Saturday, August 24, 2013

Noodling for Channel Cat

If you've never noodled, you've missed out one of those great lost sports -- like going javelina hunting in arroyos, dry washes, and blind canyons with only a .22 pistol. You might live, and even have something you can taxidermy onto your wall, but it's unlikely.

Noodling is a kind of "body-fishing" that you do when you want a fish to eat, but it turns out you don't have anything to fish with but your fist and a mind full of reckless delusions.

You find a muddy, zero-visibility body of water - preferably a pond or a lake, but it could be a slow-moving bend in a river -- then you stick your hand and arm along the bottom of the stream. I guess the fish think you're good eating because they take your arm as though it's bait.

Which fish? Those fish. Those olive-toned, slimy, big-mouthed, spiny-finned catfish. They're "channel cat" and they can be neolithically large.


But, you're hungry. You want a fish to roast over the fire you've managed to get started in a little alcove under the 23rd-street bridge. You're burning boxes you fished out of the dumpster behind the QuikTrip a few blocks away.

Okay. So you use your body as a fishing lure. What's so wrong with that?  Nothing, if you are depressed and hating life. You see, the cats that lurk around in these waters are no kittens. They're "channel cat" -- catfish that can reach 50 - 75 pounds of pure fish muscle, and if you don't think they can't take you to the bottom and keep you down there until you stop flailing about like a fish caught on a hook, then you're just wrong -- dead wrong.

Random question to you: Would you swim in a river that is filled with discharge from a reservoir contaminated with toxic algae and chicken farm run-off? Would you eat fish that had been living in that slimy, turbid, miasmic fluid?

I can tell you in a word what my answer would be. It's a simple NO.

The Arkansas River is not exactly a noodler's paradise. It does, I believe, have channel cat, although I'm not sure how or why, when you consider that most of the fish in the river are only there because they've been swept away with the water released from reservoirs upstream. For a fish, I suppose it's the ichthyologic equivalent of the end of days - but with a rather depressing twist. You assume you've been raptured up, carried up to the heavens, and not "left behind" with those who failed to find salvation in time, but to your dismay, your fishy confreres you thought were squealing "rapture" were actually saying "rupture" -- and then you found yourself in dark, thick straits, churning through a slim "swim-space" under a dam.

Suffice it to say, you, as a fish, *hated* it, and you would warn every other fish against this horrid dark night of the soul, but you have no way to communicate back to your buddies, lazing about, bloated on algae and chicken offal, back at the reservoir "ranch" upstream.


The Arkansas River is what I consider an industrial, utilitarian river. As it exists now, it’s used for flood control, the source of cooling water, and an urban beautification project with bike trails, walking trails, informal arboretum, shoreline benches, picnic tables, and the loveliest array of flowering shrubs and trees I’ve seen outside upstate New York (specifically, Voorheesville).

The fauna of the river's edge is also interesting – I’ve seen turtles sunning on logs, groundhogs scampering on dry winter grasses, lots of hideous fish, Canada geese, ducks, egrets, seagulls, and lots of frogs. And, there are the people: fishing from the pedestrian bridge, biking, skateboarding, running, rollerblading, walking, eating lunch, walking their dogs (or being walked by their dogs).

I know I've shared that my favorite thing to do is to walk, but I have run a few times. I prefer walking. It gives me a chance to think and to listen to recordings of classic literature that I download from Librivox. I have walked as long as 2 hours while listening and thinking, and, when the weather’s right and the foliage is blooming, it’s absolutely utopia.


That said, there is no way that I’d want to swim in the river. It’s inutterably foul when it’s low, and it smells like pond scum.

When the river is high, it runs fast and deep because the civil engineers have released water from Lake Keystone.

That scene, too, fills me with horror. Last year, there was a surge of red-green-blue-variegated algae that sickened swimmers, water skiers, and anyone who had contact with the water. Someone said it was due effluent from poultry farms, or perhaps a hog farm.

That does not stop the channel cat.

And, it does not stop the anglers. People fish from the bridge and presumably eat the fish they caught. Some even stand in the shallows in waders and fish as water flows over the dam.

They may noodle, too, and it would not surprise me. I've seen police cars near the places where the best fish seem to be, and I have always wondered if they're fishing the drowned out with grappling hooks and ropes mounted on the back of pickup trucks.

Of course, there may be the occasional doomed lover -- Millais's Ophelia, face up amongst the lily pads -- but that would be near the Ampitheatre in an oxbow lake, and not in the rapids on the downriver side of the dam.

