Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

It’s not always bad news…

Reason #48- Fishing

My dad never had time to take me fishing, but I managed to find friends to fish with.  In fact, one of my best fishing buds was so into it that he opened a tackle shop and guide service.  The last time he and I fished together, we had driven up the California coast and hopped on a full-day party boat in Monterey.  We each caught so many we had to stop with a couple of hours to go because our arms were too sore to hold the deep-sea rods.  After processing, Jack (yes, we were a pair of Jacks) had 52 pounds of luscious filleted meat and I had 37 pounds, both the tops on the boat that day. 

I had a few significant fishing days with other friends, too.  Scott introduced me to barracuda fishing, or “backaruda,” as we used to purposely mispronounce it.  Barracuda feed in groups by swimming beneath large schools of anchovies and eating the small fish from the bottom, forcing the whole school up out of the water with nowhere else to go.  This causes a 20- or 30-yard-wide ocean “boil” as the anchovies continually try to escape from being eaten.  A fishing boat, having noticed the boil, would pull up close enough to cast across it with 12-inch-long jigs or lures.  We would cast and retrieve as fast as we could, reeling in catches of the 3-4-foot-long barracuda, unhooking them in the boat and casting back out.  Speed was of the essence, because the feeding frenzy could end as quickly as it erupted.

I have fished for both salt-water and fresh-water species, from shore or from a boat, guided or not, in a dozen or so states, including Alaska, Florida, California, Washington, Kansas and others.  I’m looking forward to getting a Texas license as soon as we settle in at our winter space.  [Note: Texas does not have annual or monthly non-resident fishing passes, so this didn’t happen. However, a temp fishing license is included in all state park pass fees.] One problem with fishing as we move around the country is that I have to purchase a non-resident license wherever I go.  Florida conveniently sells annual licenses to out-of-staters, but they seem to be the exception.  All-in-all, non-resident license cost keeps fishing from being a desirable activity everywhere we visit.

There are many things about angling that can make you happy, starting with the adage that a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day of working.  Experiencing nature and wildlife is always something I appreciate, and the entire pace of the sport is calming.  It’s difficult to feel stressed when you are watching your pole for a bite.  Like many outdoor activities, sharing them with friends and family can help strengthen those relationships.  Like camping, you can improve your self-esteem by learning to master several outdoor skills at once.

Many a great fishing spot requires a long or strenuous hike (or it probably wouldn’t be so great), another physical activity to improve your health.  Then there’s the thrill of the catch and the taste of the freshly grilled feast.

Fishing is a lifetime skill and can be enjoyed at any age.  I’ve been fishing for over 50 years and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.


There is a great quote from President Herbert Hoover that would be appropriate to share here: “Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.

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It’s not always bad news…

Note: I wrote this before the Dodgers won the World Series in 2020…

Reason #35- Baseball

“In a year that has been so improbable … the impossible has happened!”

​That was Vin Scully announcing Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, immediately following a famous bottom-of-the-ninth home run by a hobbling Kirk Gibson, batting against closer-extraordinaire Dennis Eckersley.  The walk-off homer, as they now call them, won the game for the Los Angeles Dodgers and gave them the momentum needed to beat the Oakland A’s for their last World Series title.  I was 32 in October that year and remember that home run like it was yesterday.   I was camping with my brother in a remote stretch of the Columbia River in Washington State and felt very fortunate to be able to receive the broadcast where we were.  We were about 20 miles from the nearest town, but they may have heard us whoop and holler that night.

I grew up in the L.A. area and was a huge Dodger fan, but I would not have been as big a fan if I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the playground playing baseball.  There are several reasons why I think baseball is better for kids than other sports, but I had very good hand-eye coordination, could easily run, catch and hit, but, most importantly, it was one of the few sports in which my diminutive height as a kid didn’t affect my skill and success.  I did have asthma, so organized ball was out, but that didn’t keep me from helping my best friend train in high school, and it didn’t keep me from enjoying baseball on the school grounds.  And I was pretty good.

Like golf, bowling, tennis, wrestling, volleyball, football, soccer and swimming, people who have played the sport are much more likely to watch them when they can’t play.  Baseball is also considered “America’s National Pastime,” which is a nod to its even wider appeal, similar to soccer and football, but it was the first truly national sport in the U.S.

Baseball is different from most other sports in that it doesn’t have a time limit.  A game can theoretically go on forever.  When the pitcher has the baseball and there are runners on base or a tied score, intensity rises as he holds the ball.  The longer he holds it, the more intensity that builds.  I remember many times when the pitcher just didn’t want to throw the ball, afraid of the outcome.  Occasionally the umpire would even have to step out to tell the pitcher to continue the game.  Eventually, the pitcher does throw it, with or without the umpire’s warning, once convinced that he must.

