Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Urban Bobcat

My interest in the bobcat (Lynx rufus) began in graduate school when I was taking a course in Mammalogy.  One of the requirements for graduate students taking the class was to conduct a field research project on some aspect of mammal biology.  Although my principal interest was memorizing the location of every freckle on the mammary system of a redhead I was married to at the time, ultimately I studied the food habits of a colony of beavers living along the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River that ran through campus.  Fellow graduate student Wayne Norling chose to attempt a population estimate of bobcats in his natal Burnett County, Wisconsin.  Having grown up in northern Wisconsin I knew that there were bobcats out there somewhere however despite lots of time spent tromping though the forests of northern Wisconsin studying animal tracks I had never even seen the foot print of a bobcat.  Wayne had seen them in Burnett County and his research project revealed that there were more than just a few hanging out in those primordial forests.  However you couldn't prove it by me.

The first bobcat I ever saw in the wild was an adult that crossed the road in front of me just east of Carmel, Monterrey County, California, on October 29, 1980.  It made a quick appearance and then like a ghost it disappeared.  My second bobcat was also an adult and this one was stalking a flock of Gambel's Quail  in riparian forest along the San Pedro River east of Sierra Vista, Arizona in May 1998.  I obviously wan't seeing bobcats very often.

Those were the only bobcats I had seen in the wild until I moved to Florida in March 2008. In the intervening five years I've seen probably 20 of these magnificent cats and just like the first two I saw, all of these Florida bobcats were in wild areas like the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard County or mangrove forests on the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Collier County.  That statement remained truthful until yesterday afternoon when I saw one in heavily urbanized Manatee County within spitting distance of Interstate 75 and adjacent to a very busy shopping mall.  The location of the sighting in relation to the freeway and other development is shown in this satellite image from Google Earth.

I was returning from a movie at the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas and following Cooper Creek Parkway home.  As I drove past BJ's Wholesale Store an adult bobcat ambled out of the shrubby vegetation adjacent to the freeway and darted across the road in front of me.  My first thought was that it was a raccoon but it quickly dawned on me that 1) it was too tall and 2) it was spotted and 3) it didn't have a long, ringed, bushy tail.  Then it sunk in - a bobcat.

Bobcat's are refreshingly common in Florida and according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission they are fairly well adapted to urban and suburban settings. That's encouraging given the burgeoning human population in Florida and its attendant and rampant urbanization.  Hal Kantrud, my old office partner at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in North Dakota once said that the key to wildlife biology is the concept of "adapt or die."  Bobcats seem to have taken Hal's words to heart.

Although my thoughts of bobcats will probably always revolve around images in my head of snowshoeing up to a bobcat as it dines on a recently captured rabbit in a northern Wisconsin forest, I will remain happy to see one in my urbanized environment that is filled with nutcase drivers from Ohio every winter.  I just hope they dont run over any bobcats.  I'll keep an eye out for them just in case.

Louie Gay - The Best Baseball Coach I Ever Had

January 16, 2013

Louie Gay
Sun City West, Arizona  85375

Dear Louie:

The Cameron Comets played the Prairie Farm Panthers in Prairie Farm in mid-April 1966.  It was probably our first game of the year and it was my first time starting as catcher in high school – as a freshman no less.  You were hitting balls to the infield to warm them up and I was standing next to you occasionally throwing balls down to second base.  You told me to make sure that each time I threw to second that I throw the ball wildly.  I didn’t understand why but I did so.  Later in the game, the first two Prairie Farm hitters to make it to first base were instantly thrown out trying to steal second base.  They thought my arm was poor.  We showed them differently!  You taught me how to use ruse to my advantage that day.

The other thing you did that day was take me aside before the first pitch and tell me “I don’t care what you say to the batter I want you to make an ass out of him.”  That was sort of like a license to fly for me and my fervent love for heckling baseball players was born.  You taught me two good lessons that day.

Enclosed for your reading enjoyment (I hope!) is my latest book (I’ve now published six books – this is the first novel and the only one about baseball) titled “Minor League Heckler.”   It can trace its roots back to that day almost 47 years ago when you taught me how to heckle.  This book is a fictionalization of the final year of the Sarasota Reds, a Class A (High) minor league team in the Cincinnati Reds organization.  The Reds were made up of some great players but things just never worked for them.  I had recently retired and moved to Sarasota and started going to Reds games.  The experience generated a love for minor league baseball and it brought back all of those things you taught me about heckling the opponent.  Thinking about the Reds lousy season I tried to rationalize why they did so poorly. One thing led to another and eventually the reason came out.  It’s the same reason everyone uses to figure out baseball.  It was the umpires fault.

