Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Wild Winter New Year (Happy New Year To All!)

My Version:

I was awakened from a weird dream in which I was rolling my face in a bowl of cool, red Jell-O only to discover the big tongue of a Labrador cleaning the side of my face. Rita doesn’t normally do that sort of thing late at night, but Chris and Cory are gone, and she’s used to sleeping with Cory, and so she gets a bit insecure. Well, that and I probably forgot to let her out for a while and she has to pee. Or poop. Or both. So I got up, got dressed and took her out to the yard. She peed, then sprinted around the yard a few times (I call it her “puppy sprint”) and then rolled in the snow for a bit. She loves rolling in the snow. I am guessing the cool snow feels good on her skin. A typical routine for her. I enjoyed the dark and quiet, the cloudy sky and the feel of the cold against my skin. My typical routine. We both have our routines. And the cold felt good, like Rita’s tongue, when she woke me up, and my first thought was, “oh, God, I saw her eating poop yesterday.” But I kiss her back, lick her on the face but then think how odd it might be to kiss a dog back the way they kiss (or what we perceive as a kiss), well, because we are not dogs. So I give her a big people kiss. Here’s my thinking on it: We appreciate dog kisses because they are dog kisses, and we know dogs are sincere, so I want to be sincere, and so I give a dog a people kiss thinking dogs might appreciate people kisses because they are people kisses, and dogs want badly (sometimes sadly naively) for people to be sincere like they are. So I try. But to cover all bases, I gave her a variety of kisses. And for good measure I even bugled like a bull elk and howled like a wolf (I do a pretty damn good wolf howl. I sometimes wonder if I fool Rita with it. I assume she’s impressed; that’s one of the great things about dogs – they let you do that), and so I howled, because somewhere behind the thick clouds is a moon.

Rita and I are headed into the mountains later today. We’re going to build a snow cave and bring in a wild winter New Year. Poor Chris and Cory; they are in Maui. I hope they’re not getting bit by snow-fleas, getting sand kicked in their faces, or getting salt-wager itchy but.

Happy New Year to All!

Rita's Version

So I awoke Dave tonight licking his face. I don’t usually do that sort of thing late at night, but Chris and Cory are gone, I am used to sleeping with Cory, and so I get a bit insecure. I think that’s normal. Well, that and Dave never remembers to let me out as much as Chris does (she’s a lot better at that sort of thing) and I had to pee really bad. I don’t want to pee in the house. I did that long, long ago and got that whole “BAD DOG, BAD DOG, BAD DOG,” thing thrown at me. And to be honest: I HATE that. I want so bad to be a good dog. So I lick Dave in the face. At first, he looks at me strangely, like I smell like dog crap or something, but then he smiles, gets goofy, licks me on the cheek, rubs noses, does a silly butterfly kiss with our eyelids, and then sounds like a bull elk and tries to howl like a wolf . . . at least that’s my best guess at what he seems to think he might sound like. If so, it sounds nothing like a wolf. I am not impressed. But I pretend I am because I know he likes that and I want him to be happy. So we go outside, I pee, sprint around the yard a few times (it makes me feel like a puppy again), and then I roll in the snow. I love snow! The cool snow feels so good on my skin. Dave just stares at the sky, and says “Good girl!” to me, which makes me wag my tail a lot. It’s our routine.

Dave and I are going into the mountains later today. We are going to stay in a snow cave and bring in a wild winter New Year. I feel bad that Chris and Cory are missing out, but I hope they’re having fun wherever they are even if I am not with them. I like going into the wilds. I like all the different smells. I hope I hear my ancestors howl . . . I just don’t want them too close. They make me nervous.

Happy New Year to All!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Nuturing Hope Through the Art of Nature (A Calendar for a Cure)

My son, Cory, and I with copies of  A Calendar for a Cure
I didn't deal well with my son's diagnosis of Duchenne, at first -- I took a selfish, cowardly, escapist approach, numbing my mind with sex, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and other self-destructive addictions. I let my son's disease feed my disease; it didn't do a lot of good for me or him. Cory needs and deserves a father who is brave, strong, clear-minded and helpful, someone to show him that retreating is not the best approach to adversity. (See Reoccurring Storms.)

But some respite is necessary to rejuvenate the brain and prevent despair from killing hope. I have come to find that respite studying the wilds through the lens of my camera. It's a more healthy form of addiction.

It started with Cory slowing down. As his legs began giving out our backpack trips (no longer possible) grew shorter but longer as he boldly, stubbornly and persistently trudged on. Every rock and tree in the trails became obstacles he embraced as challenges. Even with scraped-up, bloody shins from frequent falls he would often say, "Come on Dad, we can make it!"

