Sunday, May 3, 2009

And - the heart of a competitor

But, on the other side of the coin is competitive fishing. Here is where the big boys take over. Here is where the joy of just being out there is forgotten - no longer important. Here the focus is simple and ruthless. The focus is; Win, baby! Beat the other guys! Leave not a man standing! And - the worse you beat them the better. You want them to remember how badly you beat them. At the next tournament you want to see them looking at you with fear and doubt in their eyes. You want them to remember - to know - today you're going to beat them again.

I fished tournaments when I was a younger man - when I had the stamina to stand on the front deck of a bass boat for eight hours or more - constantly casting - constantly analyzing and, most important, constantly worrying about the other competitors. They never leave your mind. Have they found fish, are they into big fish, have they already limited out. The physical abuse is terrible but the emotional abuse is worse. As you weigh-in at the end of a tournament you'll be sky high knowing you've won or, and this is more likely, you'll be down - slump-shouldered - beaten like a whipped dog. In either case you'll be drained, physically and emotionally.

Competitive fishing leaves no room to sit back and enjoy the day. You watch the surroundings and the weather, but only because these things affect the fishing and you certainly won't take the time to see the beauty of nature. You eat nothing - you drink very little. Drinking water takes away casts. If you ain't casting you ain't catching. You concentrate on the things that matter. The shoreline breaks, the depth finder, submerged structure that might hold fish, these are all you care about. And the constant pressure of lure selection, water temperature, water movement, barometric pressure, probable movement of the bass, all these have to be analyzed and mentally updated routinely, without even realizing you're doing it. Whether you're fishing a club tournament or fishing for money - it's the same. The difference between a winner and an also-ran is the ability to deal with the pressure. As they say; keep your head while those around you are losing theirs.

Consider this; it's six in the morning. It doesn't matter if it's a fine summer day or a blustery cold early spring morning. It can be clear, the sky promising a perfect day, or it can be windy and raining buckets, promising an altogether miserable day. You'll either freeze all day or the wind will beat you unmercifully. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. Nothing stops a tournament - nothing except an electrical storm - nothing except lightning. Lightning within several miles will delay or even halt a tournament - it's that dangerous.

At the ramps dozens or hundreds of bass boats are launching, all sporting gleaming metal-flake fiberglass, in every imaginable color. All are garish - all are obscenely colorful - all are beautiful. On their transoms sit huge outboard engines of 150 to 300 horsepower, easily capable of launching their rigs to speeds of 70 to 90+ miles per hour. In order, they quickly slip down the launch ramps into the water and the engines roar to life. The sound is awesome.

After launching each boat idles past the staging platform and draws their lottery ticket - their position in the start. Back in the early days of tournaments it was different. Someone would fire a pistol or simply shout "go?" and every boat would take off in unison. That approach was dangerous and, when several boats collided in their haste to get to their favored fishing spots it ended. Since the mid-nineties boats take off one at a time, each drawing a number to determine their position in the start. To insure everyone gets the same fishing time the last boat gets extra minutes before the weigh-in.
You've launched, you've gotten your ticket and you've "blasted off." Now you're running up-lake, heading for the area you pre-fished last week, one of the areas you know holds good fish. You get there and rejoice! No one's there. It's all yours! As you approach the spot you throttle back the big engine and shut it down. Even as you're rig slides to a stop you're on the front deck, flipping the electric motor into the water - grabbing one of the dozen rods strapped neatly to the deck. You take a moment to scan your surroundings - the depth finder - and then throw your first cast. The tournament - the pressure - has begun.

At the end of the day you know. You either got it right or you miscalculated. Your live well holds fish or it doesn't. You fish until the last minute, hoping for a kicker fish, a fish that will bring you over the top. No matter how many are in the well. One more big one so you can cull one of the dinks! You need one more big one! It's all about pounds. How many pounds? If you have five two pounders you worry. Someone must have caught a couple six pounders. If you have two six pounders you know someone must have caught five three pounders. If the fish were "on" and you have twenty pounds, you figure everyone must have cleaned up today. No matter what you catch - you worry.

