Cougars & Coyote Poop

Some local news has got me thinking about what it’s like to own pets here in Central Oregon. Specifically, a cougar killed a dog about 2 miles from where we live recently. And oh, by the way, did you know that a cougars range is typically 10-30 square miles? Now isn’t that comforting.

And this follows on the heels of the deliciously macabre Mr. Meepers Incident. Any story that refers to a Chihuahua/Italian greyhound mix as “coyote poop” gets high marks for quality journalism.

My point being that with the much closer proximity of wildlife here (speaking of which two rabbits are chasing eachother around outside the office window right now – ah, spring love!) there are certain considerations we have to deal with now that we are no longer walking to the Diamond Corner Cafe in San Francisco. With news like the above in the papers you sort of wonder what you’re going to run across.

So when Chris and I are hiking on the trails around here, I have to confess that having a rather tempermental 60lb pit-bull mix scouting out the trail ahead does add a certain peace of mind. Not that Roni would be any help – she is after all a complete wuss when it comes to anything new or unexpected – but at least she keeps the really vicious ground squirrels at bay.

Fishing – part II, III and IV

Rainbow TroutI’ve been meaning to write about my ongoing fishing expeditions, but haven’t quite mustered the time and energy. I actually had a new project start up which has diverted my energies, but there appears to be a little bit of a hiatus while my client does some shuffling around of… well… me, I suppose.

I’ve actually managed to go out 3 more times since my last post. The cool thing about getting back into this sport is that I’m not as focused on actually catching fish as I was when I was younger. This allows me to appreciate what’s going on around me a little more. I’ve seen otter, deer, and what I suspect was a grey fox (but was too far away to tell for sure – it could just as easily have been a coyote or a large stray cat for that matter.) I even saw a cute little marmot sunning himself on the rocks along one of the golf courses here… go figure.

And, of course, the weather continues to make it’s presence felt. I’ve managed to get snowed on 3 of the 4 times I’ve gone out, which makes for slightly chilly hands but is otherwise not too much of a nuisance.

The big news, I suppose, is that I’ve actually started to catch some fish. As you may have noticed from the tenor of these posts, this is definitely not a high priority for me. But the fact that after my 3rd outing I hadn’t so much as seen a hint of a fish… well it hadn’tt entirely escaped my notice. But as they say, “when it rains it pours.” Actually, I guess it’s “when it snows” around here. Last evening, with a couple hours to kill until dinnertime, I decided to try my luck again at a spot nearby (within walking distance, if you believe that!). The skies were grey, the sun was hidden behind clouds, but it actually felt like the fish might be up to something… which it turns out they were.

With Roni in tow, I scrambled down a ravine to the lower of a series of pools that I’d found last time. Within minutes of my first cast on the water, I noticed a fish jump slightly upstream from me. I worked my way up to the spot and cast in the same general vacinity. Sure enough, the fly disappeared in a little swirl of water as the the fish hit it. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to set the hook, but it was progress on an enormous scale: I’d actually seen a real live fish and, more importantly, he was gullible! Unfortunately, a few more casts made it evident that I’d scared him off.

Regardless, I was definitely excited. I moved on to the next pool upstream, and sure enough, it only took a couple of casts for another fish to hit the fly. This time I was ready though, and managed to properly set the hook! I had a glorious few seconds of battling this monster, enjoying my visions of a trout dinner big enough to feed a table of 8… and then I got a good look at him. Unfortunately I don’t think a fish that is 9″ tip-to-tail will divide up that well when the guests arrive. Fish around here have to be at least 10″ before you can keep them anyway, so I unhooked him and released him, terrified I’m sure, back into the water.

To make a long story short, I went on to catch two more of these little pipsqueaks, and get a couple more strikes, before the snow started falling in earnest and I needed to head home. Oh, and I went back to that first hole and did manage to catch the fish that first struck at my fly.

Thus, the die has been cast, I’m officially a fisherman again.

A Fly Fishing Pretense

I went fly fishing today, in the purist sense of the sport. That is to say, I lost a couple flies, got both my shoes wet, and didn’t see anything that even the most optimistic of fishermen would call a fish. That wasn’t unexpected however. It’s been almost 20 years since I last tried this.

Now that we’re not in the heart of San Francisco, I’m trying to get back into the sport. Not that I was ever an avid angler, but when my family vacationed in Montana back when I was in high school, an old family friend – my namesake actually – taught me how to flyfish. Somehow the notion of picking it up again has caught my fancy. I sort of like the idea of riding my bike to some back-country stream and catching a couple fish for dinner. A romantic vision? Sure, but there are worse things I could be working towards.

The last time my father came to our house, I talked him into bringing me the box of old gear he’s had stowed in his garage. One of the more unexpected finds was his old fly-fishing pole from when he was a kid. All it needed was a new eyelet and a little work with some steel wool. The box also contained some flies that my grandfather once tied, and even some of the hackle he used, which is still in perfect condition. So fly tying may get added to the list of pasttimes in our household.