We took a lot of breaks. I would often sit down ahead of him and wait. I started paying more attention to the little things around me. The details. The infinite shapes and colors of rocks; the unique and diverse forms of leaves; the constantly-changing structure of water; the ever-dancing shadows of clouds, and how all these things and more interact and compliment each other on micro and macro scales of dynamic canvas. The art of nature!

So I have tried to capture what I see in rectangular grids of pixels.

Last week I was lying on thin ice on a river close to home, focused in on various shapes and colors of frozen wild water. I have no idea how much time passed before I was snapped out my stupor by a concerned older gentleman yelling at me from shore.

"Are you okay?"
"Yes!" I sat up and waved.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Taking photos."
"Well . . . get the hell off that damn ice before you fall through and drown."

I assured him I was fine, and watched him walk away shaking his head. I imagined him mumbling, "Damn fool." I smiled. He reminded me of my Dad.

Reality slowly settled back in. It was getting dark. I was cold. It was time to go home. I felt great. I felt happy. I felt hopeful. Cory notices the differences in my behavior and attitude. It's good for us both.

Every day I head for mountains, woods, marshes, fields, rivers or lakes and walk, and think, and see art, and try to capture it. And every day I come home feeling a bit better prepared to be a better dad to a wonderful son who has Duchenne.

In no small way, these images derive from the disease of Duchenne.

And so this year I put together a calendar, a Calendar for a Cure, my favorite photos from each month of the year -- images that derive from Cory as much as they do from me.

Purchasing these calendars will further boost the hope these images help nurture. For every $25. donated you will receive an autographed copy of the 2015 Calendar for a Cure. All proceeds go to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a national nonprofit leading the fight to end Duchenne.

For more information and donate, please click here:

Purchase a Calendar for a Cure:

Thank you for helping to keep hope alive!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Yay! Look At Me! Kitty Kat Down!" (Killing for Amusement and Profit)

Kendall Jones, ecstatic to have killed again! 
Meet Kendall Jones, Texas cheerleader turned "hunting" celebrity. She travels the world paying people to help her kill elephants, lions, zebras, leopards and other wildlife so she can pose with their dead bodies, grinning ear to ear, beaming with excitement and pride, happy as a lark (a lark she hasn't yet killed), proving to the world she knows how to pull a trigger and end a life. Why does she do it? Entertainment, amusement, attention, profit. She calls it "conservation." She calls herself a "hunter."

"This was was one of the coolest experiences of my hunting career!!!!" she wrote on her Facebook page along with a photo of her smiling while holding the body of a mountain lion she killed. "The hunt was not an easy one but it was SOOO worth it!! ‪#‎kittykatdown."‬

"Look at me! I am so excited!" she seems to exude in every Barbie-like pose with every carcass of once free, living wild creatures. "I paid someone to lead me to this wonderful, wild animal so I could end its wonderful, wild life!" And for what? What has this apparently heartless, ignorant person accomplished? What has she proven? That she has enough time and money to travel around the world and pay people to help kill things and that makes her really happy? What knowledge is involved? What skill is involved? What sort of dignity, integrity and respect is involved? What kind of connection to the wilds is involved? 

It's done for self-amusement, profit, entertainment, attention. Are those good, legitimate reasons to kill wild animals? To take the life of other living beings? And what does this say about those who are amused and entertained by this? Those who are her fans and support, endorse, condone and defend her bankrupt and immoral actions?

Does anyone really think this is hunting? Does anyone really think this is acceptable?

And this, a mountain lion -- an amazingly magnificent animal, one of the most efficient, awe-inspiring predators in the world. Mountain lions, also known as cougars and catamounts, are secretive, solitary animals that keep mostly to themselves and roam much of what little remains of our beautiful, remote wildlands. They are mostly nocturnal and crepuscular. They eat deer, elk, rodents, insects and most anything else they can hunt and ambush. Being at the top of the food chain, their population levels are self-regulating. They are also very territorial, and their population densities are generally pretty small. They are powerful predators that deserve our utmost reverence and respect.

I've spent a lifetime roaming the wilds and I have only seen mountain lions a half-dozen times. Once, I woke up in the middle of a night while sleeping alone under the stars on a remote, wild ridge to see a mountain lion in the moonlight, just a few yards away, curiously looking at me. Another time I spooked a lioness and her cubs on a cold, rainy day in the wilds and she nervously paced back and forth while I slowly, nervously and respectfully retreated. Every wild encounter I've had with these remarkable, elusive animals is etched in my mind as special, wild and wonderful experiences. Such wild encounters have inspired me to learn all I can about mountain lions, to study them, to get to know them, to appreciate them, to respect them, to learn from them, to be humbled by them, to do all I can to protect them and the wild places they roam.