At the weigh-in you watch as each guy carries his bag of bass to the scales, knowing they're doing the same. You wince as a good string coming out of a live well and you thank the Lord when the string is lighter than you thought. Then it's your turn. You start pulling your fish from your live well. You're either excited by the reactions of the others, knowing they're thinking what you had thought, or your ashamed that you've been beaten. You carry them to the scales - the moment of truth - when you jump into the lead or know it's over. The thrill of victory - the agony of defeat. A check or a trophy - it doesn't matter. It's a win or a defeat. One is gut-wrenching - horrible - the other is a high you'll carry for days. If you win you enjoy the looks - the resentment - the admiration - the "who in hell does he think he is?" If you lost, the others avoid eye contact - they empathize. Now you're one of them. At best an also-ran, at worst a loser. And now you're looking at the winners and thinking, "who in hell does he think he is?"

At the end you pull the boat onto the trailer and leave, usually to stop at a roadside cafe or quick stop, to sit, drink coffee, commiserate with others, both the winner and the losers. Here it's not about winning or losing. Now it's discussed in great good humor. Now it's just a bunch of guys sitting down to rib each other and to review their mistakes - their error in judgment - while they were out there on the water. Here the bottom guys, the losers, will take some heat from the others, from the guys who placed in the money, but here and now it's just for laughs.

You drive home, clean the rig and put it away. You either annoy your wife, extolling your fishing prowess - your brilliance - for hours, or you sulk and simply say, "Hey! I lost! I don't want to talk about it!" If you won maybe you go out to dinner. If you lost you eat a peanut butter sandwich and go to bed early.

Soon, within days, you once again look at the tournament schedule and begin thinking about pre-fishing the next lake or a river. It's never too early to be prepared. It's never too early to get the edge on the competition.

And you know - this time you want to see that look in their eyes - that look of fear and doubt and, as you plan your strategy you think, Man! It's wonderful!

It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming.

John Steinbeck

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fishing - Almost a Religion

A well-intentioned friend made an innocent suggestion over lunch several days ago. Why not get together, three or four of us, and go fishing. His intentions were first-rate. He considered a few hours fishing to be a natural adjunct to good friends spending time together. It was a logical - it was meant in the truest sense of friendship and, for many people, it would be wonderful. For me, it would never work.

For me, fishing is one of two things. It's something akin to a religious experience or it's a dog eat dog competition. For me, fishing is either time alone, enjoying all that nature has to offer, or, fishing; fierce, competitive fishing. To my friend, who hasn't fished much, fishing is an idle pastime, a time when friends can sit on a riverbank - drown worms - swap lies. My friend, like everyone who hasn't fished much, has no understanding of the fine art of fishing.

Think about it in your mind's eye. Let your mind carry you to a fine spring day, a day promising seventy degree temperatures, beautiful cumulus clouds and giant bass. You push the boat off from shore, easily an hour before the sun crests the hills to the east. The inky blackness of night has given way to the neutral greys of first light. The lake is calm, there is no wind, a soft fog hovers low, clinging to the lake as cool morning air meets water still warm from yesterday's sun. The air is damp - soothing - wonderful as it dampens your skin and clothes. The distant shoreline is shrouded in mist - ghostly across the glassy surface of the lake. In your minds's eye you see the shallows along that shoreline, thick with gnarled cypress knees, long-dead downed trees, thick clumps of aquatic grasses, all invisible in the darkness. And yet, before you even get there - you see it all clearly.

You slip into the front seat of the boat, lower the electric motor over the bow and steer slowly toward that distant shoreline. There's no hurry. Relax. Take you foot from the switch - sit back - luxuriate, taking in as much as you can. Close your eyes and feel the perfection of the moment. You know it will be fleeting - gone in mere minutes. Enjoy it while you can. Five minutes pass, ten, still you sit idly - out there in the middle of the lake, absorbing it all. Don't think. Don't analyze. Let it wash over you. Soak it all up - the beauty - the silence - and finally become aware - everything that's bothered you, right up to this very moment, is gone, washed softly away. Then there is nothing but you and this magical moment. Finally, you step softly on the foot pedal and again move toward the shoreline ahead - toward the giant largemouth bass you're surely to catch and release today.

