THE 2024-2025 SEASON LOG

January 8, 2024: The Annual Bird Shoot

As advertised, I'm beginning this season's log with my yearly "opener," a bird shoot at Holland Game Preserve in Glade Hill, Virginia. You can see this venue if you click here in a video from—of all places—the local Public Broadcasting Station, WBRA. My friend Phil and I have been going there for some years: this is now an annual ritual. We left Blacksburg in time to be there about 9:00 AM (it's a bit over an hour and a half away). John Holland met us, then set the birds out. John has well-trained dogs and I wish I were as good at shooting the birds as the dogs are at finding them.

We bought 4 pheasant and 12 quail. I shoot pheasant because they're big enough that I can hit one now and then. Phil shoots quail, because he likes the flavor. I have nothing against quail but they're so small I almost always miss them.

Bottom line: I got 3 of my 4 birds, Phil got all his quail and a "bonus" quail left over from the previous day's shoot by another group.

I made a spectacular hit on that cock pheasant, and on one of the hens. I even did manage to hit a quail: I'm not sure which of us was more surprised.

I had some trouble with misfires in my otherwise-reliable Stevens 311 12 gauge double but had brought a single-shot 20 gauge as backup and finished the day with that. I need to get that gun to a smith, it's given me some issues before and it has to be sorted out.

Beautiful day, good times all around. The weather tomorrow will be lousy, we timed it just right.

January 10, 2024: The Stevens 311 Goes To A Gunsmith

I had to go issue a DWR deer kill permit so I took the opportunity to take my misfiring shotgun to a gunsmith. Gunsmiths are thin on the ground around here. The Sportsman's Warehouse in Roanoke tried to "repair" the gun two seasons ago; it was sent off to Utah, and they had it for six months finally returning it un-fixed and charging me a ridiculous amount. I was able to get a refund; I then took it to a very good gunsmith in Rocky Mount, a man who works on very high-dollar shotguns like Perazzis and Fabris. He fixed it, though he was pretty dismissive of it as "...not a very good gun..." Maybe it isn't, but there have been more Stevens 311's made than any other double barrel shotgun in the world, most likely. His fee was very modest.

When it started to misfire two days ago I wanted it put right, but as I say, finding a gunsmith locally is a real challenge. There was an excellent one in Fairlawn but he is now 90 years old and retired. Even if he were still working I'd hesitate to use him because there is a real chance he might die before I got the gun back.

I bought that shotgun in Washington DC in 1981; it may well have been the last firearm legally sold in DC under the old bad law that was struck down in the Heller decision. I have far more money in it than it's worth, to be honest, but it's been re-stocked to fit me, I've had choke tubes put in, I've used it for 42 years, it's taken a lot of game. In short, it's an old and valued friend. I want it to be in complete working condition. I don't want to have to replace it.

Google and Yelp had some names of local gunsmiths, most of whom clearly work mainly on things like AR-15's. The man I took it to is a genial older gentleman who lives in the country and clearly does gunsmithing mainly as a hobby, but given how common Stevens 311's are I suppose just about anyone can work on one. He said he'd take it apart and see what he could find out, then call me. He said he was "...pretty backed up..." which could be taken as either a good or bad sign. After my experience with Sportsman's Warehouse I'm pretty desperate.

January 12, 2024: Never, Ever, Ever, Use Sportsman's Warehouse's So-Called "Gunsmithing" Service

I got a call from the man with whom I'd left my Stevens 311 double. He asked me, "Which barrel did you have the most trouble with?" I told him the right one, and he replied, "Yes, that's what I thought. The firing pins were OK, the screw for the left one was loose, but the hole for the screw on the right side was completely stripped; no thread left."

When I had taken it to Sportsman's Warehouse, they told me they "...completely dismantled it and gave it a thorough cleaning..." but it's pretty obvious that whatever ham-fisted yahoo was given that job buggered it up and damaged the screw seat. See the entries for February to August 2021 for details of this saga.

The man who has it now was concerned that it might not be repairable at all but promised to try. "Maybe I can put some sort of Helicoil in, or possibly Lock-Tite or something."