This morning started out windy but I needed to get the dog some exercise. So I finally got around to putting the final touches on my gear, threw some flies in the fishing vest (unused, also in the box from my dad) and drove 15 minutes out the road to nearby Tumalo Creek. By the time I got there, the wind had picked up even more and it was snowing lightly. Yup, fly-fishing in a blustery snow-storm at noon. It is probably safe to say that actually catching a fish was the least of my worries.

In an effort to scout out the terrain for the season ahead, Roni and I walked through the marsh and shrubs along the creekbed for about a mile. I stopped at several promising looking pools and proceeded to flay the surface of the water in what a myopic geriatric might say resembled fly fishing… assuming he was standing far enough away. The reality is that I was just practicing , trying to get to a point where I wouldn’t feel like a complete idiot if someone happened to stroll by and see me.

As we walked, I crossed the creek a couple of times where fallen logs made rather dicey bridges. One of these days, I’m sure I’ll have a fun little falling-off-the-log-into-the-creek incident to report, but I got away with it today. Roni doesn’t like logs, however, nor does she like getting in water any deeper than her belly so she is left to whine and scamper along the river bank until she musters up the courage to plunge in and splash across, taking all of 5 seconds for the entire crossing. Wuss.

The highlight of the hike, for Roni at least, was the discovery of a ground squirrel underneath an old tree stump. The ground was soft, the scent strong, and she proceeded to excavate an amazing quantity of dirt. While she was thus engaged, I walked to the car for the water bottle which as luck would have it was empty. But Tumalo Creek is part of the Bend Watershed, which is pretty much what comes out of our faucets at home only purer. I just filled the bottle at the side of the stream.

And, while standing there, I had one of those Central Oregon moments. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the valley, the front of the approaching storm cloaked the distant hills in a surreal haze, and the snow continued to fall. Roni was throwing dirt everywhere, I was drinking some of the best tasting water you’ll ever find, and carrying my father’s pole and my grandfather’s flies.

I almost don’t know how to answer when people ask me how I’m enjoying the move to Oregon.

Shelves, Part II

Hey, the shelves are done! Check ’em out →
Total cost: ~0
Total time: ~10 days
It’s always fun building this sort of stuff. On the surface, they’re nothing special since the knotty pine is inherently not a high-quality wood. Nor did I go to great lengths to get a smooth finish. But I’m pleased with the end result. Unlike most furniture you find these days, which looks good but will only last for a couple years (basically until you have to move it, at which point all the joints will fail), this shelf will probably outlast me, if it’s predecessor is anything to go by (a bookshelf my dad and I built 17 years ago using basically the same material and technique).

The Aristocracy Threshold

My friend Andy and I came up with the term, “Aristocracy Threshold” a while ago as we were discussing wealth and how people do/don’t accumulate it. It’s an interesting concept.

The idea is that there is some amount of wealth that, if achieved, allows an individual or family to become financially independent soley on the basis of how their existing wealth is invested. To put some meat on this concept, the U.S. median household income in 2000 was $42K/year, which is probably a reasonable number for what it takes to live “paycheck to paycheck”. But, if you are one of the 30,000 “ultra-rich” people in America (worth more than $30M) your wealth is generating at least 50X that much income. Assuming you only spend $400K/year – 10X what most people do – 80% of your yearly income is left unspent and becomes yet more income-generating wealth.

The majority of America never reaches this threshold; they spend their days working 9-5 jobs earning just enough to pay the bills and hopefully set enough aside so that they can retire in time to relax a little before kicking the bucket. But, for an elite few, they or their families climb over this threshold, changing their lives forever.

The concept, and economics behind it, are pretty simple but the ramifications of this are enormous. For starters, these people no longer have to work for a living, thus freeing up a huge amount of time, which can actually be problematic. After all, “what do you wanna do?” (“I dunno, what do you wanna do?”, etc…) It can be pretty damn boring, and for your average grown adult, you need more than passing diversions to make your life worthwhile.

Some, many, turn their focus to charitable work. Others seek challenges in the form of fame (ala Paris Hilton), yet-more-fortune (Warren Buffett), or power (The Bush Family).

But the result of these alternate lifestyles is that the wealthy are almost alien in their strangeness to most people. Socializing is difficult, if not impossible since, for virtually any conversational topic, the differences between these two worlds is horribly awkward. “What’s your job?” (“I’m retired”, said the 28-year old), “Where do you live?” (“Well, depends on the time of year and how I’m feeling”), “How was your vacation?” (“Oh, lovely! We just spent two months trekking in Paraguay, and before that we were living with our friends in Tuscany for a while…”). The answers are either intimidating or embarassingly snooty sounding, depending on which side you happen to be. Either way, it’s not exactly conducive to forming deep and meaningful friendships.

The result: A small group of people, the aristocracy (well, plutocracy actually) wielding tremendous power and influence over the general public, yet socially isolated from them, with the source of that power and isolation growing stronger over time.

I’ll leave speculation on such issues as faults and merits of this phenomenon, how this threshold is crossed (both ways!), and the forces that repel both sides away from the threshold for a later post.