The fishing? Well, the fishing is secondary. Do you wan't to catch fish? Sure. Does it matter all that much? No. Fish would be nice. A ten pound bass would be nicer. But, compared to just being out there, the fish fade to a distant second. You're confident. You're always confident. You'll catch bass. If they're big enough you may put the camera on the back seat - set the self-timer - take a picture - you holding a giant. Worth remembering. Still, thirty or more years ago you started releasing fish. Killing these magnificent creatures seemed wrong somehow. And so, like all those fine fish caught so long ago, these will be returned to the lake to fight another day.

A day alone out there must surely be worth a year in therapy. A day out there is unforgetable and yet can't be repeated. Each time will be it's own unique experience. Each time, when the day is though, you'll go home thanking the Lord for such an opportunity. And, when you're lying in bed that night, clear-headed and relaxed, your problems somehow unimportant, just before you doze off you'll remember - and you'll smile.

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”

Henry David Thoreau

Monday, April 27, 2009

Whoa! Now that's a great idea!

It happened again the other night. I awakened around two oclock, thinking about a new idea for a short story. I know it was a good idea because I remember being excited about it. The problem was; I really didn't want to climb out of bed in the middle of the night. At my age I do that enough just to make necessary bathroom trips. So, I decided it would wait until morning.

In the morning I'd get to the computer and write down the idea while it was fresh in my mind. Of course, anyone over sixty knows what happened. I arose in the morning knowing I had a good idea for a story. The problem was I couldn't remember anything about it. First, I laid there in bed, racking my feeble brain, trying ineffectually to recapture the idea. It didn't work. Then, I went to the computer thinking somehow that sitting at the keyboard would help my memory. It didn't work either. The idea was gone, vanished, I mean gone for good!

If I could I'd have kicked myself in the butt! I did it again! You see, this was not the first time I relied on my memory and, the sad truth is, every time, I mean every time, my memory has failed me. I've awakened dozens of times during the last couple of years, with a story outline worthy of a Pulitzer Prize (well, that's an exageration I'll admit) and forgotten it completely by morning.

Why do I do it? Why don't I just keep a notebook on the bed table so I can quickly record my nocturnal thoughts? Why don't I get the thoughts down on paper while they're fresh in my mind? I suspect the answer is the same answer I once gave my parents when, as a young boy, I did something really stupid. I'd give them a big eyed innocent look and say, "Because." While it's hard to admit that I've not grown into an adult after all these years it's still the only answer I have. "Because."

What I should do is get a notepad and pencil out of this desk drawer right now and put it on the bedroom night table right beside my bed. Then, if I have an idea tonight I'll be ready for it. I'll sit up in bed, grab the notepad and get down the bones of the story. Then, I'll never forget another great idea and when the Pulitzer Prize Committee calls I'll be glad I did it.

But....I don't feel like getting up right now. I don't feel like rummaging through this desk drawer to find a pencil. I don't feel like walking into the bedroom and clearing a space among the half-read books stacked on the night table. So....I'll wait a while - maybe later in the day....maybe I'll do it this afternoon.....that is.....if I remember.


Memory is what tells a man that his wife's birthday was yesterday.
Mario Rocco

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Britain's got Talent

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a show called "Britain's got Talent" on UTube. The clip was of a nice woman who was appearing on the show, something like American Idol, I guess, since I don't watch those shows. My friend said to give her a listen. "She's great", he said. I listened. She was a fine singer and wowed the audience and the judges.

But! What caught my attention while I watched the eight minute clip, her beautiful voice notwithstanding, was the smarmy, arrogant attitude of the three judges and the audience. From the time the singer came on stage the three "Beautiful People," apparently the regular judges, along with the audience took one look at her rather plain appearance, heard her strong accent, and began snickering and whispering snide comments about her. To her credit she handled it well, ignoring the arrogant and rude behavior.