Somehow, though, Ophelia's drowning persists as a fascinatingly romantic self-sacrifice to love.

Being noodled to death by a huge catfish possessing a gigantic slimy mouth, big lips, what appears to be a long drooping moustache does not.

In fact, the spectacle of it leaves me gaping in horror. There are just too many parallels in the dating world, but that's another story altogether.

Anyway, I read somewhere that in a noodling contest somewhere in southeast Oklahoma (near Antlers, Idabell, or Broken Bow), the winner dragged up a 90-pounder. One time I watched a documentary on "low tech" fishing for Hemisynodontis membranaceus ("Moustache Catfish) in the lakes of equatorial Africa, and I thought that what they did was child's play in comparison with noodling for catfish in Oklahoma.


Speaker Case Monkeys

There is a structure like a giant orange slice propped up on the west bank of the Arkansas River, just south of the 11th Street bridge in downtown Tulsa.

It is an amphitheater and it reminds me of the Hollywood Bowl – same art deco style, but in miniature. Also, the acoustics would have to be different. The Hollywood Bowl abuts the Hollywood Hills, but the Tulsa Amphitheatre lies in a little cove, technically an oxbow lake (or semi-lake), created when the river changed course and deposited sand into what used to be a channel, effectively cutting off the old channel and creating a calm little body of water.

One muggy summer evening, I made my way through the clouds of gnats to check out the look and feel of the place. It was very relaxing - perhaps the retro feeling of it made it that way.  Spectators could watch the concert as they regarded the art deco and futuristic neon Tulsa skyline and contemplated the buildings reflections in the water.

Up the slope from the stands, was a large putting green. Lost balls tended to roll downhill and end up on the banks of the river, sometimes next to where people liked to fish.

That evening, the Amphitheatre was open, and it appeared that people would come around eventually to clean up and prepare it for the next evening’s scheduled conference. It was open, but the boxes atop the side pillars that held the speakers were locked shut, and the walkway that connected the stands to the sidewalk had been retracted.

For the first time, I noticed that the Amphitheatre was surrounded by water. How did people keep from electrocuting themselves?  I seem to remember wires and cords draped over the walls.

I’m not sure if the guy I saw walking up to the Amphitheatre was a fisherman or a swimmer. He had the look of a person who spends all day outside. I wondered if he was one of the ones who lived in a tent on the banks of the river. I wondered if he was one of the guys who liked to deliver sermons to the flowing waters and the birds. It was hard for me to say. I had tried to follow the sermon one day, but gave up. It was completely scatological.

“Did you notice there are no walkways to get from the sidewalk onto the Amphitheatre?” I asked idly in the way of a polite greeting. “I guess you have to be able to jump well if you expect to perform. And, you’d better not be carrying anything hooked up to an electric cord,” I commented.

He looked at me and seemed to be mulling over what I said.

“I think that there is a bridge,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so,” I said. “Look. Water all around. It’s a moat. Perhaps the performers have to defend themselves. They can send flaming arrows across the moat. Maybe even pour large jars of boiling oil on anyone who is assaulting them or who is still insisting they play their moldy-oldy hits from the 70s rather than their brilliant new compositions.”

“I think they have a bridge,” he repeated.

“A moat. Yes. It would be a great way to deal with hostile audiences. And then, you could get the monkeys they keep up there in the cages…” I waved at the locked metal boxes atop pillars where they kept speakers and perhaps displays or screens.

“Yes. You could unlock the lids, so the monkeys could fling anything they could get their hands on through the bars of their cages,” he said.

“I think that’s where they keep the sound system,” he said.

“Oh no. I don’t think so. I think they’re monkey cages. At the University of Oklahoma, they used to have monkey cages – okay they were different – but they held monkeys they were teaching sign language. No one likes to hear monkey chatter. Everyone wants them to sign. It’s quieter.”

I was on a roll.

“I’m coming back for the concert tomorrow. I hear it’s a band really popular in the 70s, and they’ll be performing new work and none of the old stuff. You know no one will like that! I can just see people leaping across the moat and falling into the water. I can just see the boiling oil, and the monkeys hurling old golf balls and fishing lures.”

“Are you a nurse? Do you work in the hospital over there?” He gestured to a hospital that specialized in psychiatric care. It was about a half mile from the river, and I could see its lights and signage.

“No. I’m – ah – working in other things,” I said. The more I spoke to him, the more convinced I was that he was, in fact, the river preacher of the scatological apocalypse. I wondered if it was wise of me to speak to him.