So I may end up with my shotgun as a safe queen. More or less unusable, at least as anything other than a single-shot. Thanks to trusting it to the incompetents at Sportsman's Warehouse.

I am seriously honked off but there isn't anything to be done about it now.

January 29, 2024: Addendum

The gunsmith called me tonight: he says he believes my shotgun is fixed. I'm hoping he's right! He put in a Helicoil to repair the stripped threads. I'll pick it up in a day or two and see how it's working. I now have far more in that shotgun than it's worth to anyone but me.

March 7, 2024: Lucy Is Gone

My beloved Border Collie, Lucy died on the morning of March 5th, very suddenly, at the age of 14 years and 4 months. She was being treated for a really nasty infected pressure sore on her leg for the past two months; it was getting better, and I'd hoped it would be healed soon, but it wasn't to be.

For some time she had been unable to deal with stairs, so I had been sleeping in the basement with her because she didn't like to be left alone. I had just brought her up for her breakfast about 7:00. She started eating, then fell over on her right side, gasped a couple of times, and was gone in seconds.  We suspect she had a massive stroke.

We're very grateful her death was fast and painless, even though it was shocking to us. It was what we'd wanted for her: an easy death at home.  I had promised her she would not die in a clinic, that I would be with her to the end, and at the end. I'm glad I was able to keep those promises.  We are also glad and relieved that we didn't have to make the painful decision to have her put to sleep. There were times when we thought we'd have to, but she went in her own way at her own time.  I hope we gave her the good life she deserved. I like to think I did everything I could for her, that there was no way I could have predicted what happened.

Her death has torn a huge hole in our lives.  Really, nobody can "own" a dog.  We are privileged enough to borrow them from God for a little while, but we always—always—have to give them back.

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Ecclesiastes III: 19-21


March 12, 2024: Culture

Well, we must be very cultured people, if our last two months of entertainment are anything to go by.

We both enjoy live opera. As it happens the New York Metropolitan Opera has a program in which they live-stream performances into local theaters, even up here in The Boonies for the benefit of us hillbillies. Additionally, the Moss Center, Virginia Tech's performing arts venue, has a yearly season of Culture, including one opera or two, plus other types of performances.

So on January 23rd we attended a Wynton Marsalis concert. Marsalis directs the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. I was naive enough to think that he, as one of the most prominent and important classical music artists in the USA, would include some of his repertoire, but I was wrong. Rather than the fantastic trumpet work he does, the concert was a very raucous and clanging full-charge modern jazz one. It was undoubtedly well done, but it wasn't something I'd have gone to had I known the nature of it. Well, it was Culture. With a capital "J".

On January 31st we went to see "Cirque Mechanics," which I had no real desire to attend, but it wasn't like the Cirque du Soleil performances we've seen. Nowhere near so pretentious; the show was "Zephyr," which I found very funny. It was entirely done in pantomime, and quite enjoyable.

Then on to the opera, with "Carmen" streamed live from the Met. The Met seems to feel that performances in modern dress and with non-traditional staging are de rigeur, and perhaps they're right. "Carmen" was extremely well done, with all of Bizet's music left intact, though the setting was transposed form a Gypsy (whoops, of course I mean "Roma") camp to an arms factory. The title role was sung by a phenomenally talented 27-year-old woman, Aigul Akhmetshina, who is from The Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia, of which I'd never heard (no, I didn't make that name up, it's a real place).

At one point in the performance she was draped over gas pumps berating her lover, but who cared? To be a top Met star at her age is a great achievement; putting her on top of a gas pump for dramatic effect was entirely acceptable. By the way, they were old pumps: the price on them was $1.65 per gallon.

The Moss Center had a Broadway touring company production of "My Fair Lady" which hardly qualifies as Culture (pace, Lerner and Lowe) on Valentine's Day (very appropriate); immediately after that we rented the DVD of the movie version from, I think, 1964 and watched it again.