In a game the Sarasota Reds played against the St. Lucie Mets (Class A for the New York Mets) in August 2009 I got on the case of a Dominican kid really badly and assisted him with two strike outs in his first two at bats.  By the seventh inning he was mine!  With the count 2 and 2 the Reds pitcher let loose with a screaming fastball and as he did I said to this Dominican kid in his native Spanish “Tiene le pene del nino” (You have the penis of a small boy).  This obviously upset him no end and as he swung and missed he let the bat go at the end of the swing and it flew straight at me.  Luckily the netting behind home plate held and the bat bounced off it without doing any damage.  (The Reds won that game by the way).

The following afternoon while having lunch with a friend I told him the story of the flying bat.  My friend said “You know, Craig, one of these days there is going to be a story about you on ESPN Sports Center.  They are going to tell about some minor league team that comes off the field and into the stands and beats the shit out of you and they are going to call the story “Minor League Heckler.”   I pedaled my bicycle home from lunch that day and had the first chapter of this book written in my head before I got to my computer.  I never could have done it without you teaching me how to be a world class heckler!  This story is fictionalized (but awfully damned close to the facts) at the end of the first chapter of the book.

I was talking recently with Keith Popko and your name was brought up.  We thought it would be great if I could get you a copy of the book when it came out.  Keith contacted Tom Hagen who provided your mailing address and Keith then sent it to me.

Minor League Heckler was released on December 31, 2012, and my author copies arrived in the mail today. I wanted you to have the first copy.  I hope you enjoy reading it and I hope you enjoy the inscription on the title page.

The good news here is that the Baltimore Orioles do spring training in Sarasota and pitchers and catchers report on February 12. So, I have less than a month to go before I can watch a real sport again!

I hope all is well for you in retirement out in the desert.

And, again, thanks for teaching me so much so long ago.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To Zane Chaffee - The World's Finest Literature Professor

Through the help of the Alumni Relations Director at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls I was able to track down Zane Chaffee the literature professor who turned this northern Wisconsin farm boy into someone who could not only crave literature but also create it himself.  My recent book "Continental Drifting" is dedicated to Zane Chaffee.  The letter I wrote to him transmitting the book follows:

Professor Zane Chaffee
Grantsburg, Wisconsin  54840

Dear Zane,

I was able to track you down through the UW River Falls Alumni Relations Director.  Several years ago I wrote to you when I couldn’t remember the name of a couple of stories you had us read in English 252 (Literature – Comedy) during winter quarter of the 1970-1971 school year.  One was a story titled “The Richest Man in Bogota” and the other was Tolstoy’s excellent story “How Much Land Does a Man Need.”  I wanted to read the former because I was about to embark on a trip to Bogota.  I wanted to re-read the latter because that story had a huge influence on me in my 31 year career as a wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  You can’t count how many times I asked a developer “just how damned much land do you people need anyway?”  I thought of you and that Tolstoy story each time I asked that question!

Also last time I contacted you I told you about my first travel book (fourth published book in total) “Somewhere South of Miami” that was published in 2002.  It was a mostly-true tale about how I used travel in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico to heal from my divorce from my former wife Ruth James, daughter of former UW-RF wrestling coach Byron James.

I have continued my writing now that I am retired and recently had two new books come out in print (there is a third book about travel in South Africa that is in press).  One of those new books, “Continental Drifting” is dedicated to you.  The dedication reads To Zane Chaffee – The world’s finest literature professor.”  I made that factual statement because in my book you are.  Your Mark Twain-like wit and humor converted this northern Wisconsin farm boy (I’m from Barron County originally) from someone who was mainly content reading the labels on sacks of cattle feed into someone who craved literature.  You never made us read a book. You made us want to read a book!  You never bored us with dissecting words and word phrases and then making futile attempts at uncovering the author’s hidden meaning (there usually are no hidden meanings). Instead you helped us understand how words in print made us feel and you helped us understand our feelings.

Chapter 6 of “Continental Drifting” is titled “Where Papa Used to Fight.”  It’s a story about my time on the Bahamian island of Bimini – the place where Hemingway lived when he penned his book “Islands in the Stream.”  Beginning on book page 121 through page 124 I tell a story about you and how you influenced me so much.  I also recount the startlingly hilarious way that you entered the classroom on the first day of class for English 252 more than 40 years ago.

The last time I saw you in person was September 3, 1977, the day after my oldest daughter Jennifer was born.  I stopped at Swede’s Standard station (across the street from May and Johnson Halls) to tell Swede that Jennifer had arrived.  You were there picking up your car from being serviced.  Swede asked me about Jennifer and asked “Does she look like you or does she look like Ruth?” I thought about it a second and said “You know, Swede, she’s just this little pink wrinkled thing.”  You burst into laughter and said “Craig, you’re the first father I’ve ever heard tell the truth about his newborn child.”  You even made me laugh when I wasn’t taking a literature class from you.

