Susan Craig Romance

Every story is a journey…

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Of Dawn and Solitude

view from fishing dock

Early every spring morning, barring Sundays, I wander down to our boathouse and throw my cast-net into the water near the bulkhead. Early on in the season, I most often get nothing or catch two or three shad—the small fish that anchor the catfish and bass food chain.

I keep two shad, bait my two catfish rods and sit around watching the sunrise over the lake.  It is a peaceful occupation, seldom interrupted by the need to deal with any fish but the bait. After an hour or so of solitude, I retrieve my lines, discard the remains of the shad, and having fed the lake turtles once again, head back up to the house to start the day’s work.

Then the weather changes. Seemingly overnight the damp, cloudy, cold weather turns soft and warm. As dawn blushes the sky, I cast my net and retrieve it full of glittering silvery shad. Now I keep more than just two—sometimes as many as six—and return the others to the lake. I get my lines in the water and wait… but not for long. Hungry, healthy blue catfish strike with regularity, and I am happily engaged, reeling them in, removing hooks, taking photos of the cats on the dock planks (an easy way to estimate size at six inches per plank), and then gently releasing them back into the lake. Generally I will stay out about an hour and a half, catching around four eighteen inch fish and running out of bait before I come in.

Some days bring surprises. Two days ago, I cast out my net and in addition to shad caught a beautiful, healthy carp. Some fishermen don’t like carp, but they are a prized game fish in Europe, and make good eating, with firm white flesh and a very mild taste. (You do need to know how to fillet these or you will find them bony.) When you hook one on light tackle, you are in for a fun fight.  Netting one is not so much fun. 

Carp and shad caught in cast net

In the first place, a twelve to fifteen pound carp adds considerable load to an already weighted cast-net. (Yes, I’m a wimp.) I braced myself, grunted a bit, and hauled net and fish onto the dock. Then I took a quick picture, knowing I would not want to delay returning the fish to the water once the net was removed.

It took some time to gently disentangle the carp from my cast-net. Sadly many of the shad netted with him expired during the procedure. Feeling sorry I could not have been quicker, I released all the survivors then took only a moment to admire the carp. He was a beauty, with scales as big as a large man’s thumbnail, each with a subtle rainbow of iridescence in the sunlight.  I returned him gently to the water and he swam off. Already satisfied with the day’s catch, I didn’t even put my lines in the water. Instead I sat and watched the sunrise uninterrupted, then, full of gratitude and contentment, left the dock to begin my work.

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Texas Master Naturalists: Twenty Years of Service

Naturalized Iris in Harris County, TX.

For the last twenty years, Texas Master Naturalists have been dedicated to the preservation and management of natural resources in Texas. This program, sponsored by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, trains volunteers who provide education, outreach programs and service in aid of the natural environment and native inhabitants of their local regions. The basic training program for Master Naturalist certification is 40 hours and usually includes both classroom instruction and field trips.

I was excited to learn of a local chapter of the Master Naturalists meeting in my area. It is one of forty-two chapters in the state, with more forming all the time. The local chapters provide a wonderful opportunity for learning and service within one’s local region. If you are interested in our natural world, and live in Texas, this is a wonderful group to join.

Many other states have Master Naturalist programs as well. Nebraska, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, California, and Indiana each have a program, and most states have some kind of similar volunteer organization, perhaps under a different name. If your interests lie in that direction, I encourage you to get involved!

There is an excellent introductory video on the TMN site, click here to find it. Then let me know what you think. Did you like the video? Do you know of a similar group in your area? Spring is coming! It’s time to plan to get outdoors again!!

Until next time,
–Susan.

Bluebonnets in field, Harris County, TX

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Remember the Christmas Bird Count

Tundra swans on a foggy, snowy morning. Grand Island, NE.

Tundra swans on a foggy, snowy morning. Grand Island, NE

What is the Christmas Bird Count?

As Christmas draws ever nearer, I linger over photographs of snow and recall living in Nebraska and participating in the Christmas Bird Count there. The Christmas Bird Count is just what it sounds like–an annual event in which volunteer bird watchers identify and count birds in their local areas. The counting follows a strict protocol and has been done for over 100 years, yielding an accurate bird census that gives ornithologists critical data on species abundance over time.

The whole thing is administered by the National Audubon Society, with local organizers responsible for the count within their assigned area. The specific day of the count is determined locally, but must occur between December 14thand January 5th.

All over the Western hemisphere, the Christmas Bird Count sees volunteers spending all or part of the designated day tramping around outdoors, identifying and counting birds. Every year the information gathered is compiled, turned in to the National Audubon Society and added to a database containing over a century’s worth of avian census records.

Participating in the Christmas Bird Count

To participate in the Christmas bird count is a privilege that I enjoyed when I lived “up North”. There was something vastly satisfying about seeing for myself the diversity of wildlife that persevered in eastern Nebraska despite temperatures below freezing and the lack of abundant food that characterized the winter months.

My experience was in Nebraska, but yours could easily be close to wherever you live.  Find out more at the National Audubon Society webpage.  You will see that the number of areas surveyed is nothing short of staggering. North America has the greatest density of census “circles”, but there are are also circles in Central and South America.

Take a closer look at the map of 2018-2019 sites here. (The Audubon map is interactive. If you click on a circle, you will see the local organizer’s name and contact information.)

Whether you watch birds or photograph clouds, do make time this season to get outdoors and enjoy the wonders of nature in the winter, wherever you live.

Until next time,
Susan.