Then came a ballet: The Jefferson Center in Roanoke had a performance of "Swan Lake" on the 18th. We'd seen that in Russia on a Viking trip. I enjoy classical ballet, and "Swan Lake" is as Classical as ballet gets. The plot—to the extent it has a plot—is more or less incomprehensible, but that's true of nearly all ballets. Mrs Outdoorsman loves dance performances of any kind; "Swan Lake" was right up her alley.

As I say, I like classical ballet, but Modern Dance I can take or leave alone; I prefer to leave it alone. Nevertheless, I went to another Moss Center event, a show by the Mark Morris Dance Group, set to the music of....Burt Bacharach. I swear I'm not making this up. Ten dancers, all of them with a folding chair (don't ask me why) leaping about, waving their arms, and generally Dancing very Modernly. That was an hour and a half out of my rapidly-shortening life that I'll never get back. Well, it could have been real Morris dancing... Soon I'll be attending a performance of "Ballet Trockadero of Monte Carlo"; I'm not entirely sure I'm prepared for that.

Then we had two—count 'em, two—more operas, back to back: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" by a local semi-pro ensemble, Opera Roanoke, also at the Moss Center. The very next day, back to the movie house for "Forza del Destino," an opera I'd never seen or heard because the Met hasn't done it in thirty-plus years. Unlike "The Marriage of Figaro," which is a comedy, "Forza del Destino" is one of those stories in which a lot of people die violently. Opera Roanoke is doing "Amahl and the Night Visitors" but I've seen that three times and nothing would get me to sit through it again.

We have the Met's production of Gounod's "Romeo and Juliette" coming up next week. Then next week it's presenting "La Rondine," another one I've never seen. At this rate I'll be so Cultured I won't be able to walk.

March 13, 2024: Lucy Comes Home

I received a call from the vet clinic this morning that Lucy's ashes were back, and I could come and pick them up. The cremation service provider was the same one used for Tehya three and a half years ago. This company works with clinics in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina; in my opinion they're very sensitive and caring.

Her ashes were returned to me in a little cedarwood box, along with a tuft of her hair and a molded paw print. It's all I have left of her now besides many memories and an enduring regret at her death. I do feel I did my best for her and that there was nothing more that could have been done. I could never have predicted the suddenness of her passing.

What's done is done; I hope she is now at peace. I'm not the least bit religious, but I do feel that if there is an afterlife that's a reward for a virtuous life here, dogs belong there.

March 25, 2024: More Culture

Last Saturday we went to another Met performance: Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette." This was done in 18th Century dress, much closer to the time of Shakespeare's play than the more modern setting of—say—"West Side Story." Very well done, and starring as Juliette the beautiful and gifted soprano Nadine Sierra, seen here about to stab herself. She has a marvelous voice. Everyone knows the story: it doesn't end well for the principal characters.

We have another on tap: La Rondine which I've never seen. A Puccini tragedy—I'm not sure if there are any Puccini operas that aren't tragedies, come to think of it.

Planning A Trip

Since I was about 6 years old it's been my dream to make a transatlantic crossing in an ocean liner. We're now in the final stages of planting such a trip, and almost a month in England between leaving New York and returning. I've been looking forward to this for 70 years. Going to be $$$$! "Britannia" class aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2 isn't exactly steerage but what the hell, I'd go in the cargo hold if that were the only way. New York to Southampton and return: the classic round trip. Below, she is passing under the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. In my youth the great ships moored at piers on the West Side of Manhattan but today they leave from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

April 1, 2024: The Buzz

Mrs Outdoorsman was slaving away in her front garden this afternoon. She came in to tell me, "Bees are swarming!" and so it proved. Thousands of them, whizzing about but seemingly not interested in stinging anyone.

My neighbor and sometime hunting partner is an entomologist and bee specialist: I called him and asked him to come over, which he promptly did. He confirmed that yes, they were swarming and "...looking for a place to settle..." which I sincerely hoped wouldn't be in my house.

He keeps bees but asserted that these weren't from his hives: that they'd come from another neighbor who also has hives, because "I checked my hives yesterday." Honeybee colonies, it seems, are a bit like rural protestant churches: there seems to be a "trigger size" at which a congregation (or a hive) decides to split off another group. It might be over the decision on whether to pay for a new roof on the church or something else, but in time a splinter group goes off and "plants" a new church. Same with bees: the hive grows to the point where "There ain't enough room for all of us!" so some of them fly away to "plant" a new hive, taking a queen with them.