I bet this woman does not know much about mountain lions and the wild places they roam. She just paid someone who has lion dogs to tree this wild cat so she could kill it, and pose for pictures, and smile, and post the photos, and pretend she is a hunter, and claim to be a conservationist, and entertain, amuse, get attention, make a profit.

I am a hunter. I hunt, kill and eat wild elk and deer. I do not understand how anyone who is truly a hunter -- or anyone who is truly and intimately connected to wildlife and wild places -- can support or condone this.

It's disrespectful. It's insulting. It's disgusting. It's deeply disturbing.

Yet many hunters will defend it. Many hunters will defend her. Many hunters will pretend, along with her, that this is hunting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Behind the Vail: Killing Grizzlies for God

Theresa Vail
Theresa Vail, a 25-year-old former beauty queen from Kansas, stars in her own Outdoor Channel "hunting" show, "Limitless with Theresa Vail," in which she travels the world to hire outfitters and guides who lead her to wild animals and tell her where and when to shoot and kill them for profit and entertainment.  The Outdoor Channel describes the show as "a compelling story of a young, grass roots, red-blooded, all-American woman who is on a mission to overcome stereotypes, break barriers, and use her life story as a platform to help transform people’s opinions of all the things a woman should, could and can be."

She says she "hunts" (pays guides to help her kill animals) because she "appreciates what God gave us."

"I fully believe that teaching a woman how to use a gun is the best thing you can do for her and for her confidence and her personal empowerment," Vail says. "That’s when I became completely confident in defending and protecting myself. The Second Amendment is my life."  

One of her show's episodes is described this way: "Theresa does her best to avoid succumbing to pressure in Montana as she attempts to connect with her first bull elk."

Apparently she did recently succumbed to "pressure" in Alaska when she showed a bit too much appreciation for what God gave us and accidentally killed two grizzly bears instead of one. (See "Hunting is not a Spectator Sport")

She and two hunting guides have been charged with misdemeanors. Alaska State Troopers say master guide Michael Wade Renfro and assistant guide Joseph Andrew Miller conspired to cover up the violation by obtaining a second bear tag and submitting the wrong information to game authorities. Renfro's attorney says the accidental shooting of the second bear was an "unfortunate event."

God, Ted Nugent and her many fans forgive her and continue to support her. After all, we all make mistakes -- Be honest: who amongst us couldn't easily take the lives of two magnificent wild grizzly bears instead of just one for profit and entertainment?

Yesterday, I checked out her "Public Figure" Facebook Page. Her most recent post was this:

Theresa Vail: This May, during an Alaskan guided bear hunt, I unintentionally harvested a second bear while attempting a follow up shot. I then followed poor advice and allowed the second bear to be improperly tagged. A few days later, the film crew and I reported the incident and have since fully cooperated with the proper authorities. I am deeply sorry for my mistakes.

More than 600 fans left comments, all praising Vail for her "courage" in "owning up to it." "God Bless you and God Bless America!" wrote one fan. "Only God can judge you," wrote another. "Don't let the stupid liberal anti-hunters get you down!"  Many reassured her that "real hunters" and even "God" was on her side.

As she herself posted:

Theresa Vail: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Although I am with plenty of sin, I nevertheless sinfully casted away:

David Stalling:  A friend of mine once took a follow-up shot at an elk he thought he had already shot once. It turned out to be a different elk and he had accidentally and regrettably shot and killed two. He reported it to the game wardens. So I can understand a hunter accidentally killing two animals. However, I do question the alleged attempt to cover it up, and I also question the hunting of grizzly bears as well as hunting for profit and entertainment.  In this particular case, two grizzly bears are now dead for profit, entertainment and amusement. How do we justify that?

I apparently pissed off God; my comment was quickly deleted and I was blocked from the site.

Here are highlights of other comments from her post:

Joey Davis: Props to you for stepping up to the plate and coming clean about it. Mistakes happen, keep on doing what you do. Your an inspiration to so many.

Sara Fronce:
If you feel like you made a mistake not only take the misdemeanor change but also donate money towards bear conservation if you don't already.
When a mistake is made often doing more than what is required shows actual remorse for the situation. Donating to a large predator conservation would be a good idea to make up for the mistake that was made. Although admitting a mistake is the first step!

