A long walk is always worth writing about

I was just finishing my customary morning coffee on the front stoop Thursday when I saw a red flash dash through the air in front of my house. It was a bird, of course. And unlike that blue jay that crapped right in front of me last week, it had some shame. It likely held it until I wasn’t looking.

To use the scientific name (and make myself seem smarter), it was a Cardinalis cardinalis, more commonly known as the northern cardinal.

The cardinal is hardly unique to where I live in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. In fact, it’s quite common across a wide swath of North America. I only mention it here because the sight of it reminded me to write this post.

If you don’t see why a bird as common as a cardinal would prompt me to open my laptop add up these three facts:

(1) The cardinal is the state bird of West Virginia.

(2) West Virginia celebrated its 154th birthday on Tuesday.

(3) We marked the holiday – West Virginia Day – by going for a hike.

A long walk is always worth writing about.

When I rolled out of bed Tuesday morning, I suggested to my wife that instead of spending a lazy morning dodging bird doo-doo on the front stoop, we should celebrate statehood by going for a hike.

Although I suspect she was secretly disappointed about missing a chance to witness firsthand my shitty relationship with birds, she enthusiastically agreed to hit the trail. My wife is always up for a physical challenge, so I suggested we hike Maryland Heights.

Hiking the Heights may seem like an odd thing to do on West Virginia’s birthday. After all, the mountain is in Maryland. But I would argue that Maryland Heights might as well be a part of my home state, especially on June 20th – West Virginia Day.

Maryland Heights towers over historic Harpers Ferry, the West Virginia town at the confluence of the storied Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Harpers Ferry was a key stop for Meriwether Lewis as he prepared for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It’s famous for John Brown’s Raid and it has links to the present day NAACP through the now defunct Storer College. Storer was a historically black school. Frederick Douglass once served as a trustee.

It goes without saying that Harpers Ferry is steeped in Civil War history and as the highest point above the town, Maryland Heights played a key military role. Soldiers like to control the high ground, the better to lob cannonballs down on helpless enemies below.

On the day we hiked the Heights, it seemed to me that West Virginians were storming the mountain. More than once, I heard fellow hikers greet each other with a jaunty “Happy West Virginia Day.” One woman we saw wore a T-shirt with the state’s venerable “Wild, Wonderful” slogan on it. The man hiking with her wore a shirt emblazoned with a giant “304.” “304” is shorthand for West Virginia. It was the state’s only area code until 2009, when we were forced by whoever governs these things to begin using another one as well. I won’t say what the other area code is here. I will never get used to anything other than “304.”

As we were coming down off the mountain, my wife ran into a friend who was hiking with her son. They apparently hauled a state flag up to the overlook to snap a picture with it there.

To use what seems to be a favorite word of one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, the overlook offers a “splendid” view of Harpers Ferry. It makes struggling up the Heights worth it, not to mention that it’s a good place to rest and catch your breath.

All in all, it was, as they say, a good day to be a mountaineer, even if we spent part of it in Maryland.

Only one thing marred our hike. The trailhead could be marked more clearly. Even though we had hiked the mountain with our kids once before, we missed it this time around. I grew frustrated with our failure and got petulant about it. So much so, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my wife attempted to persuade a bird to poop on my head.

In any case, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as we made our way up the steep trail burned away any lingering hard feelings.

However, I remain somewhat anxious about bird shit.

A long walk is always worth writing about

The good news

I had to forgo my usual “morning off from work” routine today. Instead of stepping outside to enjoy a cup of coffee only to have it ruined by a Blue Jay crapping on my front stoop, I had to show up at the hospital first thing. I had an appointment. The nurse there wanted to ask me a whole slew of questions in preparation for the upper endoscopy I’m scheduled to undergo next week.

The procedure is commonly known as a “scope.” My doctor wants to thread a flexible tube down my throat so he can examine my guts with a tiny camera. Personally, I think it’s one of the rewards married men of a certain age get for putting up with their teenage kids. Another is a colonoscopy.

Today’s question-and-answer session seemed mostly to be about uncovering any problems that might complicate next week’s shindig. The nurse asked about my medical history, whether I’m allergic to anything and if I’ve ever had any problems with anesthesia. She had a long list and it took some time to get through it all. Then she took my blood pressure and had me step ON THE SCALE.

I’m generally not that self-conscious about my weight, but I have been making an effort to shed a few pounds lately. I’ve been watching what I eat, walking our big dog Rodney more often, and making it a point to trudge up and down several flights of steps once an hour while at work. I could do more, but it’s a start and it seems to be paying off.

To my delight, the hospital scale informed me that I’ve lost some nine pounds. I am now under 200lbs for the first time in more years than I care to acknowledge here.

When I left the hospital, I texted my wife the news. She replied with an encouraging “Yeah!” And then immediately followed up with a request that I take her car in for a state inspection. She had been asking for the same favor for several days. Each time, I somehow wormed my way out of giving her an answer. This time, she sweetly said it would be “so helpful” if I took care of it for her.