We went over to his house and brought over a spare hive box, which he said would lure the bees in, which is exactly what happened. By the time we got back to my house the swarm had settled into a clump of bushes in my back yard. I asked how many he thought there were: "A typical swarm is about 12,000 bees, this one is a bit bigger, maybe 14,000." Yikes!

He set the hive box down and sure enough, the bees started to explore it, found it to their liking, and started moving in, trooping along the ground to the entrance, a veritable river of bees. Apparently the earliest bees to initiate the exploration leave some sort of scent marking that attracts others, a sort of synergistic situation in that the more bees that explore, the more bees want to come into the hive.

There were quite a few old pieces of wax in the box, which he said would be an additional attraction. Furthermore the incoming bees would renovate the hive and dispose of any wax they didn't want. This is akin to the way a new house-holder removes and replaces "window treatments," I suppose.

An hour or two later all the bees had settled in. Later he came over with his smoker widget, "anaesthetized" them, and took the hive home to add to his collection. He said he'd never seen a swarm so early in the year, it usually is a couple of weeks later than this. So now he has some...ahem..."Free-Bees"!!

April 6, 2024: Someone Else To Do The Gardening

Every year at Virginia Tech there's a "Big Event," a day on which students from various campus organizations go out and do stuff like garden work for local residents. We always have them come and do mulching in Mrs Outdoorsman's gardens and flowerbeds. I'm happy about this for two reasons: 1) it's free, and 2) I don't have to do it.

A few days ago Mrs Outdoorsman placed an order for ten cubic yards of mulch. The technical term for that much is "A shitload of mulch," which a lovely dump truck put onto our driveway. Ten cubic yards makes an impressive pile, believe me. We're equipped with wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, gloves, and all the assorted paraphernalia require to move it from the pile to the gardens. In addition, She always puts out some snacks and water etc. for the volunteers, all of whom are VT undergraduates.

The Big Event in past years has usually sent us a number of girls, not one of who weighed much more than 100 pounds; they were always willing workers and usually got stuff done. This year, however, we had twelve husky lads, all members of The German Club, a fraternal organization. That many boys made short work of the 10 cubic yards of shredded tree bark. In the course of 2 hours they had it all moved and raked. There were in fact so many workers that Mrs Outdoorsman put some of them to work weeding. We ended up with seven, count 'em, seven bags of weeds plus a bunch of junk like old fencing, a couple of defunct garden chairs, a rug that should really have been discarded long ago, and similar items. This was all put out to the curb for the Town's Spring Clean-up event next week.

Those boys worked steadily and they ate steadily. We'd bought two bags of Honey-Crisp apples, with I think 15 in each bag: they ate all of them plus a couple we'd had in the fridge; in addition several granola bars. Then they went off to do some work somewhere else. The best part is one of them said, "The German Club is a service organization: if you need help again just let us know." When my next-door neighbor's massive oak tree inundates our yard with leaves in the Fall, I certainly will!

April 14, 2024: More Culture, More or Less...

Yesterday we went to the Moss Center here at VT, to see The Trockadero Ballet De Monte Carlo. I can take ballet or leave it alone, but this company...well, I'm really unable to describe it adequately. You just have to follow the link and watch them in action, so to speak.

Ballet is pretty silly anyway, but these guys have made a very good living out of spoofing and parodying it. As Mrs Outdoorsman remarked, they really have to be very good at the "real" thing to create a funny version, and I will give them their due, they are, technically, very good. Sort of slapstick comedy in tutus,

The first "ballet" was the second act of Swan Lake. I've seen Swan Lake a couple of times (once in Russia). If Swan Lake has a plot I'm unaware of it: and yes, I have consulted the Oracle of Google and read the plot, but it still makes no sense. But I digress...Tchaikovsky would not have recognized the "Trock" version had they not played his music. Didn't matter: the "Trock" version was played for laughs.