Then she began singing and the ugly mood changed, a little too much in my opinion. The camera man began focusing, closeup, on the faces of the judges, on many in the audience, as they dutifully acted amazed - surprised. A couple of them, I kid you not, pretended to be crying. It was a display of insincerity such as I've not seen since Bill Clinton pretended to be in tears over the death of Vince Foster. So, here were three judges, each thinking that they are surely the prettiest of them all, and an audience, obviously there to hoot, holler and denigrate anyone who walked onto that stage, and all now driven to tears by the woman's angelic voice. Like I said; insincerity taken to a new level.

Then, afterward, each of the judges expressed appropriate amazement and took the time to say more insincere things like, "We were all so against you before you sang. This has been such a wake up call for us." My Lord! A wake up call! How old are these people? Back when I was a kid I learned, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," and "Judge not - or you will be judged!" These nasty, small-minded little people, in their arrogance, seemed to relish being judgemental. The funny thing is; I never saw any of the three before. I don't have a clue as to who they are or why they have reason to act so superior, except, I will admit, they were pretty.

But I'll bet they felt great, admitting they were wrong in being against her and in initially judging her by her appearance. A liberal friend, and I don't have many of those, made a rare admission several years ago. He said, "We liberals like to judge people. That way we can feel badly afterward and, you have to understand, feeling badly about ourselves assures us that we are good. In fact, it assures us that we're nicer than most other people, who we actually hate."

My Lord! That's exactly what I watched on "Britain's got Talent" yesterday. The woman certainly had talent and I wish her great success. She deserves it. In fact, she deserved better than she got from those nasty people on that terrible show.

“Many people are arrogant about their own modesty”

Christopher Molineux

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Old Codgers Lunch Bunch

It started a couple months ago. Three of us, two grizzled old coots and a younger guy, still wet behind the ears at 55, got together for a Wednesday lunch at a local fast food place. It was great. We ate, talked, ribbed each other and had a good time overall. In fact, it was so enjoyable we decided to make it a weekly routine. We've met every Wednesday since.

Our conversations run from writing (we're all part of the Conway Creative Writers group,) to our assorted infirmaties and the medications we take to counter them to, of course, politics. I think we're commendably open about everything but politics, not being sure what the other guys think about specific political issues. Turns out though, we're all conservatives at heart and when we cut out the little differences we all want about the same thing (for Nancy Pelosy and Harry Reid to be gone.) So we talk openly, rib each other unmercifully and have a fine old time. So fine, in fact, that last week we met at 11:00am and didn't get out of there until after 3:00pm! Hey! We lost track of the time. I watched the place fill up and empty twice while we sat there, talking and sipping diet coke. The guy that manages the place came by the table a couple times, asking how things were, but I'll bet he was actually saying, "Lord! Would you guys go home! I need the space." So, just to look like paying customers, we ordered another round of sodas, seconds free of course, just so he'd feel better.

In the final analysis, we don't solve any of the world's big problems. I know, I know, we don't solve any of the little ones either. But what we do though is spend some quality time with good friends, talking about things we enjoy and things that we don't enjoy. When you get right down to it, that's really plenty enough.

I don't know how long we'll keep doing it. Things like schedules and health issues can interfere, nothing we can do about that. Still, I hope and pray we find a way to go on with these hours of fellowship. It important to me and I do believe important to the others. In fact, it seems to me that more folks should do something like this - meet with friends or, more important, family members, to just talk about nothing in particular. For me, at least, it's been like therapy. As they say, "It don't get no better than that."

"A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway."

Fr. Jerome Cummings

Monday, April 13, 2009

You meet the nicest people around here

So I was googling around yesterday, just looking for references to the Barham family or maybe thinking I'd get lucky enough to find some old Barham photographs when I came across two Blogger sites that caught my attention. First, the nice woman who does the blogging has the user name of "territorymom" which was enought to catch my attention. Second, in looking for Barham stories and photos I started reading some of her posts and they made me laugh out loud. She's obviously a warm-hearted and very funny lady.

