Just a Cock-Eyed Optimst

The plan was laid out in fine detail during the wee hours of the morning (I never sleep well the night before a fishing trip).  We’d have poles in the water by 10 am, our limit of kokanee in the cooler by 1 or 2 pm at the latest, and the last few hours would find my brother Dave and I bass fishing just offshore on Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon.  It was the perfect plan!

Alas, perfect plan or not, the fish had other ideas.    I was lucky to come home with my 3 kokes that day,  2 of them caught in the last hour of fishing before heading home.  Not even close to the limit.

It wasn’t the first time my fishing expectations exceeded reality, nor will it likely be the last.  When it comes to going out for a day of fishing on a lake or stream,  I’ve discovered that realistic expectations are always left at home.

Ironically, I tend to be a glass-is-half-empty kind of person.  My disposition is not sunny and positive and I don’t look on the bright side of things.  I’m more like my dad, who never looked upon  a thin wisp of cloud in the sky without seeing it as a harbinger of a storm to come.  I expect the worse to happen far more often than the best.  Except when it comes to fishing.

Fishing tends to bring out the optimist in me.  I justify my optimism by pointing to the hours spent prepping my gear and poring over fishing books and You-Tube videos.  See!  This man is reeling in a huge fish every time he puts his line out!   If I just imitate what this woman is doing, I’ll get my limit in half an hour!  I leave the realist in me home every time I go fishing.  It doesn’t matter that I have brought back home my limit of fish only once. Only 1 time!    But this time it will be different!

Tomorrow, my brother Dave and I are heading north to fish for walleye on the mighty Columbia River.  Neither of us has fished for walleye before.  We’ve prepared as best we can–Dave attended a seminar and we’ve both watched the videos and read the appropriate  fishing advice columns. But spring walleye fishing requires more than book (and video) knowledge.  It requires a degree of fishing technique and finesse.  Truthfully, I have mastered neither of those.  Plus, we really don’t know this stretch of the river nor where the walleye hang out.  We are facing a real challenge tomorrow.

Even so, it’s no different than every other fishing adventure I take–trout or kokanee, boat or bank, lake or stream.  I plan to come home with a cooler full of fish.  Guess I’m just a cock-eyed optimist after all.








Wind of Change

Crooked River Ranch is located just east of the Cascade Range.  As such, it is in what’s called a rain shadow.  Moisture-laden winds from the Pacific drop an abundance of rain between the ocean and the western slopes of the Cascades.  There is little leftover for those of us on the other side.  Hence, a rain shadow and the semi-arid climate we enjoy.         What does manage to find itself coming over the mountains is the wind.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say the wind is a constant companion of Central Oregonians, but it is certainly a frequent one.

I find it easier to adapt here to the dry air than the blowing wind.  There are days where the wind seems almost relentless.  Those days are unsettling and I am often restless.   Perhaps  because in my life experience strong winds bring change.  Sometimes that change is welcome.  We lived in Calgary awhile back when I was in junior high.  I still remember one morning heading off to school with my heavy winter coat as it was well below zero outside.  During the day, however, a Chinook wind blew in from the west.  By the time I walked home from school that same day, the temperature had risen up into the 20’s.  The warmth was so welcome I shed my coat to soak it all in.   Now the Santa Ana winds during our time in Southern California were not so welcome.  These are hot and drying winds that often lead to the destructive fires you see on the news periodically.  Wind does indeed bring change, some more welcome than others.

But wind is more than just a meteorological event.   It also holds a variety of deeper meanings.  In numerous cultures around the world, for example,  the wind represents the very breath of life, a force of nature embodying the Spirit of God.  Biblical accounts often associate the presence or manifestation of God with the wind.

Lately, in light of the tumultuous political drama of the past year,  I’ve been pondering the connection between wind and politics.   In fact, the expression “wind of change” has its origin in politics  British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan first used the term when he spoke in South Africa in 1960:  “The wind of change is blowing through the continent.”   He was right.  In the decades that followed, a wind of change brought a new reality to bear in South Africa:  a cultural, economic, political, and social change.

There seems to be a “wind of change” blowing through the politics, culture, economics, and social life of our country today.  These changes are welcomed by some, rejected by others.   Looking up “wind of change” in a thesaurus,  I found interesting synonyms that,  to a degree, express my own feelings about the changes taking place in my country and the world:  foreboding, apprehension, omen, sinking feeling.   Like the wind that blows over the Cascades, I find all this change to be unsettling on so many levels.  For the foreseeable future, however, it seems that change will be our constant companion.

During the course of my move out west, I drove across the country a number of times.  The prairies have long been known for their relentless winds.  Farmers often planted trees at the edge of their fields in an attempt to resist the force of those winds.  Perhaps we can use our own “wind breaks” to handle the winds of change that blow in our personal and civic life.  It means  planting deep roots in the things that matter most: faith, family, community, nature, life. Plant those roots deep, for the winds are coming, and as Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan so aptly wrote, “the times they are a-changin'”


Didn’t take long before I have to post my first retraction.  Soon after posting my last reflection  “Life and Death on the High Desert”, my sister Beth visited the High Desert Museum near Bend.  She described our raptor encounter with the naturalist, who set us straight about the identify of our predator.   It was not a Peregrine Falcon, as we thought.  Instead, our Mourning Dove was done in by a Cooper’s Hawk.  It is a common hawk in this area, known for ambushing birds unaware of its presence.  I continue to learn something new every day. 