In summary let me say that the show, while entertaining enough, was pretty repetitive. It could easily have been half an hour less and still got the message across, whatever the message might have been. Two and a half hours out of my life that I will never get back.

Getting Closer To Sailing Time

Cunard sent me an e-mail that it's time for us to check in and download our boarding passes for Queen Mary 2. Twenty-one days to sailing across The Pond in the only real ocean liner in the world. The tour guides have been thumbed through to the point of being dog-eared, preparatory to our landing in Southampton and a month of dragging baggage around England. Next year, if I'm still alive, we may take a Viking ocean trip along the coast of North Africa and in the western Mediterranean. My bank balance has to have a year to recover from this little English jaunt first.

April 17, 2024: Mice

We have mice in our garage, thanks to having a pretty fair amount of things to attract them, mainly birdseed, which we buy in obscene quantities. (We have the fattest birds in the Commonwealth.) Perforce, I put out traps. All winter long the traps remained untouched, but in the past week I've caught three or four mice in them. They seem to be very young ones, very small, much smaller than the "winter" mice we've caught in the past when cold drove them indoors. I like mice, of all kinds, even grey house mice (Mus musculus) because they're cute and pretty inoffensive beasties, so really, I hate doing this. They don't come into the house; were it not for the chewed corners of unopened birdseed bags, gnawed "squirrel logs" (what is a squirrel but a huge mouse?) and the tiny droppings, one would hardly know they're there.

But I put out the traps anyway. God knows, I've done a lot of killing in my lifetime, but it seems a bit wrong for me to kill more or less harmless animals who are merely trying to survive by stealing a bit of birdseed. Coaxing them into a break-back trap using a bit of cheese or peanut butter is all too easy. I can't eat them, nor have I a pet snake to whom I could (theoretically) offer them as food, as some people do. It is disrespectful to just toss them away into the garden or in the trash, so I bury them in the mulch in our yard. A mouse has little enough dignity in his life to begin with; a decent burial seems the least I can do for one I've killed.

Addendum: May 22, 2024: Another Mouse

Two days ago I caught another mouse. Unfortunately he wasn't killed. His right front paw was trapped by the bar, and he was still alive. I don't know how long he had been that way, but it had to be ended ASAP. I put a short piece of wood on his head and rapped the end of it smartly with a hammer, crushing his skull. That was an ugly and upsetting thing to do, but it had to be done. I didn't re-set the trap, which I would have done had he been killed outright.

Mrs Outdoorsman no doubt would feel differently, but I'm done with killing mice: they can have all the birdseed they want, so far as I'm concerned.

April 23, 2024: More Culture

Last Saturday we went to the opera again. This time it was La Rondine, a very rarely performed work by Puccini. It's sometimes called an "operetta," though to my mind that term implies the sort of thing Gilbert & Sullivan wrote, not a full-blown production. I'd never seen it—in fact, until the Met's season calendar came out I'd never even heard of it—so I was glad to have a chance to do so.

The story is pretty typical: a beautiful "courtesan" falls in love (more or less instantaneously, as is typical in operas) with a handsome stranger. She then decides her life of ease and comfort with her patron isn't worth pursuing any more, so she runs off with the stranger. Unlike most such plots, in this one she later changes her mind when the money runs out and back she goes to her ex-patron. She justifies this to her lover by arguing that with her reputation she can't marry him, it wouldn't be good for his career. No zanier than most opera plots, but zany enough. Unusually, though, for an opera, nobody dies in this one.

Typical Met production: very lavish sets, huge cast, and plenty of singing. The work was written in 1913; the Met's version is set in the 1920's, close enough. How did I know it was in the 1920's? Because all the women were wearing feathers in their hair and hideous clothes. Nothing says "1920's" like women with feathers and dresses down to their ankles.

Signing Off For A Few Weeks

We leave for England in a week. The frantic stage of pre-trip preparations is winding down, but there is till stuff left to do. So I'm temporarily putting this blog on hold until late June, and will resume posts when I return and recover from my "vacation." I'll have no Internet access while I'm gone. I hope all my loyal readers will miss me!