Montana Mike: The absolute worst case of jealousy I have ever seen being jealous of another's professional accomplishments. What's going on here I imagine. The others better think hard before they speak though as we all will remember.

Hillary Dupont: They are jealous of her accomplishments and want to ruin her reputation in order to better their career.....NONESENSE!
Andrew Olger: Alaska forgives you. Besides, residents don't even need a brown bear tag to harvest one. Shoot, they give me 5 black bear tags a year for free and there is no set season for them. AK fish and game said to just use a black bear tag of mine if I was to get a grizzly. Happy hunting Theresa!!! Love you!!!! Ps... It's very common to shoot two and think you got just one here. Happens a lot in this great state! I would recommend arming yourselves and keeping plenty of bullets on hand. God also didn't have to tell me twice when told me to build my little Freedomland in Ester AK. Population 1979.

Alan Maxwell: There are so many laws and conflicting regulations it's a wonder we actually do something correctly once in a while. Everyone knows you have too much to lose to act improperly on purpose and the state won't give you a pass because they want the fine money. Keep your head high.

Michael Koscielniak: Seems to me Ted Nugent had similar problems sort of makes you wonder what's going on, bad guides or the state of AK looking for revenue.

Theresa Vail: Ted Nugent and I had a great conversation today about the matter. He said "it's going to suck, but you'll be fine."

Bob Clark:
 I can assure you this will not affect your popularity at all. Small blow to the ego. It's not like we all don't blow it sometime, and you had help from bad advice! I messed up a tag this year when i really knew better, and the warden kindly let me off. Get your wild and beautiful self on the tube so we can see some hunts!

Emily N Sonny: We all make mistakes. There are so many conflicting rules and regulations state by state. And even then laws change year, by year. You're an honest hunter and a wonderful role model for young girls and I wish you nothing but the best. Haters will always hate, but your true fans will always support you.

Aldo Leopold: The sportsman has no leaders to tell him what is wrong. The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer. Wildlife administrators are too busy producing something to shoot at to worry much about the cultural value of the shooting.

Okay, so I added that last one. Wishful thinking. Unfortunately, in most of the hunting community, Aldo Leopold's wise words from half-a-century ago have been deleted and blocked.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hunting is not a Spectator Sport

Theresa Vail and her Outdoor Channel crew.
"ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A former beauty queen who hosts an Outdoor Channel adventure show illegally shot an Alaska grizzly bear and conspired to cover up the violation, according to charges filed in a rural state court. Theresa Vail, 25, of Wichita, Kansas, the star of 'Limitless with Theresa Vail,' is charged with killing a grizzly bear in May without possessing a state bear tag for the animal. Investigators say she held a single bear tag and shot a male grizzly bear, attempted to kill it with a second shot, and instead fired and killed a second bear, a sow grizzly. Vail also is charged with unsworn falsification, another misdemeanor. Prosecutor Aaron Peterson in a criminal complaint said Vail signed and backdated a big game tag record to make it appear she had purchased the tag before shooting the bear." -- from U.S. News and World Report 

The Outdoor Channel describes the show as "the compelling story of a young, grass roots, red-blooded, all-American woman who is on a mission to overcome stereotypes, break barriers, and use her life story as a platform to help transform people's opinions of all the things a woman should, could and can be."

I describe the show as "the tragic story of how modern-day hunting has been grossly commercialized and turned into crass entertainment to appeal to the lowest common denominator in which a guide tells a beauty queen when and where to shoot and then attempts to cover up the illegal killing of a grizzly bear for greed, profit and ego while pretending they are 'hunters' out 'hunting'"

This is the second "har har hunting hero" celebrity from the Sportsmen Channel recently caught poaching. This is what happens when you turn hunting into commercialized entertainment, business and a huge for-profit industry.

Hunters, hunting magazines, hunting shows, the hunting industry and hunting organizations will condemn this particular incident but continue watching and promoting 'hunting' shows and 'celebrity hunters' who travel the world killing all they can -- and more than anyone could ever eat -- for mere profit and entertainment.

The only thing these types of shows do to "transform people's opinions" is to present most Americans with a very poor image of hunting that likely leads to very unsupportive views of hunting.

Hunting should not be a commercialized spectator sport. Killing animals for profit, entertainment and amusement is not hunting.

"The sportsman has no leaders to tell him what is wrong. The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer. Wildlife administrators are too busy producing something to shoot at to worry much about the cultural value of the shooting." -- Aldo Leopold, 1949