Baseball mimics life in a way.  It runs on a serial timeline in which the life of the game literally follows the ball.  It is more fair than real life in that both teams will always have the same number of opportunities for offense.  A home run in the top of the 13th inning, for instance, doesn’t automatically win the game, since the other team gets to have its at-bats in the bottom of the inning.  If they tie the game, on to the 14th inning they go.

There have been so many exciting moments in this sport that’s been played since the middle of the 19th century that you can write an encyclopedia-sized collection of them.  (For younger readers, an encyclopedia used to be a set of dozens of books containing articles, history and a collection of all shared knowledge at the time of its printing.)  Society’s problems have been baseball’s problems, too, and its social remedies have not always kept pace.  Now it’s a worldwide sport, with hundreds of foreign-born professional players in the major and minor leagues.  But none of that would matter as much if I had never played it myself.


My final quote is from Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the U.S.:  “Next to religion, baseball has had a greater impact on our American way of life than any other American institution.

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It’s not always bad news…

As with a few of my chapters, this one was difficult to read and post. Losing Nadyne did not change my opinion, however. It strengthened it.

Reason #34- Picnic Lunches

Some of my earliest memories are picnic lunches at the neighborhood park with my mom and dad, along with my younger brothers and sisters.  Dad always brought a kite and we would spend hours keeping it flying.  Mom’s lunches were always great.

One of the great things about picnics is that there is no particular location necessary for them.  You can enjoy a meal at the park, on a hike, during a drive or even on a rooftop.  We almost always brought lunch from home when we went fishing and I’m certain hunters do the same, as do many cyclists, hikers, boaters and other outdoors enthusiasts.  Popular locations besides the park include the mountains, the beach, in canyons, a forest, a lake, a fun place in your city, in a nearby city or town, your backyard, at summer concerts, at festivals or fairs, at sporting events and even the library.  One of my favorite concert venues is in Washington State, the Gorge Amphitheater in George, in which half of the seating is on tiered grassy areas perfect for picnic lunches.

Being outdoors is itself a beneficial thing to do for your health, with sunshine, outside air, and beautiful vistas all contributing to your well-being.  A jaunt into the wilderness can inspire, and a packed lunch will help you get even further away from civilization.  Many health benefits do not require strenuous exercise, so a drive to a roadside picnic table on an overlook or in a national forest will still do some good.

The right setting and ambiance can facilitate romance, with many a first date made accordingly.   Lots of games and sports are available to kids and adults alike during a day at the park, and an entire industry was built from what started out as weekend barbecues.  Lifelong memories can be made and lifetime events such as birthdays, engagements and anniversaries can happen at picnics.

The tools of picnicking are those that nearly everyone uses, like picnic baskets, tablecloths, plasticware, drink jugs, paper or plastic cups and napkins or paper towels.  That makes this activity one of the few widely shared activities around the world.  A picnic lunch in the English countryside looks very similar to one in Central Park or near a French vineyard or on a Greek island.  A Rocky Mountain lunch is comparable to one in the Italian Alps or Bavarian Black Forest or in the Andes, and a packed lunch in a Kansas wheat field is much the same as the meadows in England, though I might suggest you avoid picnicking on the Serengeti or in the Brazilian rainforest. 

Last, a picnic will cost much less than a restaurant, and is far more secluded, so they continue to be as popular as ever.


I’ll end this discussion with an appropriate quote from English actress Kate Winslet, who said: “The things that make me happiest in the whole world are going on the occasional picnic, either with my children or with my partner; big family gatherings; and being able to go to the grocery store – if I can get those things in, I’m doing good.

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It’s not always bad news…

Reason #24- Geocaching

Following a treasure map … that is what geocaching is like, except the “X” that marks the spot is given in GPS coordinates and the treasure might just be the thrill of the hunt.

Wikipedia defines geocaching as “an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches,” at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.”  Caches might be a large bin or lockbox, or a small coffee can, and “micro-caches” are often tiny pill bottles, matchboxes, spent bullet casings or plastic film containers.  The contents, or “stash,” usually consists of a small paper log and pencil for finders to check in and small trinkets, the odder the better.  It has always been standard convention for seekers to take a trinket and leave one of their own, but many cache-hunters don’t bother with either.

Whether you enjoy solving puzzles, treasure hunting, exploring, hiking or just being outdoors, geocaching is something you may love.  In the days of social isolation, it can be an activity that brings much happiness.  We have found caches hidden inside hollow tree trunks, hanging from tree branches, wedged between boulders, stuck on the side of a steel utility box and stuffed into a support pole of a culvert’s guard rail.

