Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Thanks, everyone!

Apparently yesterday’s post on the erstwhile lead ammunition ban touched a nerve with folks. The hit counter clicked away all day, ending with this blog’s second-highest daily hit total ever.

I deeply and sincerely appreciate it.

Back, rested and rarin’ to go!

All good things eventually end, and so ends a very pleasant ten-day vacation. As soon as get a few things squared away here at my desk, I’ll have a couple of posts for you. Thanks for your patience!

Preparing to blast off…

I’ll be away from the office starting today (June 27) and probably won’t be able to post again until Friday, July 2. Have a great week! Get outdoors if you can, especially over the Fourth of July weekend. Take care and be safe.

Snowflakes on a W.Va. mountaintop

Summer snowflake
Summer snowflake

On a brilliant spring morning with temperatures pushing 65 degrees, I found snowflakes on a southern West Virginia mountaintop.

My hosts were showing me the old farmstead they’d transformed into a rehabilitation center for birds of prey, songbirds and waterbirds. As we walked down a wildflower-lined path toward where the old farmhouse and outbuildings once stood, one of my hosts pointed to the ground.

“There was a row of daffodils here,” she said, pointing toward the rusted remnants of an old fence line. “And over here was where the lady of the house had her flower garden. Check these out!”

There, on the edge of a forest clearing, lay a small patch of the most gorgeous flowers I’d ever seen. “They’re called ‘summer snowflakes,'” the host said. “They propagate from bulbs about the size of a scallion. Apparently they used to be a popular ‘heirloom flower,’ not sold in stores, but passed down from one person to another.”

She picked one to show me. Three delicate, bell-shaped white flowers arched gracefully from a bladed central stem. Each white petal sported a pale green spot near its tip. I had her hold the flower while I took the accompanying photo.

I Googled “summer snowflake” expecting to find some more information. Instead I found information about a completely unrelated variety of viburnum bush. Fortunately my host was kind enough to send the scientific name: Leucojum aestivum. Using that, I found this enlightening Wikipedia entry.

Yesterday was a good day. I got to glimpse some uncommon beauty, and I had the privilege of learning something. A fine day, indeed…

Still legal!
Still legal!

For about the past year, I and some of my colleagues in the outdoors-writing business had wondered if we might one day be court-ordered to stop publishing photos of hunting.

The reason? A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against a  man who produced dogfighting videos.

In its ruling, the court broadened a law intended to outlaw the distribution of so-called “crush” videos and applied it to dogfighting and other forms of cruelty toward animals. Crush videos, for those of you mercifully unfamiliar with the term, depict small animals being crushed under women’s bare feet or high heels.

While those of us in the outdoors media detest everything dogfighting videos and crush videos represent, we worried that future courts could interpret the Circuit Court’s decision in a way that would allow scenes of legal and legitimate activities such as hunting to be broadly interpreted as “animal cruelty” and banned under a law originally intended only to outlaw crush videos.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed us ink-stained outdoor wretches to breathe a sigh of relief. An eight-justice majority ruled that the Circuit Court had interpreted the law too broadly. The Supreme Court’s ruling also set up safeguards that should prevent future narrowly focused laws from being too broadly interpreted. The Washington Post has details.

A cautionary tale for the absent-minded

stupidNote to self: If you decide to go fishing, make sure to take along a fishing rod.

Most people would empirically understand this. Apparently I’m not “most people.”

Here’s what happened: Today began about as well as it’s possible to begin. The sun shone, the birds twittered and the redbud trees were in full bloom. Better yet, I had gotten far enough ahead in my newspaper work to consider taking a day to do “field research” — an outdoors writer’s code term for spending a few hours fishing.

I’d learned about a promising but relatively unexplored trout stream roughly an hour’s drive east of Charleston, so I filled my fishing duffel with hip boots, a rod tube, a reel, a vest, a lunch and a camera. I loaded the duffel into the car and headed out for a relaxing day of (I hoped) gathering material for a future column or two.

I arrived at the stream, found a place to park and started rigging up. I donned my hip boots, tucked a sandwich into my vest, grabbed the rod tube, opened it up — and found an empty rod sock inside!

Then it hit me: I had been tinkering around with the rod one evening a couple of months ago when my wife called me away to do some chores. I leaned the rod against the wall of the closet and forgot to put it back into its tube.

It’s kind of tough to fish without a rod, so I drove home, hauled out the notes from an interview I’d conducted, and started writing an article.

So much for a relaxing day afield.

Pray for those who died in the darkness

Mine ExplosionI know this isn’t an outdoors-related post, but right now I’m having a hard time thinking of anything other than the families of the miners killed, injured and missing in yesterday’s coal-mine explosion near Sundial, Raleigh County.

So far the death toll stands at 25, with two hospitalized and four still missing. It could be hours — interminably long, agonizing hours — before family members discover the fate of their loved ones. Rescue crews are trying to clear the mine of methane and carbon monoxide so they can reach the area where any survivors might be sheltered.

As a young man, I worked underground in a mine not terribly far from the one that exploded. My brother, a mine-rescue expert, aided the rescue effort at 2006’s Sago disaster and is helping coordinate shipments of equipment to rescuers at Sundial. These tragedies, when they happen, affect me deeply.

Please pray for the miners , for their families, and for the safety of the rescue workers.

Coming back online

No, not this blog. Me.

For the past week and a half, opportunities to post have been few and far between. I’ve been covering games at the girls’ and boys’ state high-school basketball tournaments and doing my stories for the Sunday paper’s Woods & Waters page. That left only a little time for blogging, and that vanished when my family suffered a minor but time-consuming medical emergency.

The tournaments have ended, and the family situation is better. Regular blog posts coming soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Meeting folks, tying flies — fun stuff!

The Denison, a married-wing classic wet fly
The Denison, a married-wing classic wet fly

This past weekend I had more fun than I’d had in a month of Sundays.

The good folks at Anglers XStream, a fly shop in Parkersburg, asked me and several other fly tiers to demonstrate the techniques we use to tie our favorite patterns.

Some of the guys tied trout flies. Others tied bass or muskie flies. I tied classic, married-wing wet flies.

Married-wing wets like the Ferguson, the Denison and the Parmachene Belle have been out of vogue for 40 or 50 years, but that didn’t seem to deter folks from gathering around to check out the techniques used to tie them.

At the end of nearly six hours’ worth of tying, my back was sore and my voice had just about given out. But wow, I had fun!

As I left, I borrowed a quote from Ed Buck, the legendary trapper from Richwood: “Thanks for the invite, boys. I ain’t had so much fun since the hogs ate my brother!”

Hoping for a cloudy Groundhog Day

phil.jpgNot that I place much stock in rodents’ weather-forecasting ability, but I sure hope it’s cloudy tomorrow morning in Punxsutawney, Pa.

The past six weeks’ worth of weather have been bad enough. Six more weeks of cold nastiness would be almost too much to bear. So here’s at least one man’s fervent wish that Punxsutawney Phil fails to see his shadow.