flashy lets fall, I gather there are many, many more verses associated with the song.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo collected his first official sunburn of the season this gergous day.  (Robbo’s doctor has been fussing at him recently about Vitamin D deficiency.  A few more outings per month like today’s and that problem ought to rectify itself.)

First, he spent the morning bench coaching the younger Misses Port Swillers’ softball team to a 12-7 victory. (They now stand at 8-1 on the season).  Among other things, he was delighted to discover that the youngest gel has the apparent super power ability to become two-dimensional at will, this being the only explanation of how she managed to slide under a tag at home plate.  I’d swear when she pancaked, she went absolutely flat.

Next, he spent the afternoon puttering about in the yard, mowing, trimming, weeding and (just to mix things up a bit), giving the front door portico its yearly scrubbing.

We are paying the wages for our sinful slothiness in not having got round to cleaning out the gutters last fall, insofar as one of the ones on the front of the port swiller mansion, chock full of dead leaves, mulch and new maple saplings, recently wrenched itself away from the fascia board and started bowing out ominously.  Yesterday, we finally got them cleaned.  Today, we had a local handyman out to re-attach the bowmeister.  As I stood about jawing with him, I discovered that he is a licensed bow-hunter and helps the county with keeping the local deer population within something approaching reasonable limits.  When I mentioned that I used to hunt deer myself in my  misspent yoot and that venison sausage was amongst my very favorite foods, he replied that he makes his own (among other products) all the time and would I like to have some of it?

This looks like the beginning of a bee-u-tiful friendship.

So now it’s just a matter of waiting for five o’clock to roll around.  As a treat for a productive day’s work, I hied me to the butcher’s counter at the local Gourmet Giant (pronounced “GER-may GEEE-aunt”) and nabbed one of their extra thick ribeyes.  Yum.  After dins, it’ll probably be Buckaroo Banzai.  The Nats are playing tonight, but I feel I need a break from watching them strand so many base-runners.  Not good for ol’ Robbo’s ulcer.

Not to give you too bad a case of mental whiplash in shifting subjects from the last post to this one  (welcome to my world!), but I can’t help noting that today is the anniversary of the founding, in 1685, of the French colonial settlement of Fort Saint Louis near Matagorda Bay along the central Texas coast by the great René-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle.

I’ve always had a particular fondness for this ultimately futile attempt at French colonization in the Gulf of Mexico, because Madagorda Bay is where ol’ Robbo learned to drive a boat, to fish and to hunt duck.  Indeed, I’m pretty sure I’ve posted on all this before.  Ah, yes, here it is.

What an awful time to start a colony.  I used to go duck shooting during Christmas break from school and there are few times when I’ve been colder than I was sitting in a blind in the mud and marsh of Madagorda Bay.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It’s very foggy this morning, for the first time in quite a while so far as I can recall.

Mornings like this always remind me of the days of deer and duck hunting in my misspent yoot.   Not that it was always foggy on such occasions, of course,  but it was often enough that even now, thirty-odd years later, the jumbled sensations all comes back to me.  I can still feel the grogginess associated with being dragged out of bed at four ack emma, like Frodo at Crickhollow.   I can almost taste the greasy brekkers eaten either at Jim’s (a local rival to Denny’s) when we were deer hunting, or else at a diner built out over the docks when it was duck.  I can smell the blend of coffee, cocoa and cigarettes as the Old Gentleman and I sat out in the blinds.  I can hear the drip off the oaks and junipers and the swish of the marsh reeds.  And my fingers and toes start to ache because I was usually so damned cold.

Actually, it’s a very pleasant sensation because I always enjoyed those excursions, even when we didn’t bag anything.

 

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