Because my weight loss had put me in such a good mood, I happily (and finally) gave her a straight answer. Only later, while I was waiting for her car to be inspected at the shop, did I figure out what she had done. She waited for the perfect opportunity, pounced and got me to agree to do something neither of us relishes.

My wife is cunning that way.

I would try to get her back and trick her into undergoing the scope next week, but (a)she’s too smart for that, and (b) my doctor would likely notice something amiss.

And if he didn’t? Well, that’s a whole other post.

The good news

A morning off from work

If there is a time of day that is consistently more peaceful than any other, it is the morning. Everything seems more optimistic as our neighborhood gets going.

I had the morning off from work today, so I took the opportunity to brew some coffee and settle myself on our front stoop to watch as the world around me woke from its slumber. A couple of our neighbors walked by on their morning constitutionals. The kid next door dashed to his car, started it up and drove away. The birds happily chirped and the dew glistened on the weeds in our yard.

The weeds. It briefly crossed my mind that I should probably make my wife happy and do something about them. I took a sip of coffee from the mug in my hand and dismissed that chore as something best left for another day. My thoughts then turned to our son.

The kid doesn’t start classes again at West Virginia University until the fall semester, but I took him back to Morgantown last week. He’s back months early because the new wallet I wrote about the last time I posted here made him go. The lease he signed on the house we moved him into started June 1st. My wallet strenuously objected to shelling out rent money while he lived in our basement for the summer. Besides, he’s got a job in Morgantown slinging deli sandwiches for hungry, lunchtime customers. He can make his own money there instead of relying on hand-outs from me if he remained home.

I suspect the days of our son sleeping deep into the afternoon and then wandering around our house in his boxer shorts looking for a snack at all hours are over. His roommates will have to put up with that now. His life is with them – in Morgantown – not here at home in Martinsburg. I suppose that’s as it should be, but I’m still coming to terms with his absence.

As I was ruminating about our son and the “Circle of Life,” I heard something rattling above my head. I looked up to see that a Blue Jay had alighted on the gutter that runs the length of our house. I watched as it skipped along for a second and then it made a short hop over to the Bradford Pear tree that stands in the front yard several feet from our dining room window.

It must be wonderful to be a bird in the morning. They seem so cheery as the sun comes up. But then that Blue Jay took a dump right in front of me and flew off.

The spell was broken.

I tossed the dregs of my coffee into the yard and went back inside the house.

I’m still trying to figure out if that bird was trying to send me a message about the “Circle of Life” and how shitty it can be.

A morning off from work

Helpful gift suggestions for Father’s Day

I hate to limit your options, especially this close to Father’s Day, but if you’re thinking about getting me a wallet, you should probably think again.

I bought one this week.

I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t wait until June 18th. My old wallet was falling apart.

Not completely, mind you. The magnetic clip that secures paper bills worked just fine.

But is keeping a wad of cash on hand really necessary anymore? With bank cards the norm, who carries a whole lot of actual dollar bills these days?

And since we’re on the subject of folding bills into wallets, when is the last time you heard someone refer to a wallet as a “billfold?” I haven’t heard anyone use the term since I was a kid, when my mother used it from time to time.

There seems to be only a few reasons to walk around with real, honest-to-goodness dollar bills, anymore. I only carry money when I need to pay say – my barber. The barber shop I frequent remains a cash-only business, so I usually end up going to an ATM and withdrawing only what I need to pay for a haircut. If I think about it, I MIGHT get a little extra for when the kids come calling for a hand out, but that’s about it.

Anyway, I didn’t buy a new wallet because I was worried about securing paper money. I was worried about losing the plastic cards that have largely replaced bills. The stitching that held my old wallet together was unraveling. And, the see-through sleeve that holds my driver’s license wasn’t really a sleeve anymore. I nearly lost my license several times because it kept slipping out.

So yea, since I couldn’t trust my wallet to be a proper wallet anymore, I bought a new one.

But don’t despair about finding a Father’s Day gift for me. There are plenty of other good ideas.

Just don’t get me a new tie. I haven’t worn one on a regular basis since I stopped reporting on West Virginia state government and took what is ostensibly a desk job at NPR in Washington, D.C.

A new fishing lure or two would be nice. But I’ve all but given up on hooking fish. I’m a terrible fisherman.

You could get me a wrist watch. But I don’t really need one because my smartphone is perfectly capable of telling me the time.

A new case to protect my smartphone would be cool. But I’m thinking of upgrading, so it’s anybody’s guess if what you buy me now would fit a newer model later.

Socks are always welcome. But when I bought my new wallet I also sprung for some socks. So, maybe not.

Same thing with shaving gear. Don’t need a new razor. I’m partial to facial hair.

Come to think of it, a beard care kit would be super, except my wife bought me one a month or two ago during a silent auction fundraiser for a local do-gooder group.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for one day.

Hope this handy list helps!

And don’t forget, Father’s Day this year is Sunday, June 18th!

Helpful gift suggestions for Father’s Day

The Poke Pressure is ON

I would love to announce in BIG BOLD LETTERS that I’ve been victorious since the last time I posted here, that my prowess with a rod and reel has improved so much that fish seem to happily offer themselves up wherever I may cast a line.