Life and Death on the High Desert

Crooked River Ranch is an unincorporated community northwest of Redmond, Oregon.  About 5,000 people live here, but spread out over 12,000 acres it has a very rural feel.  One thing I love about living out in the country is the abundance of wildlife.  Mule deer, coyotes, rabbits, birds of every stripe.  I keep my bird and wildlife books near at hand to reference the latest animal sighting.  It’s becoming a hobby of sorts.

Having grown up in the city, I confess to having an idyllic view of wildlife. Perhaps this is due to my childhood diet of animal cartoons and Disney classics.  It was a world in which animals sang, danced, and played, just like people.  It’s no wonder that I often think of wildlife as having human-like thoughts and feelings.

The reality of living among wildlife is not quite as idyllic as the cartoons would have us think.   The other day we heard an enormous crash on the side of our house.  The wind blows often here, so I thought our grill might have blown over.   However, this was a relatively calm morning.  Investigating, I discovered the source of the noise… on the ground,  adjacent to our house.  There was a mass of white and grey feathers clustered near the old juniper tree.  It was an aptly-named Mourning Dove, probably one of the pair that regularly perched on the telephone pole out back and often visited our bird feeder.   As I approached,  I could hear the rustling of another bird as it emerged from nearby branches and flew away. It was not a dove.

The raptor that fell our friendly dove hung around for the rest of the day, perched first in a nearby tree and then on one of our fence posts.  I assumed it was waiting to reclaim its meal.   My sister Beth and I spent  hours trying to figure out just what kind of bird it was.  With binoculars and our aforementioned bird references in hand, we tried to solve the puzzle of size, color, beaks,  feather markings, habitats, and behavior.  I had no idea how many different hawks and falcons call Central Oregon their home.

After considerable deliberation, we settled on the peregrine falcon.   Some experts call the peregrine the world’s fastest bird.  Swooping down from the sky, they strike their prey in mid-air with  clenched talons.   From the sound of the crash on the side of our house, it is a violent and deadly collision.   A stark reminder that life in the wild  can be brutal for some.  A lone dove has been hanging out near our home, since that fatal day .  They say  Mourning Doves mate for life.  Brutal,  indeed.

Life in the human world is not all that different, if you think about it.   It’s a “dog eat dog” world,  after all.   Cancer, terrorism, poverty, famine,  hatred, survival of the fittest.  You need only click on television news or surf the internet to witness this age-old battle between life and death.

When I see the lonely dove looking for its mate, I can’t help but feel sad.  Death can be so cruel.  On the other hand, the “killer” peregrine likely fed its own young with the remains of that dove.  Life and death don’t just exist side by side; they fuel each other.  One cannot exist without the other.

This morning, I saw a pair of Mourning Doves on the telephone pole out back.  Death comes to all of us, it’s true.  But it’s also true that life goes on.

The Bluebird of Happiness

  Spring is just now peeking out over the Cascade volcanoes that dot the landscape outside our front window.  It’s been a long snowy winter here at Crooked River Ranch.  Spring is most welcome.

Back in Tennessee, one of Spring’s earliest arrivals was the robin.  Red-breasted and plucking worms from the green grass.  Here, at least in our yard, the bluebird has made its presence known as our harbinger of Spring.  A few days ago, we observed two bluebirds engaged in an elaborate ritual of frenzied wing-flapping and chest thumping.  Actually, they weren’t literally thumping chests, but they were aggressively charging each other in and out, over and under.  At first, I thought it was 2 mating birds until I spotted a third bird, the female presumably,  on top of a fence post nearby  nonchalantly gazing in the opposite direction, clearly bored.  Meanwhile, the dueling bluebird males continued to vie for her love and affection with impressive feats of derring-do. It was mesmerizing.

According the Birds of Oregon Field Guide  by Stan Tekiela, we were witnessing the courtship of Western Bluebirds, Sialia mexicana.   They eat small fruit, insects, and spiders, for which I’m grateful.  The National Geographic website claims their numbers have declined “substantially” in the last century or so.  Thankfully, we still seem to have quite a few in Crooked River Ranch.

As we watched our feathered friends dance and court, my sister Beth called them bluebirds of happiness.  Yes, that’s right.  Bluebirds do have symbolic meaning. They were important spirit figures in many Native American cultures. of long ago.  Like me, many tribes saw them as symbols of Spring.    The notion that bluebirds were symbols of happiness  originally came from a play written in 1908 by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, The Blue Bird.  It’s the story of two children who go on a magical journey to find the Bluebird of Happiness in order to save their family.  Alas, though they visit many different lands, they return home in failure.  Once home, however, they discover that the precious Bluebird of Happiness was actually their own pet bird.  The lesson they learned is an ancient one:  happiness is not to be found “out there”.  Rather, it is found at home, within ourselves.  I think this truth transcends both time and culture.

After battling it out for a few minutes, our two male bluebirds whirred away quickly, toward some junipers that grew at the edge of our property.  I thought that was the end of that.  In awhile, however, the victor returned and sat perched on the fence next to his love.  Perhaps I presume too much, but I like to think the bluebird pair were happy as they gazed out over the meadow.  As spring arrives here in my new Central Oregon home, I know I am.

Hello and Welcome!

Now that I have retired, there is finally enough time to do what I have long wanted…..write.  Over the years, I’ve written letters, sermons, short reflections,  newspaper columns, and even a new poems.  Blogging is a new platform for me, and not as easy as it sounds.  But I find myself looking forward to the adventure.   My goal is to write a new entry at least once a month,  but since I’m retired that won’t be a hard and fast rule.  We recently relocated to Central Oregon in order to be close to family and nature.   It is a treasure trove of ideas for reflecting on the connection between life and nature.  Thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts and ideas.  Hope you enjoy them!