Clearly, he was having the same thoughts of me and wondering if he had put his safety at risk by speaking to me. The idea took me aback. I’m a boring workaholic who punctuates work with exercise. I have a few friends, but to tell the truth, not many.

Well. Was it the first time I had been confused for an outpatient? A deranged homeless person?  I regretted that I had stopped writing in an experimental way.

“Have you ever tried deliberately not to make sense?” I asked.  I mean – keep a journal of free associations and absolutely refuse to let yourself stop and censor?” I asked. “It’s not as easy as it seems. It’s actually easier to create collages of random words you find from different sources.”

I fell silent.

“Guess I should keep moving on,” I said. He took advantage of my pause to start a free association ranting worthy of Kerouac fired up on whatever it was that enabled him to type nonstop on his manual typewriter and one endless paragraph - single-spaced and typed onto a long scroll which allowed him to keep going and not stop to replace sheets of paper.

Oklahoma history, Cherokee nation lore, politics, petrochemicals, casinos, Superfund, ducks, economic history, development projects, assassinations, conspiracy theories, the future of the planet.

Eye opener moment.

He and I at that moment were one of a kind. I wondered what would happen if I burst into imprecatory sermonizing that would rage at the fallenness of consciousness.

Probably not much. Probably everything.

Well. I guess I seek closure.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Climbing Mountain" Overlooking Beijing

The trail behind the Sinopec Center just outside Beijing starts with a koi pond with a small waterfall at the end. Water splashes from sharp, slabbed rocks. White foam churns up from the base of the waterfall, and koi school at the outer edge of the bubbles and foam. Orange and red carp rise to the surface, gulp then belch air with their large, vaguely gross mouths. Large white, orange, red, and black-speckled koi, some 5 times larger than the smaller ones, lurk along the bottom. They rise up, gulp air, belch, then slowly descend.

There are 400 steps to the first stop on the climbing mountain. I hear only the sound of my own breathing and the wind whispering through the fir trees. The sun is bright. The fruit trees are flowering with white and the shade of hot pink that was my favorite for many years, along with neon green. The cedars in front of me are a dark, brownish green. The new leaves on the deciduous trees are chartreuse.

And that reminds me -- chartreuse is a fascinating color, too, halfway between yellow and green, but it does not have that intensity of the hot pink or neon green.

I am reminded of how coal tar dyes revolutionized fashion when they came onto the scene during late Victorian times. Before, colors were muted, and tended to fade. With coal tar dyes, they popped and they held that optic sizzle. No wonder fashion suddenly became ablaze with colors, patterns, and fabrics, all dizzyingly and discordantly stitched together.

Here in the foothills outside Beijing, the colors are muted, especially with the haze in the air that is white, almost cottony in appearance.

A small pagoda is at the top, at the end of the steps. An elderly couple is seated there, and I’m impressed that they made it up the mountain. Of course, you never know their age, but they seem about 80 to me. I wonder if they’ve ever walked the “Chong Chun” / “Long Wall” (Great Wall of China).

Going down is harder than going up. There is something in my brain that seeks to flatten out the steps and make them appear on a level plane, which of course they aren’t. I have to look up and out across the valley to reset my brain so it perceives depth again. I proceed, ever gingerly, and my legs tremble.

The sound of screaming startles me. I look downhill, toward the sound and expect to see a woman being attacked by a man, perhaps being stabbed. I smile realize the screams are from peacocks, and I think of author Flannery O’Connor, who kept peacocks and wrote about them in her collections of essays. I also think of Rucker’s farm east of Norman, Oklahoma, where my dad owned an interest in oil and gas fields.  I see a large wire fenced pen at the base of the mountain, and wonder if the peacocks long to be free.

Next to the peacocks are three large, black and gray German Shepherds.

I wonder if the trees are lychees. At the afternoon break, we had fragrant peeled Asian fruits and nuts. I tried two types of lychees, choosing to peel them myself. The larger one had a reddish peel, leathery and thick. The fruit was sour and the seeds were large.

I also tried “dragon’s eye” which had white, transparent flesh through which a firm, black seed was visible, which gave it a definite “eyeball” look. It was firm, juicy, not too sweet, but very fragrant. I thought of rose, peony, honeysuckle.

The wind is ageless here.

It’s warm in the sun.

There is a cool sharpness along the edges of the afternoon and the ground is very dry. The trees are dusty, and a dry pine needle carpet makes me think of the forests of New Mexico or Colorado.

All living things eventually hug the dust of forgetfulness.