When I sent you a copy of “Somewhere South of Miami” you wrote and said you looked forward to reading my “magic.” If I was successful you may also find magic in “Continental Drifting.

I hope all is well with you and yours.  Living in Grantsburg, you are just down the road from the Crex Meadows Wildlife Management Area.  It was one of the natural and wild areas that had a profound influence on me and helped shape the environmental ethic that I took with me throughout my career.  I hope you will think of me the next time you are out there looking at birds.

I don’t get back to Wisconsin very much any longer but in late June I will be in that state to our west that begins with an M and has a professional football team with purple jerseys (I refuse to utter that state’s name – it’s a Badger thing).  My oldest daughter (Jennifer mentioned above) will be getting married at my former wife’s home north of Brainerd and that isn’t too far from Grantsburg.  I just might have to come over to Grantsburg and take you out for a beer or two so I can once again hear you tell stories like those that made me want to read and tell stories like you did and to eventually turn my own stories into books.

Stay well, and thanks for being such a huge and enduring influence on me and my life. I guess that’s the true test of a great teacher, isn’t it?

cc:        Dan McGinty
            Director of Alumni Relations
            University of Wisconsin – River Falls (with copy of the book for the University Archives)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Letter to My Congressman on Gun Violence

It is profoundly disheartening to accept the fact that I am represented in the United States House of Representatives by Vern Buchanan .  Vern holds the distinction of being the 8th richest member of the United States Congress (House and Senate combined).  When Vern isn't busy dodging ethics investigations (he's a member of the Republic Party- of course he has ethics issues) he is out campaigning for re-election with the slogan "Working For You."  Well, it’s about time Vern went to work for me and not the 1 percent with whom he is in bed.

Recently President Obama encouraged the American public to write to their elected representatives and ask them bluntly for their opinion on controlling gun violence in America.  Barack also said to ask them why they are not supportive of regulations on gun violence.  I have done that in this letter that was just put in the mail box to old Vern (By the way, I've been told that when you email Vern he only tallies the number of emails and pays no attention to the content.  If you want to get his attention you need to write a hard copy letter).

Below is my letter.  Any bets on how quickly it falls on deaf ears?

Craig Faanes
University Park Florida 34201
January 20, 2013

Congressman Vern Buchanan
2104 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Re:  Gun Violence

Dear Vern

I am thoroughly fed up with the inability of the Republic Party membership in Congress to take any reasonable action to curb gun violence in the country.  Wasn’t the murder of those children in Connecticut enough to wake you up or are the campaign contributions you receive from the gun industry and the National Rifle Association more important?

I am writing to ask you bluntly - Will you support legislation to ban the sale and possession of assault rifles in the United States?  Yes or no.  If not, why not?

Secondly, Will you support legislation to limit the number of bullets that a gun can hold in its clip or magazine to something less than 10 bullets?  Yes or no.  If not, why not.

Third, Will you support legislation requiring mandatory background checks on all individuals intent on purchasing a gun (of any kind) thereby eliminating the internet and gun show loopholes.  Yes or no.  If not, why not?

I am a retired US government employee who was raised on hunting.  I was an avid duck hunter.  Since 1935 US Federal regulations have restricted duck hunters to having no more than two shotgun shells in the magazine of their gun on top of the single shell in the chamber.  I have not heard one duck or goose hunter in America claim that his or her 2nd Amendment rights have been infringed because of that law regulating how many shells they can carry at once.  If duck and goose hunters don’t have an issue why should anyone else?  Especially with a law that has been in place for 78 years.

Also as a former hunter I can assure you beyond the wildest claim of the National Rifle Association that I never once needed an assault rifle to hunt deer or squirrels or any other animal.  Assault rifles are for the use of the military not for the use of every drug dealer at the corner of 14th and K in Washington DC, and certainly not for the use of every nutcase who wants to shoot 20 children in an elementary school let alone former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Vern, every year your campaign slogan is “Working for You.”  Well prove it Vern.  Prove to me that you are working for me and not the 1 percent who financially support your campaign every two years.  This person whom you allegedly work for wants you to put aside partisan name calling and voodoo witch hunts and do what’s right for the country.  Nobody has said a word about banning guns or confiscating them.  We want action to limit the ability of nutcases to get a gun and then their ability to shoot 100 people at a setting with them.  How can that be un-American?

Lastly, Vern, I would like you to answer my questions directly.  I do not want you to send me a form reply that some LA or an Intern wrote as a mass reply.  I want to know if you will or will not stand up for the rest of us for a change.