But I can’t because (a) fish are not that malleable and (b) I haven’t been fishing lately.

To be completely candid, I haven’t made fishing a priority despite making a big deal about my goal for this spring – to at least be able to say that it is indeed within the realm of possibility for me to catch a fish every now and again.

That’s not to say I don’t THINK about going fishing.

I do.

Just last week, I thought a lot about catching fish. My wife was out of town, meeting up with some old college friends. They spent a few days revisiting the good times on their old campus (in Ohio of all places, but that’s another story). Her absence presented a perfect opportunity to shirk household chores, stand uselessly by the water and get tangled up in my line.

But I didn’t take the opportunity.

Instead, the new rod and reel I bought early last month as a birthday present to myself remains a virgin. And at this rate, it’s likely to stay that way. Currently, it occupies a lonely space in a dark corner of my garage. At least it’s untroubled by the thought of being mishandled by an incompetent.

I could retrieve my pole and go fishing today. It’s my usual day off from work and the sun just came out following this morning’s soaking rain in which I made the mistake of wearing inadequate footwear – my Crocs.

My wife is not pleased that I still insist on wearing Crocs, and to be honest, I wasn’t pleased to be wearing them this morning. My white ankle socks got soaked.

You might ask, “Your feet are already wet, so why not fish?”

I agree that a little more water isn’t going to hurt them, except that I’ve already changed into dry socks. Besides, today is the final day of Pokemon Go’s “Adventure Week”.

The past several days have been a boon to my gameplay. Thanks to more easily acquired candy for rock-type Pokemon, I now have a formidable Golem in my Pokedex. And the Rhydon I evolved earlier this week is one of the strongest in my line-up.

But Steelix still eludes me.

I’ve coveted Steelix ever since the game’s developer, Niantic, changed the smartphone loading screen to show one rearing up from the earth.

To ensure I get one before time runs out on “Adventure Week” this afternoon, I need to get out and play Pokemon Go.

The pressure is on. In a matter of hours, gameplay will return to normal.

But even if I don’t reel in a Steelix today, I know that eventually I will – which is more than I can say about my prospects for catching a fish.

The Poke Pressure is ON

The morning chirp

Woke up this morning to the birds outside my open bedroom window.

They were happily carrying on quite a conversation.

I don’t speak bird, but I gleaned this much from all their avian chirping: their enthusiasm for the day ahead.

It was infectious.

Their joy almost motivated me to throw my pole in the car and set out for the fishing hole I scouted yesterday.

I settled for a cup of coffee on our front stoop.

I’m terrible at catching fish.

Already proved it once this week.

No use ruining an otherwise peaceful morning by getting fired up about the prospect of reeling in something other than a waterlogged stick.

 

The morning chirp

Birthday fishing fail

How is it that the kids on YouTube make hooking fish look so easy?

I watched several of their videos Monday morning as I was getting my gear together for my birthday fishing excursion.

After watching them pull fish after fish out of the water, I was certain I would finally get the angling monkey off my back, that I would be able to tell my friends that I caught a birthday fish or two and show my wife that her husband is not a complete incompetent.

I remain, however, true to form.

The first bonehead thing I did when I arrived at the public lake about 45 minutes from my house explains why I decided to keep a spare pole handy. After picking what looked like a nice spot to set up shop, I tangled the line in the new rod and reel I bought last week as a birthday present to myself.

I grew so frustrated trying to fix it, that I eventually banished it to the trunk of my car and fetched the spare from where I left it the last time I failed at fishing – on the ledge in my car’s back window.

I then promptly moved on to the next setback – losing one of my new jigs.

I bid it goodbye not long after I actually started fishing. On one of my first casts, the jig I bought just that morning snapped off the end of my line, went sailing over the water in a high arc, and landed in the lake with a plop.

The sound of it hitting the water startled me. And as I watched each succeeding ripple form on the lake’s surface as the jig sank to the bottom, I figured out what went so terribly wrong. I forgot to release my line by opening the bail on my spinning reel.

Lesson learned?

Not immediately. I lost another new jig in similar fashion.

The next couple of hours I spent lakeside proved disappointingly uneventful. While I eventually got my act together enough to at least throw a line into the water without losing my lure, the fish weren’t buying me as a serious angler. It was as if they had taken one look at me, chuckled to themselves, and then decided it would be too embarrassing to end up my hook.

In the end, only a few tiny salamanders in the shallows at my feet showed any interest in what I was offering. One even started to crawl up my line when I left it dangling in front of them, but then thought better of it and went on its way.

The hard truth is, I would have been better off booting up Pokémon Go on my phone. At least then, I could have looked forward to the satisfaction of catching something, even if Pokémon are just cartoon characters in a video game.

But then, catching a Magikarp on my phone isn’t quite the same as the reality of pulling a big, fat, largemouth bass out of the water.

For that, I need a rod and reel.

If only I could use a Poke ball.

Birthday fishing fail