I wonder how hot it gets in the summer. Right now, during the end of April, it is chilly, even cold at times.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Online Dating, Disruptive Technologies, and Meditations on Hunting

I’m at Hastings book store, in the coffee shop, and I can’t help overhearing a conversation between two people who are meeting each other for the first time, connecting through some sort of online dating site. Yuk. Both are 59. The woman looks pretty good. They are both painful to listen to. They are both “retired.” Not to self: Never retire. However, I relish the idea of freedom. But what is freedom anyway? Illusions.

She lives in an apartment off Lindsey Street. She says there was a cat in the apartment and it smells like cat urine. He lives on a farm off Alameda (near the mental hospital), and he grew up here in Norman. He’s turning 60 next week. He’s worried about turning old. He has a pronounced rural Oklahoma twang. She does not. She’s a pro at this. I can tell by her questions. “What else do you want me to know about you?” She’s not talking about herself. Why is she so broke? What is she retired from? Who retires at 59? She was in Hawaii in 2 years, was in Norman for 6 years before that. She said she should not have moved back – things had changed, and there was a lot of traffic. She worked in sales at a radio station. So she decided to quit. She said she gets project from Hawaii, and it’s not regular. I am sure she is pretty much broke, with not much hope.

She mentions her children. They are adults, and she does not see them often. She’s a grandmother now. She looks great to be a grandmother, but then, there are 40-year-old grandmothers. I always think of the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood.

Thought: Newborns are homely little things. I can’t comfortably express those thoughts. I’d be pilloried. They are fragile, often wizened looking.

The woman is now telling the guy that she’s been using the site for a long time, and there are a lot weirdos. (Oh, good, seedy anecdotes.) She met a very weird guy (not surprising here in Norman!). I wonder if she happened to meet a guy I know, although seemingly normal, he likes to pontificate endlessly. He also likes to send weird text messages, which I delete immediately. I've asked him not to do so, but it only encourages him. It is offensive and I don't like it.

So the blind date guy is describing picking up a date at an assisted living center (she was 67). It seems pathetic. Ageism. Note to self. Never live in a retirement home.

He likes camping, hunting (deer, turkey, etc.), motorcycling, and supposedly has a degree in petroleum engineering, but then instead of going back to school during the oil bust, he started doing construction and then tile work. He has done well, he says. He has a lot of projects – a Corvair, lots of cars, motorcycles, etc. Where do you keep them? She asked. In the back yard (but I really shouldn’t, he adds). He lives on the farm he grew up on, and they used to have a dairy, plus cotton, alfalfa, etc.

They are talking about,, or some such online dating service. Online dating’s been around for 15 years or so by now, and I tend to think that the people who like to do it are adrenaline junkies or trout fishermen. There are also the Craigslist Killers, but that’s a different genre, I think. Basically, it’s hunting, I guess. I think of Jose Ortega y Gasset’s Meditations on Hunting – the fact of focusing on prey give you a vacation from the human condition. At least that’s his premise. I think it’s also a look into the primordial essence of fantasy and childlike wonder. Who knows what magical land you’ll encounter in the clouds.  Is “The Cloud” the digital equivalent of the magical kingdom of the Giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk”?

Thought about dating and disruptive technologies: Is there a beginning, middle, or end to disruptive change? Do technologies always disrupt? I guess the easy answer if “yes.” Especially if we want them to disrupt.

She is asking him what kind of food he likes. She is talking about how she likes to cook – comfort food – just after he has talked about how much better food is that is cooked at home. Now she’s describing a casserole she made, and how she freezes the excess. He’s talking about chili that he makes.

I can’t stand this! Is this as good as it gets? She’s warming up to him as she learns more about his financial stability.

He’s commenting that he does not feel as though he is being interrogated (but he is).

Back to technology. I guess the dating process has been technologically mediated for a long time now. I have no interest in this. Overhearing this conversation is reinforcing that belief.

And now, I head to the tennis courts to practice serves. I’m alone. No one to hit with right now.  I head to the ladies’ locker room to put on tennis stuff, including Dri-Fit shirt and skirt. I in the mirror, see that I failed to apply my makeup evenly. Face looks blotchy. Eyes look bleary. I blame nerves and hormones. Nerves because I’m in a constant state of panic dread. Hormones because I believe my body no longer produces them. How else to explain the flat-line feelings I have toward things that used to fascinate me? Okay. It might be scar tissue. Well, focusing on serves will help. Tennis is my vacation from the human condition – not because I’m focused on prey, but in the coming together of mind’s eye and the physical self.

Is that the same as online dating? Whatever it is, it’s perpetual and there’s no beginning, middle, or end.

So it goes.