You may have heard of the Fenn’s Fortune, a hidden treasure of $1 million that wealthy art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn hid somewhere in the Rocky Mountain wilderness in 2010.  He then published a poem of clues in his autobiography and treasure seekers have been hunting for the cache ever since.  It has now been reported that the treasure chest was found in New Mexico (yes, the Rocky Mountains do stretch down into New Mexico).  I bring up Fenn’s treasure because clues are being used in geocaching more and more.  You use the GPS coordinates to get close and then solving published clues or riddles helps you find the cache itself.

[Jack’s note: the Fortune was reportedly found approximately in 2020 in Wyoming by an anonymous treasure hunter later revealed to be former journalist and medical student Jack Stuef.]

Cache hunters use popular websites and apps like Geocache.com or ExpertGPS (formerly GeoBuddy) to get a list of caches hidden in their vicinity, along with the GPS coordinates, otherwise people wouldn’t know what was hidden in their area.  These sites are used by the hiders as well so that seekers will be able to use their uploaded info to look for the stash.  Once equipped with targets, hunters use their smartphones, GPS devices or car navigation to go to the coordinates.  An included blurb normally gives a brief description of the cache and hints about where you might find it.  Also important to us is how long it has been since the cache was last reported to be found.  Weather, construction, vandals or other environmental influences can cause a cache to become missing completely, and the owner of the treasure might not know it yet.  If something hasn’t been reported found within the last year, we know chances are slim that we would find it in our own search.

A few widely-accepted rules help the process.  Most geocaching sites will not allow burying a cache and you must not hide one on private property unless it has free public access and you have permission from the property owners.  Similarly, it should not be hidden in dangerous spots, like halfway up a steep incline, on a cliff or in the middle of a stream, and parking should be available somewhere nearby.  Many of these cache containers are painted green, which is allowed, but it can make it difficult to find in a tree or bush, even if in plain sight.  Popular sites and apps include a difficulty rating as well.

All of this so we can call out loud, “I found it!”   No matter how frustrated we might get from failure, the next find more than makes up for it.  Geocache hunting is also one of the few outdoor activities in which social distancing is built in.  The search gets us outdoors and I often combine a photo shoot with the activity, doubling my enjoyment of the day.


I’ll finish with an oft-heard quote from frustrated cache seekers. “I love it when the cache owner says that it’s easy to find.  Sure, it’s easy for them.  They hid it!” –unknown

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It’s not always bad news…

Reason #7- Wild Birds

They provide the city with nature and music to an otherwise quiet forest, sometimes with a cacophony.   As wildlife goes, birds are relatively benign, unlike moose, bears or snakes, and there is such a variety that endless communities of birdwatchers never tire of searching for and pondering them.  Even as a boy and newly-supplied with my first black-and-white camera, I loved photographing birds. 

I remember the first time I saw an eagle in the wild, a massive golden eagle in the Mojave Desert that seemed to stand about as tall as my 12-year-old body at the time.  It was about a quarter mile away, and we stopped and watched as it was joined by another gargantuan specimen with an unfortunate victim clutched in a claw.  Obviously a mated pair, they wrestled for a few minutes on the ground before majestically taking to the cloudless blue sky.  I had been hiking with other Boy Scouts and didn’t have my camera, but I knew there would be a lifetime of opportunities in my life.  I was right.

I often think about mammals having thinking brains, unlike most other types of life on the planet, but the more you watch wild birds the more you realize that they must also be thinking.  They watch their surroundings, contemplate their options, then decide whether to flee, fight or try something new.  I’ve seen jay birds figure out, after several attempts, how to open a squirrel feeder, and robins team up to fight off some annoying grackles.  They amaze me. 

There have been many sightings of intelligence in birds.  In Japan, carrion crows will place nuts on roadways for cars to run over.  Woodpecker finches have been seen trimming twigs to the proper length to use in foraging for insects.  Herons have been known to use bread and other scraps to attract fish for hunting.  They can often recognize who is filling bird feeders, and interact with different people differently.  Watching birds and witnessing their intelligent behavior can be a joy for birders.

Speaking of birding, I have been using the Cornell University site, ebird.com, to post photos and checklists of bird species found in various outings.  However, it might take me 10 different sites to locate the species of a specific bird I’ve photographed, and sometimes even then I’m unable to determine it with some accuracy and confidence.  It is fun, though, and I’ll continue to share my findings.

Many times, I have seen a bird of an uncommon species, like a yellow-headed blackbird or painted bunting, only to have it fly away as I scramble for my camera, even if it was close by.  Perhaps it was the only time in my life to see a member of that species live and up close, and I have to be satisfied with the single viewing.


I’ll close these musings with a quote from British journalist David Attenborough:  “Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?

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