Well, I bookmarked her site and dropped her an email, thanking her for the site and for the Barham photos I had "lifted." She responded and the bottom line is, I've now got another terrific cousin I never knew I had.

territorymom got me to thinking about family and the internet. It simply amazes me how we can now find and communicate so easily with family - great folks we would never have heard of just a short while ago. In fact, just last week I received an email from a woman in England. England! How great is that? She saw my website and wanted to talk Barhams and how we related. Like I said; Amazing!

Anyway, territorymom is terrific and I'll visit her blog often. Here are the links to her two blogs:

Give her a read. She's a very warm, funny lady.

And, by the way, here's another blog by a good friend who just happens to be in our writing group, Conway Creative Writers. She's a lot like territorymom and I like her user name too; livinglifeafter65. Kind of says it all, doesn't it. Anyway, give her a read too. You'll love them both.


If all the nations in the world are in debt,
where did all the money go?

Steven Wright

Sunday, April 12, 2009

So? Are we who we say we are?

I've been doing a lot of genealogical work lately, researching new family members and updating my website. Anyone who does family research knows you usually find someone who to say this?....who would embarrass our more prudish cousins, aunts and uncles. And that's the type of person I found myself going back to several times a day. When you find a hidden gem in your family's past you just have to dig deeper.

The guy I'm talking about is a cousin from the late ninteenth century. What happened was; he ran away from his wife and two children. In fact, he ran out on his life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and ran all the way across the country, after a stop in Idaho to take care of some trivial matters, matters like marrying again (disregarding the pesky little problem of being married already.) After commiting bigamy he headed west to California where, by all accounts, he straightened his life out and became a good family man.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, his first and real wife sued him, first: for all he left behind and, second: for a divorce. Of course he never knew she won the divorce and ownership of their assets. He was obviously too busy staying undercover. Her case was published in several bits in the Washington Post for all the world to see, saying he had "Repeatedly stayed up all night, playing cards and drinking with his friends until early morning." And, she said, "He never gave her any money for food or to run their household."

I know, I know....right now you're asking yourself, "So....what did he do wrong?" Still, understand that in those days those sorts of things were frowned upon (I'M KIDDING!) In any case, on his death bed, he told his wife and his adult children the entire story and how, after all those years, their names were not what they thought. In fact, one of his sons came back to Virginia, met many of his new-found relatives and documented the entire story. Suffice it to say, he never considered changing his name. The false name was quite good enough for the family, thank you very much.

Then, after we discovered the above story, my wife told me about one of her relatives who did, essentially, the same thing, only for far more sinister reasons. It seem as a young man her relative had engaged in a string of armed robberies in a southern city that will remain nameless. I suppose you could chalk it up to youthful exhuberance but things went out of control one day when they tried to rob an unfortunate motorist, a travelling salesman (okay! Salesperson!) who just happened to be sitting at a traffic light in that city. It seems the guy didn't take the two bandits seriously but, unfortunately for him, they were completely serious. They panicked when he refused to hand over his cash so they shot and killed him.

Well, they both ran like very scared rabbits, as well they should, but one (not her relative) was captured and went to prison for life. Odd? Seems he served just seven years of his life sentence, and that after he'd escaped twice! The criminal justice system hasn't changed all that much, has it? The other guy, a married man with several children, moved a half dozen states away and was never caught (apparently his partner in crime didn't rat him out.) He died several years ago, after living a relatively honest live, never telling his family the details. But the wife knew and, on her death bed, she told her children the story, leaving out the part about the murder and his other nefarious activities.

My wife, a tenacious person to say the least, spent a lot of her genealogy time travelling and digging out the real story. She keeps most of the ugly details to herself, saying "to protect the innocent."

So now I find myself sitting here I really Dan Barham???? Or did my father, or his father's father, do something reprehensible, something dastardly, something that would necessitate a name change and a quick departure from some long-lost city? I don't know and what I don't know worries me. What, exactly, did they hide from me all those years ago? Am I who they say I am? There's got to be someone out there with answers to these life-changing questions. If you know "The Real Story" about me and my ancestors please let me know. I must tell you.....after all these years it's a terrible burdon. Can you help?

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten;

Either write things worthy of reading, or do things worthy of writing."

Benjamin Franklin, May 1738